WNBA star Brittney Griner was released by Russia on Thursday in exchange for a notorious arms dealer who plotted to kill US pilots in Colombia – sparking outrage from critics who blasted the deal, calling it a “surrender” by the president called Biden.
The 6-foot-9 basketball player, who was missing her iconic dreadlocks after nearly 10 months in Russian custody, was shot on the tarmac of an Abu Dhabi airport in a dramatic scene reminiscent of Cold War prisoner swaps against “dealers.” ‘ Viktor Bout exchanged.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said at the White House, where he was joined by Griner’s wife, Cherelle.
But the controversial deal left ex-Marine Paul Whelan languishing in a Russian prison on what the US has called baseless espionage charges.
“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” Whelan told CNN from the penal colony where he is being held.
“I am very disappointed that more was not done to secure my release as we approach the four-year anniversary of my arrest,” Whelan, 53, told CNN.
“My bags are packed. i’m ready to go home I just need a plane to come and pick me up.”
Former White House National Security Advisor and American Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton also blasted the exchange.
“It’s not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender,” he told CBS News.
“And terrorists and rogue nations around the world will take notice, and it puts other Americans at risk in the future who can be grabbed and used as bargaining chips by people who don’t have the same morals and scruples as we do.”
For other developments:
- The UAE and Saudi Arabia said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed – who has been blamed by the US for the 2018 assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey – played a key role in the negotiations have.
- The Russian video showed Bout hugging his compatriots at the airport and then reportedly talking to his mother on a cellphone while flying home.
- Russians rejoiced online as MP Maria Butina – who was serving an 18-month sentence in the US for working as an unregistered foreign agent – cited the film ‘The Godfather’ and said her country had it “Made them an offer that can’t be refused.”
Griner, 32, was arrested at a Russian airport on February 17 and accused of smuggling vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil.
The bankruptcy came a week before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deadly invasion of Ukraine began, prompting speculation that the eight-time All-Star center for the Phoenix Mercury was being used as a bargaining chip against the US.
Griner was found guilty on Aug. 4 and sentenced to nine years in prison, a move Biden called “unacceptable” in a statement that also said, “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and will do everything possible to save Brittney.” and to get Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Bout, 55, was dubbed “the No. 1 enemy to the international arms trade” by then-Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara.
In 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to Marxist terrorists in Colombia, including surface-to-air missiles and more than 20,000 AK-47 rifles.
The evidence included a secretly recorded conversation telling Bout that the missiles were being used to attack US helicopters and kill American pilots.
“We have the same enemy,” he replied.
New York Mayor Adams’ chief attorney Brendan McGuire was one of the terrorism prosecutors who convinced a Manhattan jury to find Bout guilty.
McGuire declined to comment on his release, City Hall said.
Bolton called Bout’s exchange for Griner “a major victory for Moscow over Washington” and said it “shows how desperate the administration was to make this deal.”
Bolton also said that “there was a possibility of a bout-for-Whelan deal” when he was national security adviser to then-President Donald Trump.
“And it wasn’t done for very good reasons, because we had to deal with Viktor Bout,” he said.
Trump, 76, also questioned Biden’s decision to liberate “one of the largest arms dealers in the world” in a Truth Social post Thursday, claiming Bout was “responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and horrific injuries.”
“Why wasn’t ex-Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the request,” the former president said. “What a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic disgrace to the US!!!”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted that Bout’s release “was a gift to Vladimir Putin and puts American lives at risk.” Leaving Paul Whelan behind for this is ruthless.”
In the sports world, too, the trade was considered one-sided for Russia.
In response to Parson of the Cowboys’ outrage over the exchange, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said on his WFAN show, “I’m telling you, more people feel that way than not.”
“It’s not an even swap — it’s not. We all know what happened to Brittney should never have happened. But man, we look so pathetic,” he said.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia and the UAE said bin Salman and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed brokered the deal, calling it “a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship between their two.” countries and the United States of America and the United States of America Russian Federation.”
Biden didn’t mention the Saudis in his remarks but thanked the UAE “for helping us facilitate Brittney’s return because that’s where she ended up.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also said, “The only country that actually negotiated this deal was the United States and Russia.”
Additional reporting by Mark Moore, Jeremy Layton and Ariel Zilber
https://nypost.com/2022/12/08/brittney-griner-free-but-critics-say-viktor-bout-too-high-a-price/ Brittney Griner free but critics say Viktor Bout’s price is too high