WBNA star Brittney Griner “looked great” and “seemed to be doing just fine” on her flight home to the US after being held in a Russian prison for an agonizing 10 months — but wasn’t interested in any alone time, eagerly talking to everyone aboard, a US hostage affairs official said Sunday.
Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens recounted the poignant moment when he met Griner on the tarmac in the United Arab Emirates to accompany her back to the US.
“I said, ‘Britney, my name is Ambassador Roger Carstens. I’m with the US Department of State. And on behalf of the President of the United States Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinkem, I’m here to take you home,’” the envoy told host Dana Bashon on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“And at that moment I think that every person realizes that it’s going to happen, it’s setting in; certainly Brittney felt that way.”
Griner, 32, was freed in a prisoner swap with international arms dealer Viktor Bout on Thursday after being busted at a Moscow airport with cannabis oil.
The Phoenix Mercury center was sent to a penal colony in Mordovia, Russia while the US negotiated her release with the warring nation.
After her ordeal, Carstens thought the hoopster would want to spend the long flight home deep in thought, but Griner had other ideas.
“When she finally got on to the US plane, I said ‘Brittney, you must have been through a lot over the last ten months. Here’s your seat, feel free to decompress, we’ll give you your space.’
“And she said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian. I want to talk. But first of all, who are these guys?’”
“And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands, asked about them, got their names, making a personal connection with them,” Carstens recalled.
“She looks great. I mean, she was full of energy, looked fantastic. She’s in Port Sam Houston right now undergoing some medical evaluations, but she seems to be just fine,” he said.
Griner has not yet spoken publicly about the resolution or her time behind bars.
Carstens said as soon as the plane took off, he shifted his focus to thinking about how the US can retrieve Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was accused of espionage by the Russians in 2018.
Whelan, 52, told the network last week he was “greatly disappointed that more has not been done” four years since he was imprisoned.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan told CNN from his penal colony. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Carstens was tight-lipped on the plan to rescue Whelan, claiming he had to keep his negotiation cards close to the vest.
“I talked to him on Friday, the day after the swap, and here’s what I told him: I said, ‘Paul, you have the commitment of this president; the president’s focused, the secretary of state’s focused, I’m certainly focused, and we’re going to bring you home,” Carstens said.
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