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Live Reporting

Edited by Gareth Evans

All times stated are UK

  1. We're closing our live coverage

    Here's the latest after basketball star Brittney Griner was freed in a prisoner swap between the US and Russia.

    Griner is on a plane to the US. She was arrested in Moscow in February for possessing cannabis oil and later jailed. "I'm just standing here overwhelmed with emotions," her wife, Cherelle, said at the White House earlier

    Her release was part of a swap with the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been held in an American prison for 12 years. He sold arms to warlords and rogue governments, becoming one of the world's most wanted men

    The swap took place in Abu Dhabi. The Biden administration proposed the exchange in the summer and officials were aware Russia had long sought Bout's release. He's being flown to Vnukovo airport near Moscow, state media report

    Another American, Paul Whelan, remains jailed in Russia. The former US Marine who was detained on espionage charges in 2018 told CNN he was “disappointed” that he had not been released. Biden acknowledged the deal had come up short and vowed to continue negotiations

    Follow the latest throughout the day here.

  2. A stark reminder of other detained Americans

    Barbara Plett Usher

    State department correspondent

    It took more than nine months to get to this point – and it tells us a lot about America’s approach to hostage diplomacy – and the limits of that strategy

    A US official said the agreement had come together in the last 48 hours.

    The sticking point appears to have been the suggestion of a two-for-one deal. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration was told it could either bring Brittney Griner home or no one.

    Biden, then, made the tough decision to go ahead with a one-for-one deal that did not include the former US marine Paul Whelan.

    Amid the celebrations at the White House today, Biden acknowledged the deal had come up short and vowed to continue negotiations for Whelan’s release from a Russian jail.

    It was a reminder that there are other Americans who’ve been detained for much longer than Griner and who do not have the celebrity status to help propel their case

    Read more here.

  3. Houston to light up for Griner, mayor says

    Brittney Griner will be celebrated in her home town of Houston, Texas tonight.

    Mayor Sylvester Turner says the city hall would be lit up with red, white and blue in her honour.

    "Welcome home Brittney," he adds.

  4. Swap had to be one-for-one, Bout's lawyer says

    The US was trying to exchange Viktor Bout for two US citizens in Russian jail - Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan - but that would not have been fair, Viktor Bout's lawyer says.

    "An exchange like this has to be equal - if we're exchanging one person, we should give one person back, not two," Alexei Tarasov told Russian state television.

    He claimed his own investigations since 2012 had suggested his client was not guilty of any crime, despite being handed a 25-year sentence in a US court for conspiring to support terrorists and kill Americans.

    Asked what would come next for Bout, he said there should be no more legal problems with the US, but he doubted Bout would ever want to return to the country,

  5. Despite everything, Russia and US can still talk

    Steve Rosenberg

    Russia editor

    Russia thinks it got a good deal here, and it's certainly spinning it that way.

    “It’s a victory for the Russian foreign ministry under the leadership of our president,” said MP Maria Butina, who sits on the Russian parliament’s International Affairs committee.

    Russia gets back a notorious convicted arms trafficker, once dubbed the "merchant of death", who was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a US court. In exchange, Moscow releases a basketball player who’d been found with cannabis oil vapes in her suitcase.

    The fact it's a one-for-one swap will come as a deep disappointment to former US marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage and jailed in Russia in 2018. The US has classified him as “wrongfully detained” and the Biden administration has been pushing for his release, too.

    The prisoner swap, however, shows that - despite US-Russian relations sinking to an all-time low - Moscow and Washington are still able to talk, negotiate and do deals.

  6. I don't understand why I'm still here - Paul Whelan

    Paul Whelan, the US citizen jailed in Russia on espionage charges, has spoken to CNN.

    “I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four year anniversary of my arrest is coming up," he told the network from a penal colony.

    “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred."

    He added he was happy that Brittney Griner had been released, but was surprised to learn that he wasn't included in the prisoner swap.

    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier said that he "wholeheartedly" wished Whelan could have been brought home on the same plane as Griner.

  7. Viktor Bout told about deal two days ago, wife says

    Viktor Bout was only told a deal had been struck for his release from a US jail two days ago, his wife says, according to the Russian state press agency RIA Novosti.

    That report comes after a US official said the deal had come together in the last 48 hours.

    In a Telegram post, Russian politician Leonid Slutsky said authorities had been in "constant contact" with Bout's wife, Alla, and paid tribute to the way the convicted arms dealer had "courageously and steadfastly endured" prison.

    "We look forward to his return. We will certainly invite him to the State Duma [Russian parliament]," Slutsky said.

  8. Biden administration made right decision - Whelan's brother

    Holly Honderich

    Reporting from Washington

    Paul Whelan's brother David has celebrated Brittney Griner's release, saying the Biden administration "made the right decision to bring Ms Griner home".

    "Some people have this idea of fairness, that Paul should come home first, that there's some sort of queue - I don't see it that way," David told the BBC prior to Griner's release.

    "Brittney Griner's celebrity is nothing like any other wrongful detainee," he said. "I think that fairness would kick in for people who have come to find out about Paul's case through Brittney."

    Speaking today, Griner's wife Cherelle spoke about Paul, saying she would remain committed to bringing him home.

    "It says a lot about Brittney Griner's advocates and supporters that they've been mentioning Paul too," David said. "It's been a kindness to our family."

