The US says it has made an offer to Russia to secure the release of US basketball player Brittney Griner and US citizen Paul Whelan.

“In the coming days, I expect to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the war began,” Blinken said at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday. “The Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner must be released and allowed to come home. We put a substantive proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate release,” said Blinken. Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. The Olympic champion is accused of possession of drugs. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in 2020.

According to US media reports, the offer is about a prisoner exchange, with the United States allegedly having suggested the convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout as an exchange person. For years Moscow has been demanding the extradition of the former Soviet officer who is said to have illegally equipped regimes and rebels in numerous countries with weapons. Bout was notorious as the “Dealer of Death”.

However, the US government said it would not disclose any details about the offer. “And I’m sure you all understand that dealing with you all in public isn’t going to help us get them home. So I’m not going to dwell on that,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s communications director, said on Wednesday. “The offer has been made and we certainly hope that Russia will accept it,” Kirby said. The decision to do so was not easy.

When asked why the US government is now going public with the offer, Kirby said: “The fact that there’s a concrete proposal, that there’s something concrete on the table, is important context for the world to know how.” the United States is serious about bringing our citizens home.”

According to the US space agency Nasa, Russia will continue to participate in the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2028. This was learned from the Russian colleagues, says senior Nasa manager Kathy Lueders of the Reuters news agency. “At the working level, there is no sign that anything has changed,” she continues. Roskosmos boss Yuri Borisov said on Tuesday that Russia had terminated its cooperation with NASA and would withdraw from the ISS after 2024. (Reuters)

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Moscow, the Russian economy (GDP) shrank by four percent in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. In the first quarter, it had grown by 3.5 percent. In June, the decline accelerated to minus 4.9 percent compared to the previous year after minus 4.3 percent in May. (Reuters)

As a result of the agreement on grain exports across the Black Sea, three Ukrainian ports have resumed operations. The Ukrainian naval forces announced on Wednesday that these were the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyj. The ships were to go out to sea in caravans. However, “painful work” is still necessary for preparation, the military said. They dampened expectations of a quick resumption of exports.

The shipping routes, for example, would have to be checked for underwater obstacles. In addition, special navigation aids would be set up for safe ship movements, it said. The joint coordination center for shipping traffic of the United Nations, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia also began work in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday.

On Friday, wartime opponents Ukraine and Russia signed an agreement with the UN and Turkey to allow grain exports from Ukraine from the three ports. According to Ukrainian sources, more than 20 million tons of grain from last year’s harvest are still waiting to be exported. Port operations were suspended for security reasons after the Russian invasion at the end of February. Ukraine had also mined its coast to protect against Russian landing operations. The UN increasingly fears hunger crises due to the lack of grain deliveries. (dpa)

Orthodox Moscow Patriarch Cyril I has been banned from entering Lithuania for five years because of his support for Russia’s war against Ukraine. On the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vilnius, the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior put the Russian church leader on the list of people who are undesirable in the country until June 23, 2027, the EU state media reported on Wednesday. Cyril I denied the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and supported Russia’s illegal aggression against the neighboring country, the Interior Ministry justified its decision.

The Russian Orthodox Church sharply criticized the entry ban. The Lithuanian government is disregarding the rights of its own Christian Orthodox citizens, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate said, according to the Interfax news agency. He spoke of a “abandonment of the ideas of religious freedom and the European legal tradition”. (KNA)

The head of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region has called on Russia to seize most of Ukraine. “Today is the time to liberate Russian cities founded by Russians: Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Odessa, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Lutsk,” wrote separatist leader Denis Puschilin on Wednesday in the online service Telegram on the anniversary of the liberation of the Belarusian ones City of Brest by the Nazis.

The cities identified by Pushilin as “Russian” cover almost the entire territory of Ukraine. Russia has captured much of southern and eastern Ukraine since late February, but failed in its attack on the capital, Kyiv. (AFP)

A shortage of seafarers could jeopardize the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine. It may be difficult to find enough crew for ships tied up in Ukrainian ports, says the managing director of Danica, a company specializing in providing ship crews. “The main concern at the moment is the safety of the teams.” About 80 ships with 450 sailors are currently stuck in Ukraine. At the beginning of the war at the end of February, around 2,000 seamen were initially stranded. (Reuters)

Russia is one of the last colonial powers.

The federal government has apparently approved the sale of 100 modern self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine. This is reported by the “Spiegel”. As early as July 13, the responsible Federal Ministry of Economics is said to have granted the German armaments manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) a manufacturing license for the “Panzerhaubitze2000” type systems

As early as April, Ukraine is said to have asked the armaments manufacturer whether the howitzers could be purchased directly from the manufacturer. As a result, KMW submitted a corresponding offer on April 11 and received approval for it two days later.

The budget for the 100 self-propelled howitzers is estimated at 1.7 billion euros. This volume would exceed the previous arms deliveries worth around 600 million euros many times over.

At KMW, production of the weapon systems is to begin immediately. It is still unclear when the first howitzers will go to Ukraine. The production of all howitzers is likely to last for several years.