Ukraine Live Briefing: U.S. made ‘substantial proposal’ for release of Griner and Whelan

A view of a destroyed shopping mall in the city of Kherson, Ukraine, on July 20.
A view of a destroyed shopping mall in the city of Kherson, Ukraine, on July 20.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the United States had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and jailed American Paul Whelan. “We’re very focused on getting Brittney and Paul home,” and President Biden has approved the proposal, Blinken said Wednesday after Griner had taken the stand in her Moscow trial on drug charges.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Brittney Griner takes the stand at her trial in Russia

Key developments

  • Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner returned to a courtroom Wednesday to take the stand. She told the court that her rights were not read to her when she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February, and that translation offered to her during the Russian investigation was inadequate. At a news conference Wednesday, Blinken said he would discuss a proposal for her release in an upcoming meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a significant break from his past strategy of avoiding contact with senior Russian officials. Moscow said it had received no requests for a phone call between Blinken and Lavrov, according to state media.
  • President Biden directed his national security team to pursue “every avenue” to bring Griner home safely, which ultimately led to the proposal made to Russia, NSC spokesman John Kirby said in a White House briefing Wednesday. He declined to share more details about the deal, he said, “to ensure that our own national security is preserved” and to avoid endangering the negotiations and “encouraging hostage taking in the future.”
  • Griner’s lawyers in Moscow told The Washington Post on Wednesday that they had learned about the United States’ proposal for her release from the news and added that they are not participating in prisoner-swap discussions. A prisoner exchange is only possible after the court reaches a verdict. “In any case, we would be really happy if Brittney will be able to come home and we hope it will be soon,” said Maria Blagovolina, of the Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin law firm, and Alexander Boikov of the Moscow Legal Center.
  • As Kyiv prepares for shipments from three ports, a center to monitor grain exports opened in Istanbul under the deal to release millions of tons of grain cut off by a Russian naval blockade. The joint coordination center brings together Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations to monitor the passage of merchant vessels from Ukraine and resolve any violations of the agreement. A Russian strike Saturday on the port of Odessa imperiled the deal, but preparations for the “first grain-laden ships to leave Ukrainian ports” were continuing, Turkey’s defense minister said Wednesday at the center’s opening.

Battlefield updates

  • Ukrainian forces struck the Antonovsky Bridge in Kherson overnight, as they target a key supply link over the Dnieper River in a bid to wrest the southern region out of Russian hands. A Russian-backed official there said a HIMARS rocket launcher supplied by the United States hit the structure, which is now pierced with holes but is still standing. President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the bridge and others in the area will be rebuilt, and that Ukrainian forces where “doing everything to ensure that the occupiers do not have any logistical opportunities on our land.”
  • Air defense systems from Britain, antiaircraft weapons from Germany and ammunition from the United States have arrived in Ukraine. Six British Stormer HVM air defense systems made it to the front in Ukraine this week, the southern military command said.
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that its air force destroyed more than 100 rockets for U.S.-made HIMARS in the Dnipropetrovsk region Sunday. It said the attack “eliminated” up to 120 Ukrainian servicemen, “along with foreign mercenaries and technicians.”
  • Biden administration officials told U.S. lawmakers that 75,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in the war, CNN reported, citing Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.).

Global impact

  • The Kremlin blamed E.U. sanctions for cuts to Russian gas supplies. Citing problems with a turbine, Russian energy giant Gazprom cut the natural gas flowing via a pipeline to Germany by half, to about 20 percent capacity, starting Wednesday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that it was “absolutely incorrect” that Russia is using gas as leverage to get the European Union to lift sanctions, Russian news agency Interfax reported. Gazprom deputy chairman Vitaly Markelov claimed Wednesday that Siemens Energy had failed to perform repairs on faulty turbine engines on the Nord Stream I pipeline.
  • Ukraine is preparing to increase electricity exports to European customers, Zelensky said, “to help our partners withstand Russian energy pressure.”
  • A train carrying restricted goods arrived in Kaliningrad via Lithuania, Russian news agencies said, after the European Union said a ban on Russian cargo moving through its territory would not affect rail transit.
  • Kyiv intends to pursue war-crimes charges against leaders of big Western banks after asking them to cut financing to companies that trade in Russian oil, an economic adviser to Ukraine’s president said. On Wednesday, Andriy Kostin, a lawmaker from Zelensky’s party, was named prosecutor general.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron had sharp words for African leaders about Ukraine. Speaking alongside Cameroonian President Paul Biya in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, during a three-country tour, Macron criticized the “hypocrisy, particularly on the African continent,” of some leaders’ denials that the conflict in Ukraine is a war. Seventeen African countries abstained from a U.N. vote in March to condemn Russia’s invasion, and Cameroon signed a military accord with Moscow in April.

From our correspondents on the ground

As they wait for weapons, Ukrainians hold the line with Soviet artillery: While Western countries are sending better weapons, some units are still fighting with Soviet-era leftovers, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Serhiy Morgunov report from Ukraine.

One of those units is the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade near the front line in Zaporizhzhia, where Ali Pirbudagov is using weapons that are older than he is against Russian troops with more modern equipment. While they wait, he and other soldiers in the self-propelled artillery unit said they cannot make advances with their arsenal — the best they can do is hold the line.

Kareem Fahim in Istanbul and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.