Russian journalist Margarita Simonyan gave her take on the jailed basketball player Brittney Griner, dramatic release as part of a prisoner exchange with arms dealer Viktor Bout. The president prioritized Griner’s release after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in Feb. and detained for possessing cannabis oil. During an Oval Office meeting with Cherelle Griner, Biden expressed regret about the deal not including Paul Whelan, who was jailed by Russia last year on espionage charges. “For totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently,” Biden said.
A guest who spoke with Simonyan said that he was “amused but not surprised to learn Bout was traded for Griner instead of Whelan.” “Bout did not get exchanged for the heroic spy,” she said Thursday, referring to Whelan, who he said had three problems. “The first problem is that he is white. His second problem is he is a man, his third problem is he is a heterosexual, that is something that cannot be forgiven today.” It was a choice between “a hero who suffered while serving his country” or Griner, who was “hooked on drugs.”
As a result, Simonyan concluded, the U.S. held a well-known athlete more sacred than someone imprisoned “for serving a motherland.” “This says a lot about the state of this society, of these intelligence agencies, and everything related to geopolitical confrontation,” she said.
— TPS (@TotalProSports) December 10, 2022
Whelan said he was disappointed more had not been done to free him from prison in Russia.
Before his arrest in 2008 for gun-running, Bout was dubbed the “merchant of death.” His sentence was 25 years. The Russian media reported Bout was back home. WNBA player Griner, 32, played for Phoenix Mercury. During the off-season in the U.S., she flew to Russia and was caught with cannabis oil in her bag.
DISGRACEFUL: Russian state tv mocks the Biden Admin for swapping convicted drug addict, Britney Griner instead of a US Service Man in exchange for the biggest arms dealer in the world. pic.twitter.com/D4yCO3Nf15
— Apes. Together. Strong (@Fada_Sin) December 10, 2022
In his interview with MSNBC, John Kirby said that Russia had different expectations for Whelan than Griner. In his words, the White House deal “was the only deal we could get and now was the only moment we could get it, so we took advantage of that to get one American home.”