Griner Released – But White House Leaves Whelan Behind – President Joe Biden confirmed on Thursday that American basketball player Brittney Griner will be returning to the United States following an agreement made between Russia and the United States.
In return for Griner, who was imprisoned in Russia after being arrested in February on smuggling charges, the United States agreed to free a Russian arms dealer.
“She is safe, she is on a plane, she is on her way home,” the president said at the White House on Thursday morning. “She will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along.”
The president expressed pride in the news and also claimed to be working on releasing Paul Whelan, an American security executive who is still imprisoned in Russia on spying charges. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison in June 2020.
Video footage of Griner on an airplane preparing to depart for the United States was shared by eastern European news outlet NEXTA. In the video, Griner said that she was unaware of where, specifically, she was headed.
In another video shared by Russia Today, Griner could be seen departing the prison in a car, and then walking from the car into a small airplane.
The video also included clips of Griner on the telephone, smiling as she was informed of the plans to release her.
Reports suggest that Griner was most likely subject to long periods of isolation and hard labor during her time in the Mordovian prison.
According to a report from the U.S. State Department last year, conditions in Russian prisons “varied” but were typically “harsh and life-threatening.”
“Overcrowding, abuse by guards and inmates, limited access to health care, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation were common in prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities,” the report reads.
Speaking to CNN, Whelan said he was happy to learn of Griner’s release but couldn’t hide his disappointment that the White House hasn’t successfully negotiated his release already.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up,” the private corporate security official said.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan told the news outlet from his prison cell in Russia. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
CNN spoke to Whelan after the president announced Griner’s release and told the press he would “never give up” on securing Whelan’s release as well.
Despite the president’s apparent commitment, however, Whelan suggested that the White House might not have told the entire truth about progress made in negotiations with Russia.
Whelan said that he was led to believe things were “moving in the right direction” to secure his release and that something would happen “fairly soon.”
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor.