The Kremlin is ready for “a professional conversation and concrete steps” to free WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American in a prisoner swap, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
Zakharova, appearing on Rossiya-1 TV, was asked about a deal that would include Russian national Viktor Bout, according to a report by Russian news agency TASS. Bout is serving a 25-year sentence on a 2011 conviction in New York for conspiring to kill US citizens, delivering anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization.
“The people who have to deal with these issues are ready,” Zakharova said. “And this work is not done in the public eye.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that Russian officials had been approached about a deal to release Griner, convicted in Russia of drug trafficking and possession, and Paul Whelan, convicted of espionage. Blinken said Whelan and Griner were “wrongfully detained.”
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►A UN ship loaded with more than 25,000 tons of Ukrainian grain bound for Ethiopia sailed from a Black Sea port near Odessa on Sunday, the first shipment of its kind in an aid program to countries facing famine.
►Any future decision by the United States to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would mark a “point of no return”, warned Alexander Darchiev, director of the North American department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some US lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to issue the label.
►The Ukrainian Minister of Health accused the Russian authorities of having committed a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in the areas occupied by his forces since the invasion of the country.
►German businesses and public institutions should not heat their offices to more than 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit this winter to help reduce the country’s natural gas consumption and allow Germany to wean itself off Russian energy, said Economy Minister Robert Habeck.
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Concerns over nuclear disaster rise at damaged Ukrainian factory
Concerns over the possibility of a nuclear disaster at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant grew on Sunday after President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to target Russian soldiers using Europe’s largest nuclear facility as cover to bomb nearby towns, where residents have started to leave in large numbers.
Zelenskyy, in his evening speech, accused the Russians of “constant provocations with shelling” near the plant in an attempt to “blackmail” Ukraine and the West for concessions.
“Every day of the stay of the Russian contingent on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia plant increases the radiological threat to Europe,” Zelenskyy said. “Every Russian soldier who shoots at the factory or shoots under cover of the factory must understand that he becomes a special target.”
The United States is among 42 countries joining a statement released by the European Union on Sunday urging Russia to withdraw its forces from the plant.
Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov has called on Ukraine to provide security guarantees so international inspectors can visit and help manage the beleaguered facility.
Ukrainians in Kherson warned to get out before winter, counter-offensive
Ukrainians who remained in the Russian-occupied Kherson region, especially women with children, are expected to leave the region in the coming months, authorities have warned. They estimate that around half of the city’s population of nearly 300,000 people have already left the area, which came under counterattack from the Ukrainian army as it tried to slow down the Russian advance to the east and south. Kherson, a southern port city, is considered crucial to the fortunes of both sides.
“Evacuate,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. “A harsh winter is coming. We must help you, save you from the cold and the enemy.”
Ukraine disrupts Russian supply lines by damaging bridges
Ukrainian troops had damaged the last working bridge over the Dnieper in the Kherson region in a strike, further hampering Russia’s ability to supply its forces.
“The Russians no longer have the ability to fully hand over their equipment,” Kherson Regional Council Deputy Serhii Khlan said in a post on social media.
The Ukrainian army is working on a counter-offensive strategy in the Kherson region, occupied by Russia. Britain’s Ministry of Defence, which has analyzed the situation for Russian troops, said Ukraine’s damage to bridges over the Dnieper “will remain a key vulnerability”.
Official: Ukraine should continue to retake Crimea
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoylak said Kyiv should make recapturing the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014 one of its war goals.
“Russia started a war against Ukraine and the world in 2014, with its brazen takeover of Crimea. It is obvious that this war should end with the liberation of Crimea,” Podoylak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
Podoylak continued: “And also with the legal punishment of the initiators of the ‘special military operation’” – the Kremlin’s term for its war in Ukraine.
The comments came days after explosions at a Russian airbase in Crimea apparently destroyed up to a dozen planes. Ukraine did not take credit for the destruction, seen in aerial photos, and Russia denied that its planes were damaged.
Contributor: The Associated Press