unbalanced exchange of prisoners between Washington and Moscow

A presidential tweet announced the news, Thursday, December 8, shortly after 8 a.m. “A few moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She’s on the plane. She comes back home. » With this message, Joe Biden formalized an exchange of prisoners between the United States and Russia, discussed for months, allowing the 32-year-old star basketball player to get out of prison and return to his country. Brittney Griner, who played in the winter for Russian club Yekaterinburg, was arrested in February during a security check at a Moscow airport when cannabis oil was found in her luggage. From then on, the sportswoman had become a pawn, even a hostage, in the hands of the Russian authorities.

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The Kremlin finally obtained in return the long-awaited release of a personality of a completely different profile, but also famous: the arms dealer Viktor Bout, who for a long time prospered thanks to the civil wars in Africa, in Afghanistan and South America. It was at Abu Dhabi airport (United Arab Emirates) that the two parties made the exchange. The President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens greets Brittney Griner on the tarmac, who had previously been flown back to Moscow from the settlement of Iavas in the Mordovia region, where she was being held since mid-November.

The basketball player's wife, Cherelle Griner, stands with US President Joe Biden at the December 8 prisoner swap announcement at the White House in Washington.

Joe Biden made a statement at the White House shortly after his social media post was released. Speaking in the Roosevelt Room alongside Cherelle, the wife of Brittney Griner, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the President welcomed the release, obtained in term of “intense negotiations”. Joe Biden spoke without dwelling on the “intolerable circumstances” of his detention and his sentencing in August to nine years in prison. He also called for respecting the time and privacy necessary for the athlete to recover from this experience.

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“We have not forgotten Paul Whelan”

The release of Brittney Griner inspires relief tinged with bitterness in the American administration, which hoped that negotiations with Russia would also make it possible to obtain the return of another prisoner, Paul Whelan. “We have not forgotten Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years”underlined Joe Biden.

Former Marine, this American was the director of security in a Michigan group manufacturing spare parts in the automotive sector. Also holder of Canadian, Irish and British passports, he was arrested in a Moscow hotel in December 2018, in possession of a USB key containing classified documents. Denouncing a conspiracy, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in June 2020.

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