Ukraine live briefing: Nobel Peace Prize winners decry authoritarianism; Russia is expanding nuclear arsenal, U.S. says

Ukraine live briefing: Nobel Peace Prize winners decry authoritarianism; Russia is expanding nuclear arsenal, U.S. says

Updated December 10, 2022 at 3:53 p.m. EST|Published December 10, 2022 at 2:10 a.m. EST

A RS-24 Yars strategic nuclear missile is transported during a Victory Day rehearsal in Moscow in June 2020. (Bloomberg News)A trio of human rights defenders in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine received the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo on Saturday in another rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. The honorees are Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, which is working to document alleged war crimes; the Russian human rights group Memorial; and Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, who was imprisoned after criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin ally.

On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russia is adding to its nuclear stockpiles; the head of NATO said he worried that the conflict in Ukraine could spin “out of control.”

The comments follow a prisoner swap that secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody. Those negotiations did not thaw U.S.-Russian relations, Putin told a televised news conference Friday.

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

1. Key developments

Nobel laureates and a proxy highlighted their desire for an end to the region’s authoritarian bent. In her speech, Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of the Center for Civil Liberties board, asked foreign leaders to “adequately respond to systemic violations” in Ukraine and to “stop making concessions to dictatorships.” Jan Rachinsky, historian and representative of the human rights society Memorial, asked countries to stop the “chain of unpunished crimes.” In her speech on Saturday, Natallia Pinchuk, who spoke on behalf of her imprisoned husband, Ales Bialiatski, decried Lukashenko’s “dependent dictatorship” that supports Putin’s military aims in Ukraine.Russia is “modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal,” Austin said Friday at a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where the U.S. Strategic Command oversees the country’s nuclear operations. He said the United States is on the verge of facing “two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors,” as China is also increasing and updating its nuclear forces.The conflict in Ukraine could become “a major war” between NATO countries and Russia if things go wrong, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned in an interview with Norway’s public broadcaster. He said that a wider conflict must be prevented and that “we are working every day to avoid that.”Griner was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in her home state of Texas after landing in the United States on Friday. She “is resilient and so happy to be home and be with her wife,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). U.S. officials said she was in good spirits. Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer released in the exchange, was treated well during the swap, his wife told Russian news agency Tass.More than 1.5 million people in Odessa and much of the southern Ukrainian region were without electricity on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address that same day, blaming Russian drone strikes. Crews were working to restore power near the Black Sea after a Russian strike knocked out power, according to Odessa’s Telegram page, but a local energy agency predicted it could take as long as two to three months to recover. Germany on Saturday said it has provided $21 million worth of generators for Ukraine, some of which will go to Odessa, to help keep the lights and heat on as Kremlin-backed troops target Ukrainian electricity infrastructure.The European Union Council announced Saturday that it had reached a tentative agreement to loan 18 billion euros to Ukraine in 2023 to finance the warn-torn nation’s immediate needs, such as rehabilitating critical infrastructure. The European Parliament will consider adopting the proposal next week.2. Battleground updates

Britain expects Iranian backing for the Russian military “to grow in coming months” as Moscow attempts to obtain more weapons, including ballistic missiles, the Defense Ministry said in its Saturday update.U.S. officials have also issued warnings about a growing defense partnership between Russia and Iran. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday that “support is flowing both ways” in areas such as weapons development and training.Bout says he supports the war in Ukraine and would volunteer for the effort if he had the opportunity, Russian state media reported. The former prisoner told RT that he lacked the skills to volunteer for the war.3. Global impact

Putin said Russia is “just thinking about” adopting what he described as the U.S. concept of preemptive military strikes, according to the Associated Press. Earlier this week, he said that while the threat of nuclear war has risen, Moscow’s strategy centers on “retaliatory strikes.” “We have not gone crazy. We are aware of what nuclear weapons are,” he said Wednesday.Ukraine was the most dangerous place for journalists this year, with 12 media fatalities due to the ongoing war. Sixty-seven journalists and media staffers have been killed this year while performing their duties, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists said Friday in its annual report documenting reporters’ deaths. That’s an increase from last year, when 47 were killed, and is the highest since 2018, when 95 journalists and media staffers died because of “targeted killings, bomb attacks or crossfire incidents.”TotalEnergies will end its stake in Russian natural gas producer Novatek and will incur a $3.7 billion loss, the company said in a statement Friday. European sanctions prevent the French energy company from selling its 19.4 percent stake in the company.Violent altercations involving Russian soldiers who returned from Ukraine this year are piercing through the slumber of Russian society, raising the specter that many will return from the front with psychological injuries to an ill-equipped mental health system.4. From our correspondents

In freeing Griner, Biden faced resistance abroad and at home: President Biden’s 10-month effort to free Brittney Griner faced stubborn resistance from a Russian government bent on extracting maximum concessions for the WNBA star’s release, report John Hudson, Devlin Barrett, Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan.

But the president also faced opposition from his own Justice Department, which viewed Thursday’s one-for-one prisoner swap involving Griner and the notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout as a mistake given the discrepancy of offenses by the two prisoners, officials familiar with the matter said. Disagreements played out inside the administration and cut across familiar bureaucratic lines, senior officials said. Like others interviewed for this report, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.

Russia freed Brittney Griner in a high-profile prisoner exchange with the U.S. Here’s what this means for the future of other American hostages. (Video: Rich Matthews/The Washington Post)

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested outside Moscow in February for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil. Bout, whose arms fueled conflicts from Sudan to Rwanda to Afghanistan to Angola, is nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” and his illicit transactions with violent regimes and militant groups earned him a 25-year sentence in federal prison.

Arelis R. Hernández and Andrew Jeong contributed to this report.  » …
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