US President Joe Biden says the United Arab Emirates facilitated the female basketball star's release adding that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi.

Griner was freed in an exchange in which the United States released convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner was freed in an exchange in which the United States released convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool//File Photo / Reuters)

Russia has freed US female basketball star Brittney Griner in a high-level prisoner exchange, with the US releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to the White House.

Thursday's prisoner swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for US President Joe Biden, but carried a heavy price — and left behind an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia.

In a separate statement following the announcement, Biden said Griner will need time to recover from the "trauma" of imprisonment in Russia.

She is "in good spirits," he said, but "experienced needless trauma."

"She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained," he added.

Earlier, Biden posted on social media that he has spoken to Griner and that she is "on her way home".

"She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," Biden said in the tweet.

The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout has been flown home.

Biden also recognised the United Arab Emirates' diplomatic role in facilitating the swap. 

In recent weeks Russian and American officials had conveyed cautious optimism after months of strained negotiations, with Biden saying in November that he was hopeful that Russia would engage in a deal now that the midterm elections were completed.

A top Russian official said last week that a deal was possible before year's end.

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The US athlete, who was being held in a remote Russian penal colony, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February and handed nine years in prison in August for possessing vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil.

Russia confirmed that Bout had been exchanged for the 32-year-old basketballer, who was detained in a Cold-War style standoff between Moscow and Washington over Russia's military offensive in Ukraine.

"On December 8, 2022, at the Abu Dhabi airport, the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout for US citizen Brittney Griner... was successfully completed," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

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Source: AFP