Britney Griner’s flight from Russia to US: ‘I want to talk’

A US envoy shared details of Griner’s flight home and said the star was thrilled to hear English and meet the plane’s crew.

WASHINGTON — WNBA star Brittney Griner didn’t want any alone time once she boarded a US government plane that would take her home.

“I’ve been in prison for 10 months now and I’m listening to Russian. I want to talk,” Griner said, according to Roger Carstens, the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs, who helped secure the basketball star’s release and brought her back to the United States last week.

She then asked Carstens, referring to others on the plane, “But first of all, who are these guys?”

“And she walked right past me and went to every member of that crew, looked them in the eye, shook their hands and asked about them, got their names and made a personal connection with them,” Carstens recalled. “It was really amazing.”

Ultimately, Griner spent about 12 hours of an 18-hour flight talking to others on the plane, Carstens said. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury basketball pro spoke about her time in the Russian penal colony and her months in captivity, Carstens recalled, though he declined to go into detail.

“I got the impression that this is an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person,” said Carstens. “But above all authentic. I hate the fact that I had to meet her in this way, but I actually felt blessed that I had the opportunity to meet her.”

Despite Griner undergoing a full medical and mental evaluation, Carstens said she was “full of energy, looked amazing.”

Griner, who also played professional basketball in Russia, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters containing cannabis oil. The US State Department declared Griner “unlawfully detained” — a charge Russia has strongly denied.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the US had secured Griner’s release. In exchange, the Russian government offered to release notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons that US officials said that they should be used against Americans.

But the US has been unable to secure the freedom of Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russia for nearly four years. Government officials have repeatedly stressed that they are still working to release Whelan, who Russian officials have jailed on espionage charges that both his family and the US government believe are unfounded.

“They are holding Mr. Whelan differently on these espionage charges,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Sunday. “So let’s work through that now. We are better informed now that we have clearly gone through this process over the past few months. We are better informed. We have a better sense of the context here, where Russia’s expectations are, and we’ll just keep working on that.”

Carstens, the US government’s top hostage negotiator, said “there are always tickets” to get an offer for Whelan and said he spoke to the detained American on Friday.

“Here’s what I told him. I said, ‘Paul, you have this President’s obligation. The President is focused. The foreign minister is focused. I’m definitely focused and we’ll take you home,'” said Carstens. “And I reminded him, I said, ‘Paul, when you were in the Marines and I was in the Army, they always reminded you to keep the faith.’ And I said, ‘Keep the faith. We’re coming for you.’”

Carstens spoke on CNN’s State of the Union and Kirby appeared on ABC’s This Week.

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/griner-opened-up-during-her-long-trip-home/507-7651a1ed-b5ef-4377-a78d-91d454336546 Britney Griner’s flight from Russia to US: ‘I want to talk’

Emma Bowman

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