Ukraine Live Briefing: Three grain ships set sail; Moscow mulls Griner swap

The Turkish-flagged cargo ship Polarnet leaves the port of Chornomorsk in Ukraine on Aug. 5. (Reuters)
The Turkish-flagged cargo ship Polarnet leaves the port of Chornomorsk in Ukraine on Aug. 5. (Reuters)

Three ships laden with grain left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports Friday — a sign of incremental progress in the wake of a deal between Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations to restore grain shipments amid a global food crisis.

In Moscow, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner’s lawyers pledged to appeal a 9½-year prison sentence, as U.S. officials urge Moscow to accept an offer to free Griner.

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

Key developments

  • The deal to lift a Russian blockade on millions of tons of Ukrainian grain is moving ahead. A Panama-flagged vessel left Odessa with corn for Ireland, a Malta-flagged ship departed the port of Chornomorsk for Britain, and a Turkey-flagged vessel will also export corn from Chornomorsk, according to Ankara — which helped broker the deal with the United Nations.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Russian resort city of Sochi on Friday, their second meeting in 2½ weeks. A Russian proposal intercepted ahead of the meeting — and shared with The Washington Post by Ukrainian intelligence — indicated that Russia hoped Turkey would agree to new channels to help avoid restrictions on its banking, energy and industrial sectors.
  • In a joint statement, the leaders said they had agreed to increase the volume of trade between their countries, and reaffirmed the Ukraine grain deal. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told Russian state media outlets that the leaders had agreed to “boost cooperation” across transportation, agriculture, construction and energy, but specifics were not forthcoming.
  • Ukraine’s Amnesty International director Oksana Pokalchuk said she resigned Friday after her organization accused Ukrainian forces of endangering civilians by setting up military bases and launching strikes from populated areas, such as near schools and hospitals. Amnesty said the violations “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks,” yet the report published Thursday prompted fierce criticism from Ukrainian officials.

Brittney Griner

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that his country was ready to discuss a prisoner exchange offer from the United States involving basketball star Brittney Griner but warned that “loud statements” and public diplomacy from the Biden administration could sink hopes of any deal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday repeated earlier condemnations of the “wrongful detention” of Griner and American security consultant Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence on a spying conviction.
  • Biden described the Griner verdict as “unacceptable” but said he was “hopeful” about getting her home after a Russian judge in the trial on drug charges handed down a prison sentence close to the maximum possible. The Olympian did not speak to journalists after the hearing but said “I love my family” as she was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
  • If diplomatic efforts or the appeal fail, Griner could be sent to a penal colony, a type of Russian prison facility known for brutal conditions.

Battlefield updates

  • Russia’s war in Ukraine has damaged or destroyed nearly 200 temples and prayer houses of different denominations, along with hundreds of educational institutions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly address.
  • Kyiv is asking Ukrainians to evacuate the eastern Donetsk region under a mandatory evacuation order for thousands of people to flee west on government-sponsored transit. Zelensky has said his troops are facing “hell” as they fight Russian advances in the country’s east.
  • Ukrainian shelling damaged power lines leading to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Russian occupation officials said in a statement Friday, Reuters reports. Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Associated Press earlier this week that the situation at the plant is “out of control” and that “every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” since Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear plant in February.

Global impact

  • Moscow ordered 14 Bulgarian diplomats to leave the country after Bulgaria expelled 70 Russian diplomatic staff over espionage concerns, Russia’s foreign ministry said Friday. Hundreds of diplomats have been expelled during the war in a diplomatic tit-for-tat between the United States, European nations and Moscow.
  • Blinken and Lavrov both attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Friday. “We sat next to each other at the table during today’s discussion, but I did not see him show interest in catching me,” Lavrov said.

From our correspondents

Russia’s vow to annex occupied Ukraine sparks divisions, pleas for aid: In Washington and Kyiv, trepidation is growing over whether the West is positioned to avert a pivotal shift in the war, The Washington Post reports.

Critics of the Biden administration’s response say the president and his advisers appear largely unfazed by Russia’s moves to lay the groundwork to annex pockets of Ukraine.

Russian leaders have signaled that they could hold votes in Ukraine’s east and south in September, alongside regional elections already scheduled to take place. This has raised fears that Russia could use the ensuing months to solidify its hold — putting fresh urgency behind the Ukrainian military’s efforts to mount a counteroffensive aimed at retaking the southern port of Kherson.

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.

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