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‘A collective wave of joy’ in the WNBA over Griner’s release, commissioner says

Brittney Griner of the United States gestures during a game against Australia at Saitama Super Arena in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic women’s basketball quarterfinal game in Saitama, Japan August 4, 2021.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that months of worry about Brittney Griner were transformed into a “collective wave of joy and relief” upon the news of her release.

Griner is recognized as one of the best basketball players in the world, having won two Olympic gold medals, a WNBA championship and an NCAA championship.

She has been absent from professional play since she was detained in Feb. 2022 by Russian customs officials and accused of smuggling drugs.

— Christina Wilkie

Brother of detained American Whelan says Biden administration made ‘right decision’ in securing Griner’s release

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, stands inside a defendants’ cage during his verdict hearing in Moscow, Russia June 15, 2020.

Maxim Shemetov | Reuters

The brother of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia, said the Biden administration made the “right decision” in securing the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

The U.S. earlier this year offered a prisoner exchange of Griner and Whelan in return for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a prison sentence in the U.S. Moscow rejected the offer.

The Biden administration eventually exchanged only Griner for Bout.

“The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen,” Whelan’s brother David Whelan said in a statement, according to Fox 2 Detroit.

David Whelan noted that Griner’s and his brother’s cases “were never really intertwined.”

— Jacob Pramuk

Blinken: ‘I wish we could have brought Paul home today’

U.S. President Joe Biden and Cherelle Griner speak on the phone with WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner after her release by Russia, in this White House handout photo taken in the Oval Office, as Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken look on, at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 8, 2022.

White House | Reuters

In a statement hailing American Brittney Griner’s release from Russian detention, Secretary of State Antony Blinken sounded a note of remorse over the Biden administration’s failure so far to secure the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

“While we celebrate Brittney’s release, Paul Whelan and his family continue to suffer needlessly,” Blinken said in a statement.

“I wholeheartedly wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane with Brittney. Nevertheless, we will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones where they belong,” said Blinken

Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of acting as a spy for the United States and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In July of this year, the Biden administration offered to swap convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for both Griner and Whelan. Moscow refused.

Ultimately, Bout was released in exchange for just Griner.

— Christina Wilkie

Neither Russia nor Ukraine can afford to pause the war for winter

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline in Donbass, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on November 22, 2022.

Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Here’s what Russia’s Foreign Ministry is saying about the Griner-Bout exchange

Viktor Bout is escorted by members of a special police unit after a hearing at a criminal court in Bangkok October 5, 2010.

Sukree Sukplang | Reuters

Here’s what Russia’s Foreign Ministry has put out as a statement on the release of Brittney Griner, and the deal that saw Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout exchanged for the U.S. basketball star.

“On December 8, 2022, the procedure for exchanging Russian citizen Viktor Bout for U.S. citizen Brittney Griner, who served their sentences in correctional institutions of the United States of America and the Russian Federation, respectively, was successfully completed at Abu Dhabi Airport.

For a long time, the Russian Federation has been negotiating with the United States on the release of V.A. Bout.

Washington categorically refused to engage in dialogue on the inclusion of the Russian in the exchange scheme. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot. 

As a result of the efforts made, it was possible to agree with the American side on the organization of the exchange of V.A. Bout for B.Griner.

The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Brittney Griner released from custody

US’ Women’s National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, stands inside a defendants’ cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. 

Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian custody in a high-profile prisoner swap.

Griner, who was given a nine-year sentence for drug possession in August, has spent the last month spent in one of Russia’s notoriously harsh penal colonies. She was traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout who was 11 years into a 25-year sentence.

President Joe Biden signed off on the exchange, which reportedly took place in the UAE. However, the swap did not include businessman Paul Whelan, the other American wrongfully detained in Russia. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on spying charges that he and the U.S. deny.

Biden tweeted Thursday that Griner was already on a plane home to the States, saying, “moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Construction of Ukraine’s largest modular town for refugees in Lviv

Construction of Ukraine’s largest modular town for refugees in Lviv on December 7, 2022. More than a thousand people who fled Russian attacks on Ukraine will be able to live in the two-story city. It will have all the communication facilities necessary for a comfortable winter stay.

A view of the construction of Ukraine’s largest modular town for refugees in Lviv on December 7, 2022. 

Pavlo Palamarchuk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A view of the construction of Ukraine’s largest modular town for refugees in Lviv on December 7, 2022. 

Pavlo Palamarchuk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A view of the construction of Ukraine’s largest modular town for refugees in Lviv on December 7, 2022. 

Pavlo Palamarchuk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A view of the construction of Ukraine’s largest modular town for refugees in Lviv on December 7, 2022. 

Pavlo Palamarchuk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

– Pavlo Palamarchuk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russia ‘preparing another provocation’ near nuclear plant, agency believes

Ukraine’s state nuclear agency, Energoatom, claimed Thursday that Russia is planning “another provocation” near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant its forces occupy in southern Ukraine.

Energoatom said on Telegram that Russian forces “stationed several Grad multiple rocket launchers on the territory of the captured Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” or ZNPP, on Wednesday.

