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France fan inside the stadium before the World Cup 1/16 match against Poland.

REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

765,000: That's how many visitors Qatar received during the first two weeks of the men's soccer World Cup, far less than the 1.2 million the host country was hoping for — with only eight out of 64 games left to play. Point the finger at political backlash, expensive tickets, almost no booze, and lack of hotel rooms.

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Viktor Bout is escorted by Thai police as he arrives at a criminal court in Bangkok in 2010.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

WNBA star Brittney Griner is now on her way to the United States after Russia agreed to free her from a nine-year prison term for drug possession in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen and notorious arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death." Who is he, and why is he worth so much to Moscow that Vladimir Putin agreed to trade such a prized bargaining chip as Griner to get him back?

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Luisa Vieira

The quarter-finals of the 2022 men's soccer World Cup begin Friday in Qatar, with five teams from Europe, two from South America, and one from Africa. It's going to be war on the pitch in each of the four games, but what would happen if each side actually went to war with each other? We look at who would win each round — and the World Cup — if what counted was not soccer skills but rather military muscle, measured by percentage of GDP spending on defense.

US basketball player Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants' cage before the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a direct prisoner swap with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Big win for US President Joe Biden, but also for President Vladimir Putin. Who got the shorter end of the stick? On the one hand, the Biden administration could hardly afford the bad optics of allowing a prominent Black female athlete to be locked up in a Russian penal colony for nine years. Still, the US president can say he kept his promise to Griner's family to do everything in his power to get her out of Russia. On the other hand, Putin traded someone who got busted for just carrying a CBD vial in her luggage for someone who deserved to be called the "Merchant of Death." What's more, the Kremlin got Bout without having to give up Paul Whelan, a former US marine who's been behind bars in Russia since 2018 for alleged spying. Also, there are plenty of Americans locked up under awful conditions in other countries around the world.

What do you think? Let us know here.

Cargo ships dock at their berths to load and unload containers at the terminal in Lianyungang Port in China's Jiangsu province.

CFOTO/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

*8.7: China's trade tanked in November to its lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic, with exports falling 8.7% year-on-year. The figures were released on the same day that the EU asked the World Trade Organization to review the legality of Chinese restrictions on Lithuanian imports as payback for the Baltic nation allowing Taiwan to establish a de facto embassy in Vilnius.

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Police secures the area in Berlin after 25 suspected members and supporters of a far-right group were detained during raids across Germany.

REUTERS/Christian Mang

A thwarted German Jan. 6?

Is there a single German word for "narrowly averted right-wing coup attempt"? We aren't sure, but on Wednesday German authorities arrested 25 people accused of belonging to a domestic terror organization with plans to overthrow the government and replace it with German nobility in a throwback to pre-Weimar times. Some 3,000 police conducted raids in several German states as well as in Austria and Italy, detaining people associated with the Reichsbürger, a right-wing German conspiracy group, the far-right Alternativ für Deutschland party, and at least one Russian citizen. You’ll likely remember that a member of the AfD – a euroskeptic party that has capitalized on anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years to grow its base – tweeted after the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol that "Trump is fighting the same political fight — you have to call it a culture war." Harboring beliefs that Germany is being run by a “deep state'' (sound familiar?), the group reportedly planned to launch an armed attack on the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament. This is just the most recent reflection of a far-right extremist problem in Deutschland. Last year, the German government placed the AfD under surveillance for its far-right extremist affiliations, and early this year the government found that more than 300 employees in Germany's security apparatus harbored far-right views.

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Paige Fusco

It's just a soccer game. Or maybe there’s more to it.

On Tuesday, underdog Morocco takes on 2010 champion Spain at the Qatar World Cup in what one might frame as a battle between “neighbors” in Africa and Europe, separated by barely 9 miles of the Mediterranean Sea and with a long-fraught political relationship that’s seen some recent twists and turns.

And there’s a bigger geopolitical story that goes beyond the two kingdoms.

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Models of oil barrels and a pump jack are seen in front of displayed EU and Russia flags colors.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Capping the price of Russian oil is harder than the West thought

A long-awaited G-7 $60 per barrel price cap on Russian oil took effect Monday. Markets responded with skepticism: In early trading, the price for Brent crude, the global benchmark, went up slightly to $86 per barrel. Why? Three days after the sanctions scheme was announced, its weaknesses have started to show. First, Russia has outright refused to accept the cap and is mulling a response — perhaps refusing to sell any crude to countries that enforce the price ceiling. Second, Ukraine thinks the cap is too weak to seriously damage Russia's economy. Third, OPEC+, which includes Russia, says it's business as usual and that it's not changing its output levels. There are fundamental flaws to the measure. After all, it’s not really a price cap so much as a limitation on insurance and shipping firms, and it lets Russia continue to sell oil, just at a lower price. Also, most of Ukraine’s friends wanted it to be lower than $60, and big Asian buyers haven’t signed on. Meanwhile, two of Russia’s biggest customers, China and India, will continue to stock up on cheap Russian crude. So far, the price cap, imagined by Washington and executed by the G-7, seems somewhere between a bureaucratic irritant and a slap on the wrist for Moscow.

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