Brittney Griner to testify, could get 10 years


American basketball star Brittney Griner returned to a Russian court on Thursday, days after pleading guilty to drug possession charges that could carry a 10-year prison sentence.

Colleagues from the Russian basketball team she plays for testified to her character, saying she was a good person and a good teammate, NBC News reported. The network said Griner is expected to testify on Friday.

Guilty pleas are common in Russia, where virtually all trials result in guilty verdicts anyway. Evidence is being presented ahead of sentencing, which his lawyers say could happen in the coming weeks. The US government faces mounting pressure to secure his release, an effort likely made difficult amid tensions fueled by Russia’s invasion and the ongoing war with Ukraine.

Griner, who plays basketball for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason, was detained at a Moscow airport about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in his luggage. Her lawyers say she had hastily packed and mistakenly included the canisters in a suitcase.

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Other developments

►French President Emmanuel Macron has urged citizens to start reducing their energy consumption now, warning that Moscow would cut oil and gas supplies to the West as “a weapon of war”.

►The Russian-occupied province of Zaporizhia will hold a referendum on joining the Russian Federation in early autumn, the head of the military administration has said.

► US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Moscow to end forced evictions from Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, saying between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians have been “interrogated, detained and forcibly expelled” to Russia.

Death toll rises to 22 in Russian missile attack on city

Russian missiles slammed into the heart of the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia on Thursday, killing at least 22 people, injuring 100 others and destroying residential and commercial buildings, Ukrainian authorities said. National police chief Ihor Klymenko said authorities blocked off the area to carry out rescues, collect evidence of Russian war crimes and keep looters out. The strikes damaged more than 50 buildings, including a hospital, and more than 40 vehicles, he said.

“A cynical, cruel and insidious crime that has no excuse,” Klymenko said in a Facebook post.

The missiles were launched from a submarine in the Black Sea, he said. Vinnytsia, home to 370,000 people, is about 100 miles southwest of the capital Kyiv and away from the eastern Donbas region which has been the main target of Russian military advances.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at least one small child was among the victims.

“Every day Russia destroys civilians, kills Ukrainian children and directs missiles at civilian targets where there is nothing military,” he said. “What is it if not an open terrorist act? Inhuman. Killer country. A terrorist country.”

Ukraine seeks ‘special court’ for Putin and other Russian leaders

President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Russian political and military leaders are expected to face a special tribunal for war crimes, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursday. The creation of the court is necessary because existing international institutions face structural obstacles in investigating the crime of aggression, Kuleba said.

“I will be extremely clear – Ukraine accuses Russia of committing the crime of aggression,” he said in a speech at the Ukraine Accountability Conference. “Together with other States, organizations and institutions, we will use all available tools to seek justice for the thousands of innocent victims of these crimes, and we will continue to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Other virtual speakers include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Most Ukrainian refugees plan to return

The majority of Ukrainians who fled the war to other countries plan to return, but around two-thirds said they plan to stay in their host country until hostilities subside, according to a news report. investigation by the United Nations refugee agency. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees interviewed nearly 5,000 refugees currently living in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia between May and June.

About 16% said they planned to return to Ukraine in the next two months, with a fraction saying they planned to go temporarily to see family, get supplies or help loved ones evacuate.

“One thing that almost all of the participants had in common was a shared uncertainty about the future, which prevented them from making long-term plans,” the UNHCR said in its report.

UN calls Russian-Ukrainian meeting on grain crisis ‘critical step forward’

The UN chief said a Wednesday meeting in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine marked “a critical step forward” in resolving the blocking of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “more technical work will now be needed” to reach an agreement, “but the momentum is clear…I’m encouraged, but it’s not yet quite finished.”

Russia’s blockage of the export of millions of tons of grain from Ukraine has led to food shortages in Africa and Asia. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil.

Wednesday’s negotiations resulted in agreements including the establishment of a coordination center in Istanbul, the “joint control” of exit and arrival points and the maintenance of the security of transfer routes, according to a statement from the minister. Turkish Defense Hulusi Akar.

Speaking to The Associated Press ahead of the talks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said any deal must ensure that Russia “will respect these corridors, not sneak into the port and not not attack ports or attack ports from the air with their missile.”

Contribute: The Associated Press

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