WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed by Russia on Thursday in exchange for an infamous arms dealer who schemed to kill US pilots in Colombia — sparking outrage from critics who blasted the deal and called it a “surrender” by President Biden.
The 6-foot-9 basketball player — missing her iconic dreadlocks following nearly 10 months in Russian custody — was traded for “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout on the tarmac of an Abu Dhabi airport in a dramatic scene reminiscent of Cold War prisoner swaps.
“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’s being held.
“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,” Whelan, 53, told CNN.
“My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.”
Former White House national security adviser and American ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton also blasted the exchange.
“This is not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender,” he told CBS News.
“And terrorists and rogue states all around the world will take note of this, and it endangers other Americans in the future who can be grabbed and used as bargaining chips by people who don’t have the same morals and scruples that we do.”
In other developments:
Griner, 32, was arrested at a Russian airport on Feb. 17 and accused of smuggling vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil.
Deal or No Deal: Brittney Griner free but critics say ‘Merchant of Death’ too high a price