 “The invaders placed this weapon near power unit No. 6, right next to the territory of the station’s dry storage of spent nuclear fuel, where they had previously built some ‘defensive structures’, in violation of all the requirements of nuclear and radiation safety,” the agency said.

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

Energoatom added that “most likely, the provocation is being prepared,” noting that Russia could be planning to shell the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, in particular the Nikopol and Marhanets bridges, “using these Grad launchers directly from the ZNPP site.”

The Zaporizhzhia NPP has been the source of constant tension between Russia and Ukraine during the war, and a source of worry for international nuclear energy experts who have called on both sides to desist from shelling near the plant, fearing a nuclear catastrophe. Power to the plant has repeatedly been knocked out, meaning it has to resort to using diesel generators to power vital cooling functions.

Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the site. Energoatom and international experts have called for the creation of a security zone inside and around the station “for its complete demilitarization and deoccupation.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova refused to comment earlier Thursday when asked about the possible setting up of a safety zone at the power plant but claimed the “Russian side continues to work” on the idea, news agency Tass reported.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine detains couple suspected of spying for Russia in Odesa

The Black Sea Ukrainian city of Odesa on May 19, 2022.

Oleksandr Gimanov | AFP | Getty Images

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has detained a married couple suspected of spying for Russia in the Black Sea city of Odesa, one of Ukraine’s largest ports.

An SBU statement issued on Thursday did not name the couple but accused them of collecting intelligence for Russia on locations for possible military deployments and the movement of air defence units.

It said the couple were believed to be Russian military intelligence officers who had planned to create a network of agents in southern Ukraine.

SBU officers found mobile phones and computer equipment with evidence of “hidden correspondence with the aggressor”, it said.

“The SBU detained both spies when they attempted to transfer classified information to Russia,” the SBU said.

The couple could not be reached for comment.

Odesa has frequently come under fire since Russia invaded Ukraine in February but it remains under Ukrainian control.

The SBU said both the man and woman detained had arrived in Ukraine in 2018 and received residence permits, and that the man had served in the Russian army.

It said the detainees had sent the information they collected to a former Russian special forces officer in Crimea who cooperated with military intelligence. The Crimea peninsula was seized by Russia in 2014.

The SBU also published a series of photos of the couple’s arrest, the military documents of the detained man showing his military rank as colonel, as well as Russian passports of the detainees.

— Reuters

Ukraine facing ‘significant’ power shortages, grid operator says

Emergency power shutdowns have been implemented in Ukraine on Thursday as the national power operator struggles following repeated Russian bombardment on the country’s energy network.

“As of 11:00 a.m. on December 8, because of damage caused by missile strikes to power plants and the high-voltage network, the system has a significant shortage of electricity,” grid operator Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

Consumption limits had already been exceeded in several regions and emergency shutdowns were applied this morning, Ukrenergo said. Earlier this week, Russia launched a new wave of missile attacks once again targeted at its energy infrastructure, a move designed to add inflict more hardship and discomfort on Ukrainian people as freezing temperatures set in.

“The situation is complicated by weather conditions: in many regions in the west of the country, frost, rain with snow and strong gusts of wind cause icing of wires and their damage,” the company said.

Local residents charge their devices, use internet connection and warm up after critical civil infrastructure was hit by Russian missile attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Nov. 24, 2022.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Eastern Ukraine, where fighting is at its most intense, is facing the most difficult situation after Russian forces “subjected several districts to massive artillery shelling.” 

“Where the situation allows, an examination of the state of the power grid is carried out. After receiving permission from the military, repair work will begin,” Ukrenego said. Emergency repair work continued around the clock in the regions of Kyiv and Odesa, it said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia says war could ‘end tomorrow’ if Ukraine wishes

“Zelensky knows when all this can end, it can all end tomorrow if [Kyiv] wishes,” Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Kremlin claimed the war in Ukraine could end immediately if Kyiv has the political will to do so.

“Zelensky knows when all this can end, it can all end tomorrow if [Kyiv] wishes,” Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday.

Ukraine has said it will no conduct cease-fire operations with Russian while Russian troops remain on its territory and while President Vladimir Putin is in power.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian ship shoots down drone over Black Sea, Sevastopol chief says

Russian warships are seen ahead of the Navy Day parade in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea July 23, 2021.

Alexey Pavlishak | Reuters

Russia’s fleet shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea, the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, the largest city in the annexed Crimean peninsular, said on Thursday.

“This morning, a ship of the Black Sea Fleet shot down a UAV over the sea,” Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev said on Telegram.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify battlefield reports from either side.

Reuters

‘Fierce confrontation’ continues around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday night that intense fighting continues in the area around Bakhmut in Donetsk. 

“First of all, regarding the Donetsk region, Bakhmut districts and other hottest spots. A very fierce confrontation is ongoing there, every meter counts. I thank all our guys who destroy the enemy right there – every day, every night, every hour,” Zelenskyy posted on Telegram Wednesday after meeting with the military’s leadership. On Tuesday, Zelenskyy visited troops on the front line in Donetsk.

