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The Russian government formally told the US Embassy last week about detained WNBA star Brittney Griner’s transfer to a remote penal colony, weeks after she had been moved, according to the Biden administration.
“The U.S. Embassy in Moscow was formally notified by the Russian government of Ms. Griner’s transfer on November 23, more than two weeks after she was moved from a prison in Moscow to IK-2 in Mordovia,” a State Department spokesperson told CNN on Thursday.
“We are in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team and aware that they were able to visit her this week,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the US is still awaiting answers from the Russian government on the whereabouts of Paul Whelan, another American it says is wrongfully detained.
Whelan's family has voiced immense concern after more than a week without contact with him, and his brother has cast doubt on claims from prison officials that he was sent to the prison hospital.
“The U.S. embassy has continued to press Russian authorities for more information about his current location,” the spokesperson said. “Consular officers last visited Paul on November 16 and spoke with him by phone on November 14.”
“We continue to call on Russia to live up to its legal obligations to provide the United States timely consular access to all U.S. citizens, including Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, so we can provide critical consular assistance,” the spokesperson said. “We also continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia.”
In an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the State Department has asked for contact with Whelan.
“I can’t speak to his condition now, his situation now. We are working every day to make sure that we have contact with him, that we understand what the exact situation is,” Blinken said. “Even as we’re working to bring him home, to bring Brittney Griner home, this isn’t the end of what we see Russia doing in terms of abusing very basic understandings that countries have had when it comes to having access to our citizens who are being detained.”
US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday demonstrated a united front in addressing the ongoing war in Ukraine but offered divergent answers over their willingness to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, relaying that they spent much of their recent meeting discussing the invasion.
Biden told reporters during a joint White House news conference with Macron that he “has no immediate plans” to contact Putin, but added that he’s prepared to speak with the Russian leader if he’s looking for a way to end the war in Ukraine. Biden also clarified that Putin has not done so yet.
“He’s just miscalculated across the board,” Biden said of Putin following his bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with the French president. “And so the question is … how does he get himself out of the circumstances in? I’m prepared, if he’s willing to talk, to find out what he’s willing to do, but I’ll only do it in consultation with my NATO allies. I’m not going to do it on my own.”
Macron said that once Ukraine sets conditions for a peace agreement, he’s willing to speak with Putin. The French leader told ABC’s “Good Morning America” earlier Thursday that he intends to speak with the Russian president in the coming days.
Firm US support, Macron also relayed, “is very important, not just for the Ukrainians … but for the stability of our world today. Because if we consider that we can abandon the country and abandon the full respect of these principles, it means that there is no possible stability in this world,” pledging France’s own increased military, economic, and humanitarian support.
The French president’s trip to the White House alongside his spouse, Brigitte Macron, marks their second time as the guests of honor for a state visit, having first done so during Donald Trump’s administration in 2018.
Thursday’s agenda for Biden’s first state visit since taking office has been filled with formal fanfare, with a list of events intended to highlight the strength of the critical relationship between the US and its oldest ally.
Read more here.
The Biden administration approved a $380 million sale of missiles to Finland, just days after approving a separate $323.3 million arms sale to the Nordic nation.
The potential arms sales come as Finland, which shares a border with Russia, seeks to join NATO.
According to a note from the US State Department, the administration informed Congress Thursday it had approved the possible sale of Stinger anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles and related equipment.
“It is vital to the U.S. national interest to assist Finland in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability,” the note said.
“The proposed sale will improve Finland’s defense and deterrence capabilities. Finland intends to use these defense articles and services to increase its national stock,” it continued. “This critical platform will bolster the land and air defense capabilities in Europe’s northern flank, supporting the U.S. European Command’s top priorities.”
On Monday, the administration informed Congress of its approval of the possible sale of tactical missiles and Joint Stand Off Weapons.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the total value of the previous arms sale. It was $323.3 million.
The Ukrainian military claims that some Russian troops are withdrawing from their positions in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
It also says that the Russians are preparing the evacuation of "the personnel of the occupation administrations" in the Zaporizhzhia region.
In its daily update, the military's General Staff said that Russian units had left the settlements of Mykhailivka, Polohy and Inzhenerne, all towns south of the city of Zaporizhzhia. Front lines in the region run for 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) across rolling farmland. Geolocated footage posted on Wednesday shows the aftermath of strikes on buildings in Polohy.
The General Staff said that in the settlement of Burchak, the occupation authorities are conducting a census for the so-called voluntary evacuation of the population.
The Ukrainians appear to be repeating actions they undertook in Kherson — striking bridges, supply hubs and Russian troop concentrations behind the front lines. The General Staff said that in recent days strikes about half a dozen places had wounded more than 230 Russian soldiers and destroyed ammunition and equipment.
CNN is unable to confirm the claims made by the General Staff.
What could happen next: Analysts have suggested that the next offensive front for the Ukrainians is likely to be a thrust southwards towards the occupied city of Melitopol.
The General Staff said that elsewhere Russian forces continued to defend their positions in eastern Luhansk region using tanks, mortars and artillery to prevent further advances of Ukrainian forces.
