WNBA star Brittney Griner spoke out Friday for the first time since being freed from Russian prison in exchange for notorious weapons dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death.”
Griner, who had been detained in Russia since February for allegedly trying to transport a small amount of hash oil through a Russian airport, was exchanged for Bout in a prisoner swap that saw the latter released from U.S. custody Dec. 8. In 2011, Bout was convicted in a Manhattan court of conspiracy to kill Americans and providing aid to a terrorist organization. He was scheduled to be released from prison in 2029.
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Griner posted on Instagram to give fans an update and thank many of the individuals and organizations who played a part in her release.
“It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn,” Griner captioned a photo of herself getting off an airplane upon her return home. “I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”
Some critics questioned why the Biden administration brought Griner home but was unable to secure the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who has been detained in Russia for four years on espionage charges. Griner addressed Whelan’s status in her post, too.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” she said. “I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.” (RELATED: Trump Says He Turned Down Deal To Trade Paul Whelan For ‘Merchant Of Death’)
Russian state media mocked the Biden administration for securing the release of Griner and not Whelan, accusing President Joe Biden of prioritizing identity politics over bringing home someone who served in the U.S. military. The Biden administration has maintained Russia did not offer a deal that could’ve brought Whelan home, and that the choice the administration made was not between freeing Griner and Whelan; rather, Griner was the only prisoner they had the option to release.
Griner concluded her statement by saying she would be playing for the Phoenix Mercury in the upcoming WNBA season.