© Reuters. An individual steps off the aircraft that arrived carrying U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, following her launch from jail in Russia, in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., December 9, 2022. REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Basketball star Brittney Griner landed in the USA on Friday after 10 months in Russian detention following a prisoner swap with arms vendor Viktor Bout who flew dwelling hours earlier to embrace his household on the airport tarmac in Moscow.
“They are saying she’s in excellent spirits, seems to be in good well being,” White Home spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:) advised MSNBC in an interview citing U.S. officers on the bottom in San Antonio, Texas, the place she arrived simply earlier than daybreak.
Securing Thursday’s swap, after months of painstaking negotiations, was a uncommon occasion of U.S.-Russian cooperation after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, though the Kremlin was fast to say it didn’t present bettering relations.
Russia’s state media trumpeted the swap as a win for Moscow, after the discharge of a person who the U.S. Division of Justice has described as one of many world’s most prolific arms sellers who had bought weapons throughout the globe to terrorists and America’s enemies for many years. Bout at all times denied the costs.
U.S. President Joe Biden, in asserting her launch on Thursday, stated the swap ended what he described as months of “hell” for Griner, 32, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Girls’s Nationwide Basketball Affiliation’s Phoenix Mercury.
“So comfortable to have Brittney again on U.S. soil. Welcome dwelling BG!,” U.S. Particular Presidential Envoy Roger Carstens, the chief U.S. hostage coordinator, stated in a submit on Twitter.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, in a CNN interview, credited U.S. negotiators, including: “Brittney actually deserves to be dwelling. She was wrongfully detained and we’re comfortable that she’s reuniting together with her household at present.”
Griner, who flew into San Antonio earlier than daybreak on Friday, had been arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport after vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is banned in Russia, have been present in her baggage.
As Griner flew again dwelling, Bout arrived in Moscow and hugged his mom and spouse after stepping on to the tarmac, tv pictures confirmed.
He stated it was tough to explain his emotions in an interview with the state-run information outlet RT. He additionally stated he had not encountered a lot anti-Russian sentiment throughout his imprisonment in the USA.
Bout rejected the concept Russia acquired one of the best of the trade or that it had made Biden look “weak”.
“I would not draw such a conclusion … I am fairly certain that neither our management, nor another, thinks in such notions – whether or not you might be weak or not,” he stated.
Biden personally tracked the negotiations carefully but it surely was solely in current weeks that he made the “very painful” determination to offer clemency to Bout to get the swap completed, a senior U.S. official advised reporters on Thursday.
Griner is now headed to Brooke Military Medical Heart at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for an analysis, Kirby advised MSNBC. Her household has requested for privateness as she transitions again dwelling.
Griner, who had been detained in Russia since every week earlier than the invasion of Ukraine, traveled from a Russian penal colony to Moscow, then to Abu Dhabi airport within the United Arab Emirates the place the trade occurred, with the 2 strolling previous one another on the tarmac, U.S. officers stated.
“Bilateral relations proceed to stay in a sorry state,” TASS information company quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Friday.
“The talks have been completely on the subject of the trade. It is in all probability flawed to attract any hypothetical conclusions that this can be a step in direction of overcoming the disaster in bilateral relations,” he stated.
However Russian Deputy International Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated Moscow and Washington would proceed to speak about potential prisoner swaps instantly, with out intermediaries, the RIA Novosti information company reported.
Russian state information businesses additionally quoted Ryabkov as saying decrease stage Russian and U.S. diplomats met in Istanbul on Friday to debate quite a few points.
The 2 nations additionally swapped prisoners in April when Russia launched former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed and the USA launched Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.
The White Home has stated this week’s prisoner trade doesn’t not change Washington’s assist for Ukrainians following Russia’s February invasion, which Moscow calls a “particular navy operation” to “denazify” and disarm its neighbour.