Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Plane carrying freed athlete Brittney Griner lands in Texas

American basketball star Brittney Griner gets out of a plane after landing at the JBSA-Kelly Field Annex runway on December 9, 2022 in San Antonio, after she was released from a Russian prison in exchange for a notorious arms dealer.

Suzanne Cordeiro | Afp | Getty Images

A plane carrying freed U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has landed in her home state of Texas, nearly 10 months after she was arrested in Russia on drug charges.

President Joe Biden said Griner was “in good spirits” but needed “time and space to recover.” She landed in San Antonio where she will be offered medical care and counselling.

Griner was released as part of a prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow. In exchange for her release, the U.S. returned the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been arrested in Thailand in 2008 as part of a U.S.-led sting operation and detained in the U.S. since 2010.

Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and plays for the WNBA team Phoenix Mercury.

She was originally detained in Russia after cannabis oil was found in her bag, which she says was packed by accident. Her lawyers say the cannabis was prescribed to her as a pain treatment. Drug possession carries a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment in Russia, but the timing of her arrest — just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February — and the animosity between Washington and Moscow added a political dynamic to the story.

Griner being openly gay and African American also spurred concern for her safety in Russia’s penal system, a country with a poor record on the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and racial minorities.

The release is something the Biden administration has been pursuing for months, although it failed to secure the release of another American in Russian detention — former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in prison on espionage charges since 2018. The U.S. says those charges are false. Whelan’s family in a statement celebrated Griner’s return, but expressed disappointment that Whelan’s release was not achieved.

—Natasha Turak

Washington to levy more sanctions on Russia, China: Reports

The U.S. is set to place more sanctions on Russia for its use of Iranian drones in Ukraine, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing multiple unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter.

The sanctions are aimed at both Russia and China — as regards China, the penalties are related to human rights abuses and Beijing’s involvement in illegal fishing in the Pacific ocean, the Journal wrote.

Most of the sanctions will come under the Global Magnitsky Act, which was designed to go after human rights abusers and is named after a Russian lawyer who died in prison there while working to uncover crimes of corruption by high-ranking Russian officials.

— Natasha Turak

Russia likely received a resupply of Iranian drones, UK says

Renewed reports of Russian attacks on Ukraine by Iranian drones are surfacing after a few weeks, suggesting Russian forces ran out of the weapons but have been resupplied, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said.

“For the first time in three weeks, there have been reports of attacks by Iranian-provided one-way attack (OWA) uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs),” the ministry wrote in its daily intelligence update on Twitter.

“These events remain to be verified, but it is likely that Russia exhausted its previous stock of several hundred Shahed-131s and 136s and has now received a resupply.”

Ukraine’s military has reported shooting down several of these drones in the past few days, while the last such report before that was in mid-November.

“If verified,” the ministry wrote, “it is likely that Russia has recommenced attacks with newly delivered OWA UAV systems.”


— Natasha Turak

Ukraine claims Russia put rocket launchers at nuclear power plant

A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict outside the city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, November 24, 2022.

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Russian forces have installed multiple rocket launchers at Ukraine’s shut-down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials claimed, raising fears Europe’s largest atomic power station could be used as a base to fire on Ukrainian territory and heightening radiation dangers.

Ukraine’s nuclear company Energoatom said in a statement that Russian forces occupying the plant have placed several Grad multiple rocket launchers near one of its six nuclear reactors. It said the offensive systems are located at new “protective structures” the Russians secretly built, “violating all conditions for nuclear and radiation safety.”

The claim could not be independently verified.

The Soviet-built multiple rocket launchers are capable of firing rockets at ranges of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles), and Energoatom said they could enable Russian forces to hit the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, where each side blames the other for almost daily shelling in the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets. The plant is in a southern Ukrainian region the Kremlin has illegally annexed.

— Associated Press

Zelenskyy says Ukraine is working with EU, U.S. to strengthen sanctions on Russia

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Kherson, Ukraine November 14, 2022.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country aims to bolster sanctions on Russia as Moscow shows no signs of ending its brutal war.

“We are actively working to support and strengthen the next sanctions against Russia – by European, American and other partners,” he said, according to a translation of his nightly address posted to messaging platform Telegram.

He noted that a proposed ninth European Union sanctions package is “in progress.”

Zelenskyy added that Ukraine is awaiting more steps its allies can take to crack down on efforts to circumvent sanctions in the financial and energy sectors.

— Jacob Pramuk

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