Fresh footage from Russian state television offered a glimpse into Brittney Griner‘s daily routine of working, making her bed and dining in with inmates inside a Russian penal colony – before being granted freedom on Thursday.
In a dramatic prisoner swap at the Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi, the American basketball star was traded for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout who was incarcerated at a U.S. federal prison in Illinois after his arrest in 2008 for trying to sell weapons to Colombian rebels.
The six-foot-nine WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist is shown in line for food, dining with another prisoner, and making a very narrow, very short bed.
Footage also showed Griner with her short hair placed in a white wrap doing some sort of work at the penal colony, with that footage dated November 28 – a day before another video showed Griner signing papers to be released.
The video released after the swap paints a stark picture to the conditions in Russian penal colonies that have been described as horrific, with prisoners being overworked and kept in ‘slave-like conditions.’
Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, said it’s like ‘a friendly concentration camp,’ after he was kept in a Russian penal colony about 50 miles from Moscow. He also said the ever-present cameras and policing reminded him of the George Orwell novel, 1984.
Last month, Navalny said he was moved to indefinite solitary confinement.
Bout was being kept in United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois and had five years left on his sentence. Marion is one of only two supermax prisons in the United States and is known to be one of the toughest facilities in the nation.
The footage showed him laughing and cheerful on the plane-ride home.
Russian state television released footage of Brittney Griner’s life inside a Russian penal colony. Here they’re showing that they fed the basketball star during her imprisonment
Brittney Griner is shown eating with another inmate while imprisoned at a Russian penal colony
Brittney Griner is shown making a very narrow and short bed for her six-foot-nine foot frame
The Russian state TV footage showed images of Brittney Griner’s bed
Brittney Griner is also shown working while imprisoned in a Russian penal colony
The footage was dated November 28, one day before footage released earlier Thursday showed her signing papers. It was unclear at that point if she knew she was being released
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was being kept in United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois and had five years left on his sentence. Marion is one of only two supermax prisons in the United States and is known to be one of the toughest facilities in the nation
Inside United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, where Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was serving his sentence before being swapped for Brittney Griner
Footage released earlier Thursday showed Griner smiling when she was told she was going home.
Griner is shown with a shaved head, signing papers at the Russian gulag where she’d been held since August, and then emerging from the prison carrying bags.
The date on the videos taken in custody is November 29.
In an image from today, she is then seen on a plane where she is told that she will be going back to the US. Asked what her mood was, she said: ‘Happy.’
While a win for Griner – who was convicted of possessing two cartridges of cannabis oil while entering Russia in February – the deal has been slammed as an embarrassing ‘surrender’ for the Biden administration.
Republican critics see it as a gift to Putin and his war effort in Ukraine. They consider it a damning indictment on Biden’s diplomatic track record, and are appalled by the involvement of Saudi Arabia in negotiating.
The White House today denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved, but also thanked the UAE for the ‘use of their territory,’ in what seemed to be a conflicting statement.
Brittney Griner seen on a plane where she is told that she will be going back to the US. Asked what her mood was, she said: ‘Happy’
Merchant of Death Viktor Bout is shown on his private jet after being released from US custody
Griner above, smiling during an interaction with officials. It’s unclear when she was told that she’d be going home
Griner is shown signing papers on November 29 – it’s unclear if she knew at this point that she was going home
The footage shows Bout emerging from one jet and walking past Griner this morning
Brittney Griner shakes hands with a UAE official on the tarmac of at Abu Dhabi today as she was swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a deal brokered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Merchant of Death Bout emerged smiling. Griner is shown, left
War criminal Bout smiled as he made his way towards the jet waiting for him
Griner has not spoken publicly, but her agents say they were ‘breathing a sigh of relief.’
They heaped praise on Biden and said they were committed to getting Paul Whelan – and other Americans imprisoned overseas – out.
‘Today, we are breathing a deep sigh of relief. Brittney Griner is on her way home.
‘We are overwhelmed with gratitude to President Biden, Vice President Harris and the entire Biden-Harris Administration,’ they said.
Griner was playing for a Russian team when she was arrested. It was in a down-season from the WNBA and she stood to earn significantly more in Russia than she did in the US.
She was caught with two cartridges of cannabis oil in a vape – a violation of Russia’s strict drug laws – and was jailed.
After a brief trial in Russian court in the summer, she was sentenced to nine years.
The harsh sentence sent Griner’s fans and celebrity friends into an uproar and Biden and Harris immediately vowed to bring her home.
The suggestion of a swap for Bout was made quickly.
But GOP critics quickly asked why Griner – who broke the law and admits to it – should be freed.
The most vocal critics asked why Griner should be swapped when Paul Whelan, who has been in prison for four years, has not. Biden insists he is still trying to get Whelan out.
The deal was brokered with Vladimir Putin, responsible for the genocide in Ukraine – and with the help of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just 48 hours after the U.S. dropped a lawsuit holding him responsible for the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Paul Whelan (shown in 2019) said he was ‘disappointed’ not to have been included in the swap today. He has spent four years in Russian prison on charges of espionage and spying that the Biden administration says are wrongful
Biden celebrates with Griner’s wife Cherelle in the Oval Office after securing the WNBA star’s release from a Russian penal colony
From left to right: Biden, Cherelle, Kamala Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken
President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the White House Thursday morning to discuss Brittney Griner’s release, as well as the conditions of Americans still detained abroad
The news was met with anger by supporters of former Marine Paul Whelan, who remains in Russian prison.
Republicans condemned that as ‘unconscionable’ and said the White House was focused on ‘celebrities’ over veterans detained by Putin.
Whelan said from prison that he was ‘greatly disappointed’ the Biden administration did not do more to secure his release alongside Griner and said he was ready to ‘go home’.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it ‘unconscionable’ to leave behind Whelan.
‘Merchant of Death – that’s the nickname of the prisoner Biden returned to Putin.
He was convicted of conspiring to kill American law enforcement.
‘This is a gift to Vladimir Putin, and it endangers American lives. Leaving Paul Whelan behind for this is unconscionable.’
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and former Air Force pilot, also cried foul.
‘So a basketball star is released, we can celebrate, but what about Paul Whelan?
‘An American unjustly detained for years,’ Kinzinger tweeted.
‘May not be high profile but he is innocent. This is a dangerous road,’ the anti-Trump Republican added.
Former ambassador John Bolton told CNN that the deal was more of a ‘surrender’ than a ‘swap’.
‘Obviously, there’s a lot of very understandable human emotion here in getting Griner released, but this is a very bad mistake by the Biden administration but this is a very bad mistake by the Biden administration.
‘This is not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender. 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,’ he said.
Griner is shown in August this year after being found guilty