  9. Paul Whelan briefed on Griner's release - official

    Paul Whelan
    Image caption: Paul Whelan was jailed in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges the US government says are baseless

    The Biden administration has spoken to Paul Whelan to brief him on Brittney Griner's release, a US official says.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, the senior official told reporters that they had spoken "at length today with Paul from prison to talk through today's news".

    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier said in a statement that he "wholeheartedly" wished Whelan could have been brought home on the same plane as Griner.

    "Despite our ceaseless efforts, the Russian government has not yet been willing to bring a long overdue end to his wrongful detention," he said.

    Whelan, an ex-marine, was jailed in Russia in 2018 on suspicion of spying.

  10. USA Basketball: Welcome home, BG!

    Griner at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
    Image caption: Griner at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

    USA Basketball has celebrated Brittney Griner's release, saying in a statement that she has shown "bravery and resolve" since her imprisonment.

    "We look forward to seeing Brittney again when the time is right and wish her the best in the days and weeks ahead," the organisation says.

    Griner is regarded as a star player both nationally and in the WNBA.

    She has won two Olympic gold medals with USA basketball.

  11. Griner and Bout walked past one another - report

    Brittney Griner and the convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout walked past one another at the airport in Abu Dhabi during the swap, according to a report in Politico.

    It says the pair crossed paths on the tarmac while exchanging planes.

    The report adds that Griner is on the way to a medical facility in San Antonio, Texas for a routine evaluation.

  12. UAE and Saudi Arabia led mediation - statement

    The president of the United Arab Emirates and the Saudi crown prince have said they led the mediation efforts between the US and Russia.

    "The success of the mediation efforts was a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship between their two countries and the United States of America and the Russian Federation," a joint statement says.

    It adds that Griner left Moscow on board a private plane that landed in Abu Dhabi earlier, where the prisoner swap was completed.

  13. Today my family is whole, says Griner's wife

    Video content

    Video caption: Brittney Griner: Wife Cherelle says today her family is whole

    As we reported, Brittney Griner's wife spoke at the White House earlier alongside President Biden.

    She thanked the president and said her family was now whole again.

  14. Prisoner swap finalised in last 48 hours - US official

    The deal that led to Brittney Griner's release from Russia came together in the last 48 hours, a US official says.

    In a call with reporters, the official adds that the Biden administration had offered Moscow multiple options to secure the release of Paul Whelan as well, but those efforts were unsuccessful.

    It became clear that Whelan, jailed in 2018 on suspicion of spying, would not be part of the Russian swap, dashing the hopes of his family.

    "It was bringing Brittney Griner home right now or bringing no American home right now," the official said.

  15. Just joining us? Here's what to know

    The American basketball star Brittney Griner is on a plane to the US. She was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing cannabis oil and later sent to a penal colony. "I'm just standing here overwhelmed with emotions," her wife, Cherelle, said earlier.

    She's one of the best-known sportswomen in America. The 32-year-old is a star player for Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA and arguably the greatest female basketball player of all time.

    Her release was part of a prisoner swap with the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been held in an American prison for 12 years. He sold arms to warlords and rogue governments, becoming one of the world's most wanted men.

    The swap took place in Abu Dhabi. The Biden administration proposed the exchange in the summer and officials were aware Russia had long sought Viktor Bout's release. He's being flown to Vnukovo airport near Moscow, state media reports.

  16. We never stopped pushing for her release - Biden

    Video content

    Video caption: Brittney Griner: We never stopped pushing for her release - Biden

    President Joe Biden gave a statement shortly after Brittney Griner's release was confirmed.

    "This is a day we worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release," he said.

  17. Brittney returns home with emotional wounds - civil rights leader

    Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the civil rights organisation National Action Network, pressured the Biden administration to work towards Griner's release.

    Today, he said: "After nine horrific months behind bars, Brittney Griner’s family, friends, and teammates can finally breathe a sigh of relief that she’s on her way home... We gladly applaud the administration for the hard work of ensuring Brittney’s imprisonment finally came to an end."

    In a nod to what will undoubtedly be a long period of adjustment for Griner, Sharpton said his prayers "will remain as strong today as ever, because her journey is far from over. Brittney returns home with spiritual and emotional wounds that can only heal now that she’s free."

  18. Russia says US 'refused to engage' in dialogue

    The building of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow
    Image caption: The building of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow

    The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put out a statement on the prisoner exchange.

    The statement reads: "For a long time, the Russian Federation has been negotiating with the United States on the release of Viktor Bout. Washington categorically refused to engage in dialogue on the inclusion of the Russian in the exchange scheme."

    The statement says that "nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot", resulting in the exchange in Abu Dhabi between Bout and Griner.

  19. Broadcaster CBS knew of swap last week

    Now that news of the swap has become public, American television channel CBS News said it first learned of Brittney Griner's release a week ago, on 1 December. However, it agreed to not report on the details at the White House's request so as not to jeopardise the deal.

    View more on twitter
  20. Why was Griner in prison?

    Brittney Griner was detained on 17 February at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to smuggling drugs into Russia.

    She had come to Russia to play club basketball during the US off-season.

    Her case has become subject to high-profile diplomacy between the US and Russia, whose relations plummeted after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

    Griner's agent, Lindsay Colas, said in October after a Russian court rejected her appeal that the basketball player was “being used as a political pawn" and was "being held in Russia simply because she is American".

    She had been sent to a Russian penal colony in a remote region south-east of Moscow.

    Griner