He said fighting in the neighboring Luhansk region, as well as the northeastern Kharkiv region, was discussed, as well as the acute crisis Ukraine’s energy system faces.

“We are constantly increasing the generation and supply of electricity – we are adding more volume almost every day,” Zelenskyy said, although the country’s armed forces warned Thursday that “the threat of Russian missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy system and critical infrastructure remains.”

Smoke and flames rise after many missiles and artillery shells fell in the area, in the Voroshylovskyi district of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Dec. 6, 2022. According to initial reports, there were people killed and injured in the attack that severely damaged civilian settlements.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces noted on Facebook that while other regions in Ukraine are coming under attack, Russian forces continue to concentrate their assaults on Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

“Over the past 24 hours, units of the defense forces have repelled attacks by Russian invaders outside the settlements of Ternova, Kharkiv Region; Stelmakhivka, Ploshchanka, Chervonopopivka and Bilohorivka, Luhansk region, and Bilohorivka, Berestove, Yakovlivka, Bakhmutske, Bakhmut, Opytne, Kurdiumivka, Maiorsk, Marinka, and Novomykhailivka, Donetsk region,” the report said.

Russia launched seven missile strikes and 16 airstrikes, as well as more than 40 attacks using multiple launch rocket systems, the military update noted. CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information.

— Holly Ellyatt

Kyiv mayor says winter ‘apocalypse’ scenario is possible, but urges calm

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko attends an interview with Reuters, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine December 7, 2022. 

Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

Kyiv’s mayor on Wednesday warned of an “apocalypse” scenario for the Ukrainian capital this winter if Russian air strikes on infrastructure continue and said although there was no need for people to evacuate now, they should be ready to do so.

“Kyiv might lose power, water, and heat supply. The apocalypse might happen, like in Hollywood films, when it’s not possible to live in homes considering the low temperature,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko told Reuters in an interview.

“But we are fighting and doing everything we can to make sure that this does not happen,” the former world heavyweight boxing champion said, raising his booming voice to drive the point home.

According to Klitschko, 152 civilian residents of Kyiv have been killed and 678 buildings destroyed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, but the city faces fresh tribulations this winter as Russia regularly pounds Ukraine’s power grid with missiles.

— Reuters

EU eyes Russian officials, banks, industry for sanctions

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at the EU-Western Balkans Summit, in Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. EU leaders and their Western Balkans counterparts gathered Tuesday for talks aimed at boosting their partnership as Russia’s war in Ukraine threatens to reshape the geopolitical balance in the region.

Andreea Alexandru | AP

The European Union proposed travel bans and asset freezes on almost 200 more Russian officials and military officers as part of a new round of sanctions aimed at ramping up pressure on Moscow over its war in Ukraine.

The proposals were made by the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission. They must still be debated and endorsed by the 27 member countries, a process that routinely results in the commission’s suggestions getting watered down.

The targets of the latest recommended sanctions include government ministers, lawmakers, regional governors and political parties.

“This list covers key figures in Russia’s brutal and deliberate missile strikes against civilians, in the kidnapping of Ukrainian children to Russia, and in the theft of Ukrainian agricultural products,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

With a fresh raft of sanctions, the commission also intends to target the Russian defense industry and more Russian banks, and to impose export controls and restrictions on products like chemicals, nerve agents, electronics and IT components that could be used by the armed forces.

— Associated Press

Putin says Russia’s war could be a ‘lengthy’ process, downplays the need to mobilize more troops

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Young Scientists Congress in Sochi, Russia December 1, 2022. 

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his invasion of Ukraine could be “lengthy,” as the brutal conflict drags into its 10th month.

As Russia struggles to hold ground it gained this year in Ukraine, Putin downplayed the need to mobilize more troops. Considering another round of conscription “simply does not make sense,” Putin said, according to an NBC News translation of his remarks at a meeting of his human rights council.

Of the 300,000 reservists called up during Putin’s partial mobilization earlier this year, 150,000 are now in Ukraine, the Russian president said.

He added that “there is no mass withdrawal” from Russian positions in Ukraine.

— Jacob Pramuk

Ukrainians brace for a long winter ahead

Kyiv residents brace for a cold, dark winter as Russia continues its missile strikes that have caused widespread power outages across the country.

Citizens are seen making their way through snow on December 07, 2022 in Borodyanka, Ukraine.

Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images

A resident collects water from a pump in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Ukrainians have been no strangers to hardship over the past century, but their dogged resilience and solidarity in the face of Russian bombardment has been an enduring image of a war that started at the tail end of last winter. Photographer: Andrew Kravchenko/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Andrew Kravchenko | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Woman seen near an artwork by British street artist Banksy on December 07, 2022 in Borodyanka, Ukraine.

Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images

People walk down a street amid a snowfall as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in central Kyiv, Ukraine December 7, 2022. 

Gleb Garanich | Reuters

Civilians take shelter in a metro station during an airstrike alert in the centre of Kyiv on December 5, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

A resident lights a camping stove at home during a power outage in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022.

Andrew Kravchenko | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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