Russian units were also shelling several settlements in recently liberated parts of Kherson region. But Brig. Gen. Oleksii Hromov claimed that last week Russian forces had accidentally fired on their own unit near the village of Tsukury in Kherson, killing 14 servicemen. CNN cannot verify the claim.
Hromov said that Russian forces had gathered in the city of Dzankhoi in Crimea, which had "actually turned into the largest military base on the territory... from where the Russian occupation troops and weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces are redeployed."
Social media videos indicate that Russian troops in the areas around Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region are taking heavy casualties, even as they take some territory, especially south of the city.
Some videos from Ukrainian military drones show Russian troops in foxholes and trenches being targeted by explosive charges dropped from the drones. Other videos at ground level show the bodies of Russian soldiers littering the countryside.
One video shot by the Ukrainian military and published on Telegram shows different weapons systems being used in a coordinated attack on Russian positions, including 155 mm Howitzers and mortars. It appears from some videos that Russian positions have little protection and are exposed in open countryside.
Russian forces have been attacking the area around Bakhmut for months — and more recently have sent newly mobilized but less experienced units forward.
Some Russian units —including those affiliated with the Wagner group — appear to have made incremental progress, taking a string of small villages to the south of the city. On Thursday the Russian Ministry of Defense said that, “as a result of the offensive actions of the Russian troops, the settlement of Kurdiumivka of the Donetsk People's Republic was completely liberated from the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine."
The Defense Ministry had previously announced the capture of three other settlements —but all are small villages.
What Ukraine is saying: Ukrainians say fighting continues in the area, and that during combat missions near Kurdiumivka, Ukrainian forces destroyed three ammunition depots, one mortar crew "and manpower of the enemy."
Analysts say the Ukrainians are also clearly taking casualties as they are targeted by Russian artillery and tanks. The Ukrainian military has said that fighting continues in many areas close to Bakhmut but has not acknowledged losing any ground.
The Ukrainian National Guard said that over the past week, units had repelled enemy attacks in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka sectors of Donetsk region and "destroyed ammunition depots, equipment and personnel of the enemy."
Its spokesman said that in strikes near the north-eastern outskirts of Bakhmut, "the enemy's losses amounted to 79 servicemen, of which 46 were irrecoverable.
A CNN team in nearby Kramatorsk reported hearing heavy artillery exchanges for much of Thursday.
In its latest analysis, the Institute for the Study of War says that the Russian campaign around Bakhmut indicates "that Russian forces have fundamentally failed to learn from previous high-casualty campaigns concentrated on objectives of limited operational or strategic significance."
US President Joe Biden described Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine as "sick" and said that there's only one rational way to end the war in Ukraine — for Putin to "pull out" of the country.
"But it appears he's not going to do that. He's paying a very heavy price for failing to do it, but he's inflicting incredible, incredible carnage on the civilian population of Ukraine. Bombing nurseries, hospitals, children's homes. It's sick what he's doing," Biden said during a news conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House.
Biden added that he had no immediate plans to contact Putin, but is "prepared to speak" with the Russian leader "if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he's looking for a way to end the war — he hasn't done that yet."
He continued, "If that's the case, in consultation with my French and my NATO friends, I'll be happy to sit down with Putin to see what he wants, has in mind. He hasn't done that yet. In the meantime, I think it's absolutely critical what Emmanuel [Macron] said. We must support the Ukrainian people."
French President Emmanuel Macron said he does not believe allies should push Ukrainians into a compromise with Russia that would "not be acceptable for them."
"We will never urge the Ukrainians to make a compromise which will not be acceptable for them," the French president said in response to a question about a possible end to the war.
"They are so brave and they defend precisely their lives, their nation, and our principles. ... If we want a sustainable peace, we have to respect the Ukrainians to decide the moment and the conditions in which they will negotiate about their territory and their future," Macron added.
In the meantime, Macron said, "We increased our military support. We increased our economic support. We are increasing our humanitarian support."
Additionally, US support — both financially and in providing military weapons to Ukraine — is not just important for the country under attack but also for wider Europe, Macron said.
"For the stability of our world today — because if we consider that we can abandon the country and abandon the full respect of these principles, it means that there is no possible stability in this world," Macron said.
"I think it's extremely important to have you so much committed," he said, referring to the money and assistance the US has provided in aid to Ukraine so far.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that any details of prisoner swap discussions with the United States will not be publicly disclosed and that Moscow is not planning to engage with US President Joe Biden's administration before the end of the year, according to Russian state media.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin considers it unnecessary to publicly disclose the details of prisoner swap negotiations between Russia and the US, state news agency TASS reported.
“We do not talk about this and we urge everyone to be silent on this subject. Such matters can only be discussed in silence,” Peskov told TASS.
The US has previously called on Russia to release American citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. The Biden administration has offered a potential prisoner swap involving Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence.
The potential swap is being negotiated through the special services of Russia and the US, according to Russian state media.
WNBA star Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in August after being arrested in February with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. Whelan, a former US Marine, is serving 16 years in prison on espionage charges.