Ukraine live briefing: Putin says Griner talks have not led to further dialogue

A woman stands near her ruined house on Dec. 8 following Russian shelling the previous day in Kurakhove, in Ukraine's Donetsk region. (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)
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U.S. government officials hailed the arrival of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Texas on Friday, after 10 months in Russian custody. “So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil,” the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, Roger D. Carstens, tweeted. “Welcome home BG!”

Washington secured her release in a prisoner deal with Moscow in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The Kremlin said Friday the high-profile swap, after months of negotiations, did not indicate a step toward resolving U.S.-Russian diplomatic tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.

The talks about swapping Griner and Bout created “a certain atmosphere” between officials but did not evolve into broader dialogue, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a televised news conference Friday during a visit to Kyrgyzstan. “Are any other [prisoner] exchanges possible? Everything is possible,” he said.

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

1. Griner release

  • The basketball star landed in San Antonio, to receive treatment at an Army medical center and reunite with her family. Bout, who was imprisoned in Illinois for conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and arms trafficking, arrived earlier in Moscow, Russian media reported Friday. He and Griner passed each other in a dramatic moment in Abu Dhabi on the tarmac Thursday. In his first interview since his release, Bout told Russia’s state-controlled RT television network that the West is shocked to see Russia being a “truly independent power,” but that he did not encounter any “Russophobia” from U.S. prison staff.
  • “We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers — including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support for Brittney and our family during what we know is a heartbreaking time,” Griner’s family said in a statement obtained by ESPN. “We pray for Paul and for all wrongfully detained Americans’ swift and safe return.”
  • Moscow said bilateral relations with Washington “are still in quite a sad state,” according to Russian news agency Tass. The talks “were exclusively about the topic of the exchange,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.
  • The White House said it would keep working for the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was charged with spying in Russia and is serving a 16-year sentence. “We are actively working to try to get Paul home,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday. Whelan told CNN in a phone interview earlier that he was glad Griner was free but disappointed not to have been included in the exchange.

2. Key developments

  • As temperatures drop, residents of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are struggling to find heat, water and electricity — and wondering if they can stay in Ukraine, The Washington Post reports. Officials have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe for those who remain and a new wave in the refugee crisis if many leave.
  • A Moscow court on Friday sentenced Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin to 8½ years in prison for spreading “fake information” about the Russian army’s operations in Ukraine. Yashin, a former municipal deputy and ally of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny, was reportedly sentenced for sharing photos and footage related to the killings of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.
  • Britain’s foreign secretary announced a new round of sanctions Friday against individuals from 11 countries, including Russia, over allegations of human rights abuses. The U.S. Department of Treasury and U.S. State Department also announced new sanctions against six Russian nationals and officials and the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, alleging human rights abuses, and instances of voter intimidation and rigged elections.
  • President Biden approved an additional $275 million in military aid to Ukraine on Friday. A Defense Department statement said the security assistance package will help Ukraine boost its air defense capabilities. It noted that the United States has committed over $19.3 billion in security assistance since the war began.

3. Global impact

  • Belarusian and Russian athletes could get a chance to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. At the 11th Olympic Summit held on Friday, the International Olympic Committee said it would explore a proposal by the Olympic Council of Asia to facilitate the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in qualifying competitions in Asia. The IOC made clear at the summit that sporting sanctions against the two countries will remain in place.
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is unlikely to visit Russia for the countries’ annual bilateral summit this year, Indian news outlet NDTV reported, saying that Russia has not proposed a summit or announced dates.
  • Russia is set to pull 30 staffers out of its already-downsized embassy in Washington due to visa restrictions, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told the state-backed RIA news agency, Reuters reported.

4. From our correspondents

War has tamed Ukraine’s oligarchs, creating space for democratic change: Interviews with more than two-dozen current and former Ukrainian and U.S. officials, analysts and others show that the conflict has diminished the power of a group of wealthy Ukrainians who held outsize influence in the country and have been accused of corruption, Kevin Sullivan, David L. Stern and Kostiantyn Khudov report.