The United Arab Emirates helped facilitate US citizen Brittney Griner’s release from Russia on December 8, 2022. The exchange of Brittney Griner for Russian citizen Viktor Bout took place on an airport tarmac in the UAE’s capital city. Griner arrived at the UAE air base via private plane from Moscow and was greeted by a small group of US officials and foreign ministries, including UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba.
Brittney Griner is a professional Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) player and two-time Olympic gold medalist who had been detained in a Russian prison on drug charges. Griner was carrying less than a gram of hash oil in her luggage when she unintentionally broke the law while entering the country to play in an offseason game for her team, UMMC Ekaterinburg. Before her release, Griner had served ten months of her nine-year sentence.
The successful prisoner exchange was a reflection of the UAE’s growing role as an international mediator and the country’s commitment to its partnership with the US. American and Russian officials had negotiated the details of the swap for months before coming to a stalemate in October. UAE President Mohamed Bin Zayed later met with President Putin to discuss Griner’s case and other topics related to Ukraine. The conversation helped move negotiations forward. Officials from Saudi Arabia, including the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salma, also assisted with mediation efforts. After months of subsequent back and forth between the US and Russia, an agreement was reached in early December.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia issued a joint statement in regards to their part in the mediation process, “The joint statement issued by the [Saudi Arabia and the UAE] ministries affirmed that the success of the mediation efforts is a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship that connects both countries with the United States of America, and the Russian Federation.”
The UAE President hopes this will lead to similar future exchanges between Russia and Ukraine and help foster diplomacy between the two countries.
Thanks to the assistance of the UAE and all involved, Griner was able to spend the holidays with her family in her home country. The Biden administration thanked the UAE for their efforts in facilitating Griner’s return to America.