US basketball star Brittney Griner has been released in a prisoner swap with Russia in exchange for former arms dealer Viktor Bout and was heading back to the United States on Thursday, ending what President Joe Biden called months of “hell” for her and her wife.
Russian forces have installed multiple rocket launchers at Ukraine’s shut-down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials claimed Thursday, raising fears Europe’s largest atomic power station could be used as a base to fire on Ukrainian territory, heightening radiation dangers.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Thursday the United States is confident that Finland and Sweden will be approved soon for membership of Nalso despite ratification delays from members Turkey and Hungary. After meeting his Finnish and Swedish counterparts on Thursday, Blinken said both countries had proven their bona fides to join the alliance, most notably in joining Nato to provide support to Ukraine to counter Russia’s invasion.
Vladimir Putin has vowed to continue attacking Ukrainian energy systems despite global criticism of strikes that have left millions without electricity and water at the start of winter. The Russian leader presented the strikes as a response to the explosion on Moscow’s bridge that connected Russia to annexed Crimea, as well as other attacks, accusing Kyiv of blowing up power lines near the Kursk nuclear power plant and not supplying water to Donetsk in eastern Ukraine .
Russia is still set on seizing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that Putin claimed as his own, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. He added that the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine, which Russia annexed in 2014, was vulnerable to attacks by Ukrainian forces, after officials there said they had shot down a drone near a key naval base.
The United States is preparing to send Ukraine a $275m military aid package offering new capabilities to defeat drones and strengthen air defenses, according to a document seen by Reuters on Thursday and people familiar with the package.
Russian shelling of a town in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine has left one person dead and two injured, according to the region’s governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko. At least 12 houses were destroyed by the shelling in the town of Toretsk, he said in a Telegram post.
About 10,000 Ukrainian service personnel and roughly the same number of Ukrainian civilians are believed to be being held in Russian detention facilities, according to a Ukrainian official. Oleksandr Kononenko, who oversees human rights in the security and defense sector on behalf of Ukraine’s parliament, said the civilians were being detained illegally as prisoners of war because of their alleged association with the Ukrainian army or state.
Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine’s power grid during the war. The grid is still working despite taking major damage, a senior official said. Volodymyr Kudrytsky, the chief executive of the grid operator Ukrenergo, also told a meeting arranged by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development that his officials were scouring the world for the complex equipment needed for repairs.
Ukraine has introduced new emergency power cuts as it tries to repair energy infrastructure damaged in Russian airstrikes. The grid operator Ukrenergo said the situation was complicated by the weather, with western regions facing frost, rain, snow and strong winds that were causing wires to ice over, but the most difficult situation was in eastern areas, where fighting has been fiercest.
Russian troops are reportedly taking part in tactical exercises in Belarus, according to the Russian defense ministry. Video clips posted by the ministry showed Russian soldiers in snow gear training near tanks in a winter landscape, firing weapons including artillery.
The EU plans to tighten up sanctions on Russia’s military and industrial complex, pro-Kremlin media and Russian nationalist groups fighting in Ukraine, according to leaked papers. A total of eight individuals are facing personal sanctions, including Russian officials said to be involved in the illegal transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children in Russia, as well as the leaders of rightwing nationalist groups.
Pope Francis broke down and wept as he prayed for peace in Ukraine during a traditional Christmas visit to the Spanish Steps in Rome. Reuters reports that Francis had to stop speaking and was unable to continue for about 30 seconds, and his head trembled. He later tweeted that “peace is possible; disarmament is possible”