American basketball star Brittney Griner has been freed in a prisoner swap, a US official has said.
She had been imprisoned in Russia after being sentenced in August and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Ms Griner was arrested in February when customs officers said they found vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
She was freed in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “dealer of death”.
President Joe Biden says he has spoken to Ms Griner and she is ‘safe’ and ‘on the way home’.
She will be airlifted to a medical facility in San Antonio, Texas, where she will also meet his wife, Cherelle.
In a speech on Thursday afternoon, President Biden said Ms Griner had been detained under “intolerable circumstances” and had gone through a “terrible ordeal”.
“I’m glad to say that Britney is in good spirits. She’s relieved to finally be able to go home.”
Ms. Griner “represents the best of America,” he added.
President Biden stressed that the United States had not forgotten Paul Whelan, a former United States Marine still in Russian custody.
A senior US official said the administration had tried everything to get Paul Whelan out, but “they’re treating him differently. They say it’s a case of espionage. They said the choice was either mon [Griner] or none.”
He did not address the price the United States paid for Ms Griner’s freedom – the release of convicted arms dealer Bout.
Ms Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said she was “overwhelmed with emotions” after going through “one of the darkest times of my life”.
“So today my family is whole, but as you all know there are so many other families that aren’t whole.”
The Griner-Bout exchange took place at Abu Dhabi airport, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The ministry said in a statement: “The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”
Who is Victor Bout?
For nearly two decades, Bout was one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, selling arms to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and America. from South.
Ever since his capture in an elaborate American sting, the Russian state has been keen to bring him back.
Biden’s authorization to release Bout underscores the growing pressure his administration has faced to bring Ms. Griner in, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.