American basketball star Brittney Griner has landed back in the United States after being released from a Russian prison in exchange for the arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death".

Ms Griner, aged 32, who was arrested in Russia in February, and Viktor Bout, aged 55, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, were exchanged at an airport in Abu Dhabi.

In footage released by Russian state media, Ms Griner, shorn of her distinctive dreadlocks, and a relaxed and animated Mr Bout could be seen crossing paths on the airport tarmac and heading towards the planes that would take them home.

President Joe Biden announced Ms Griner's release yesterday in an address to the nation at the White House. "She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," he said.

The president said he had spoken to her and she was in "good spirits" after suffering "needless trauma".

Ms Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion and LGBT trailblazer, was arrested at a Moscow airport nine months ago against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Ukraine.

She was accused of possession of vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil and sentenced in August to nine years in prison.

Mr Bout landed in Russia yesterday, state television said. "Don't worry, everything is OK, I love you very much," he told his mother Raisa.

He told Kremlin-run media this morning that Western countries are seeking to "destroy" and "divide" Russia.

"The West believes that they did not finish us off in 1990, when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate ... They think that they can just destroy us again and divide Russia," he told state-run channel RT, known previously as Russia Today.

While Ms Griner's family and friends celebrated her release, another American held in Russia, Paul Whelan, a former US Marine detained since 2018 and accused of spying, was not part of the exchange and he told CNN he was "greatly disappointed".

"I don't understand why I'm still sitting here," Whelan told the US television network in a phone call from the Russian penal colony where he is imprisoned.

Mr Biden pledged to obtain Mr Whelan's freedom, saying "we will never give up".

"Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case different than Brittney's," he said.

As for Griner's release, Mr Biden said "this is a day we've worked toward for a long time. It took painstaking and intense negotiations."

Russian state media lauds Putin 'win'

Viktor Bout pictured landed in Russia yesterday

This morning, Russian state media has lauded President Vladimir Putin for "winning" a prisoner exchange with the United States by swapping Ms Griner for notorious arms dealer Mr Bout.

"Everyone will forget about Griner tomorrow," Russian state television host Yevgeny Popov wrote on Telegram on Thursday.

"Bout's life is only beginning."

Mr Bout arrived in Moscow late last night after Russia and the United States swapped the arms dealer for Ms Griner at Abu Dhabi airport.

Described by the US Department of Justice as one of the world's most prolific arms dealers who had sold weapons across the globe to terrorists and America's enemies for decades, Mr Bout always denied the charges.

He was detained in 2008 in an elaborate sting operation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in a luxury hotel in Bangkok. Moscow always maintained he was innocent but he was sentenced to 25 years in jail by a Manhattan court in 2012.

"It is a capitulation by America," Maria Butina, a politician in the lower house of the Russian parliament, told state TV on the tarmac of Moscow's Vnukovo airport just as Mr Bout landed.

"It shows that Russia doesn't abandon its own while America has shown its defeat," Ms Butina said beside Mr Bout's wife and mother, who hugged him as he stepped back onto Russian soil.

"Russia did not forget him."

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Real life 'spy thriller'

Mr Bout's life reads like a spy thriller and his notoriety was such that his life helped inspire a 2005 Hollywood film "Lord of War", starring Nicolas Cage as Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer loosely based on Mr Bout.

Little is known publicly about his early life, though he has been linked to Russian military intelligence (GRU), which has always made much of its reputation for never forgiving traitors and never abandoning its people no matter what the cost.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry, posted a montage under the title "And so 14 years!" in reference to the 14 years of Bout's detention.

The montage showed historical video of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Zakharova and other senior diplomats saying "Viktor Bout".

"Washington categorically refused to engage in dialogue on the inclusion of the Russian in the exchange scheme," a foreign ministry statement said.

"Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot."

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries, welcomed Mr Bout's return.

"Congratulations to Viktor Bout. And I am very happy for him," said Mr Prigozhin, a close ally of Mr Putin.

Some Republicans in the United States criticised the Biden administration for making the swap.

"What a 'stupid' and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!" former president Donald Trump wrote on social media.

Mr Trump questioned why Griner was swapped for one of the world's biggest arms dealers, and why the exchange did not include Paul Whelan, a former US Marine serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony on espionage charges.

Mr Whelan, who holds American, British, Canadian and Irish passports, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in jail after being convicted of spying. Russia said he was caught with classified information in a Moscow hotel room where agents from the Federal Security Service detained him in December 2018.

He denies that he committed espionage.

US anger at Mr Bout's release has been widely covered in the Russian media, with the pro-Kremlin tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets claiming that Department of Defense officials were "disturbed" by the exchange, citing US media reports.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state-funded RT, said the exchange showed Russia "will win" in the end because Washington had chosen to leave a convicted US spy in jail in Russia.