Barely hours after Brittney Griner, the American basketball star, who was imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, was released as part of one-for-one prisoner swap, social media was rattled with speculations about her being a Russian spy. Griner was exchanged for Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death" at the airport in Abu Dhabi.
Griner Landed in US on Friday Morning
The WNBA star landed on the U.S. soil at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas on early Friday morning. CBS News reported that as per the protocol for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation.
CNN reported that the U.S. officials who met Griner on the ground said that the player was in good spirits and incredibly gracious. In a tweet Roger Carstens, a state department official travelling with Griner, wrote, " So happy to have Brittney back on US soil. Welcome home BG!"
A dramatic video showed the moment Griner was swapped for Bout at the UAE airport from where she took off for the United States. Griner is seen from behind accompanied by three officials while Bout descends from another plane and is escorted by two men.
The two groups then approach each other and stop midway. The officials then embrace each other and within a second Griner and Bout are seen changing sides as they are swapped. Griner is then seen walking away with two officials, while Bout accompanied by the other officials starts walking toward the Russian plane.
Conspiracy Theories Float on Social Media
Even though exchange of Griner with the dreaded convicted Russian arms dealer enthralled many social media users, there were several others who spoke in support of another U.S. prisoner in Russia, Paul Whelan.
A former US marine, Whelan has been held in Russia since 2018, on espionage charges. In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in jail.
"Russia offered to exchange Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner or no one for the arms dealer Biden chose Griner a America hating, pot smoking lesbian over the ex-marine who served his country with honour. Griner in a russian jail for months and Whelan has been there for 4 years," tweeted a user.
"We released a convicted arms dealer, Viktor Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death," who was serving a sentence for conspiracy to kill Americans, in exchange for @brittneygriner & not US Marine veteran Paul Whelan? Compared to what Bout did, Griner wasn't worth the trade," wrote another user.
Meanwhile, several users even questioned if Griner has become a Russian agent spying for them. "Brittney Griner is a russian spy, be careful America," tweeted a user.
"I would also like to add that Brittney Griner could also be programmed by the Russians as a KGB spy... BUT NOBODY is ready to talk about that, huh?" read another tweet.