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WNBA star Brittany Griner in a Russian prison cell

Reuters

Russian court sentences​ Griner to 9 years

A Russian court has found American WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony for carrying cannabis oil into the country. Last month, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges. The US State Department says the 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury player, who was arrested in February at Moscow airport, has been wrongfully detained and used as a political pawn amid Russia’s deteriorating relations with the West. In recent weeks, the Biden administration reportedly offered to exchange Viktor Bout — a Russian arms dealer known as “the Merchant of Death” currently serving a 25-year sentence in the US — in exchange for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, a former US marine who has been locked up in Russia since 2018 for alleged spying. After the verdict was handed down, President Biden said that his “administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely.” Talks have been going on behind the scenes about the possible swap, but Putin has so far remained mum on whether he’ll accept the deal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni walk during their meeting in Entebbe.

REUTERS/Isaac Kasamani

Russia and the West battle it out in Africa

Russia’s brutal military offensive may be taking place in Europe, but the battle to shore up support for its cause is now playing out in … Africa.

Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, is currently on a tour to reassure African allies of Moscow’s commitment to alleviating the global food crisis.

But Lavrov is not to be outdone by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is also on a three-nation tour in Central and West Africa. Washington, meanwhile, has sent an envoy to Ethiopia and Egypt.

Russia, the EU, and US have long tried to court developing countries in bids to expand their respective spheres of influence. But as war rages on in Europe, why the intense focus on Africa now?

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US President Joe Biden announces actions to lower gas prices

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

What We're Watching: Biden moves on oil, US-Russia info wars, Costa Rica's vote

Major oil drama

President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve to release 1 million oil barrels per day for the next six months in order to bring down soaring gasoline prices over the war in Ukraine. Technically, more American oil on the global market would help lower prices, but Biden's move was met by a collective shrug by the OPEC+ group of oil-exporting countries, which announced they can’t do much to stop rising prices and signed off on a modest increase in production. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, announced that Moscow will indeed demand payment in rubles for Russian oil from now on. Those who don’t comply could face being cut off. France and Germany said no way, but there's a loophole: oil buyers can still deal with Gazprombank, a Russian bank that hasn't been sanctioned yet (and is conveniently run by the state-owned energy giant Gazprom). What does this all mean? Oil prices will keep rising, but they won’t skyrocket just yet.

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US President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin

Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS

To Russia, with love: Why has diplomacy failed?

By all reasonable measures, there’s little love between Russia and the US this Valentine’s Day. The recent flurry of diplomacy between Russia and the West has been a failure with a series of recent high-profile meetings only leading to further stagnation and reports that Putin is moving closer towards military intervention.

Over the weekend: A call on Saturday between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin — the American leader warned of “severe costs” if Russia invades — appeared to fall flat. This followed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s chat with UK Foreign Sec. Liz Truss, which he characterized as a conversation between “the mute with the deaf.” Meanwhile, France’s Emmanuel Macron, who has tried to position himself as Europe’s chief interlocutor, made little progress in a weekend call with the Kremlin, and an earlier meeting of the Normandy Four – Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France – failed to even agree on language for a joint statement.

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