After nearly ten months in Russia detention, Brittney Griner didn’t want alone time but was eager to speak to everyone on her flight home.
Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, who helped secure Griner’s release via the 1-for-1 prisoner swap involving Viktor Bout, told CNN on Sunday (December 11) that the WNBA star thanked the crew for their efforts and opened up about “everything under the sun” during their flight back to the states.
“When she finally got on to the US plane, I said, ‘Brittney, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We’ll give you your space,’” Carstens said.
“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 and asked about them, and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing,” he recalled. “And then later on, on an 18-hour flight, she probably spent 12 hours just talking and we talked about everything under the sun.”
Carstens described the basketball pro as “an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person, but above all, authentic,” and said she “seemed healthy and full of energy” on the flight home, per CNN.
Though shaking hands with Griner felt like a “victory,” Carstens said his wheels were already turning about how to secure the release of former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who has been jailed in Russia for nearly four years on espionage charges.
“But know this, even as we are welcoming someone home, we still have work to do. So as I am shaking Brittney’s hands and we are going to the aircraft and having this great conversation, my brain is already thinking about Paul Whelan. What can we do to get him back? What’s the next move? What is the strategy? How can we adapt?” Carstens said Sunday.
The envoy said he spoke with Whelan the day after the prisoner swap, which he told the former marine was “this was a case where it was either one or none.”
“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 gonna bring you home. 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 to get you,’” Carstens recounted.
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