Chris Lange, FISM News
More information has emerged about the Russian arms dealer reportedly at the center of a proposed prisoner swap for the release of American WNBA star Britney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. According to several reports, Viktor Bout, known as the “merchant of death” is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. following his conviction in 2011 of conspiring to kill Americans and aiding a terrorist group.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak with his Russian counterpart this week as the U.S. attempts to negotiate the release of Griner and Whelan. Blinken and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov have not spoken since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia said on Thursday that negotiations to exchange prisoners are ongoing. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that “so far there are no agreements in this area.”
Africa at center of ‘new Cold War’
Leaders from the U.S., Russia, and France are vying for influence in Africa in an effort to gain support for their positions in the war in Ukraine in what one expert has dubbed a “new Cold War.’
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron are separately meeting with leaders in several African countries this week, according to an Associated Press report. Last week, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development made stops in Kenya and Somalia. America’s Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will visit Ghana and Uganda next week.
“It’s like a new Cold War is playing out in Africa, where the rival sides are trying to gain influence,” said William Gumede, director of Democracy Works, a South African non-profit organization that promotes democracy development in the region.
Lavrov has endeavored to convince the impoverished continent that decisions by the West have caused soaring food prices. Western leaders, meanwhile, have accused Russia of “using food as a weapon and waging an imperial-style war of conquest — words calculated to appeal to listeners in post-colonial Africa,” the AP wrote.
Africa is considered a U.S. ally, but while 28 African nations joined the West’s resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 25 refused to do so, reflecting Moscow’s growing influence on the continent. The former Soviet Union backed African nations when they were embattled in a fight to end colonial rule – a relationship the Kremlin is banking on a half-century later to shore up support for its war on Ukraine.
Missile strikes in Kyiv, Chernihiv
Russian forces on Thursday targeted Ukraine’s Kyiv and Chernihiv regions with massive missile strikes. The attacks came months after Russian troops withdrew from the regions having failed to capture either.
Kyiv regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba said a settlement located about 12 miles north of Ukraine’s capital city was targeted by Russian airstrikes, hitting an “infrastructure object.” It is unclear if there were any casualties.
“Russia, with the help of missiles, is mounting revenge for the widespread popular resistance, which the Ukrainians were able to organize precisely because of their statehood,” Kuleba said on Ukrainian television. “Ukraine has already broken Russia’s plans and will continue to defend itself.”
Several missiles that were fired from territory in Belarus struck Chernihiv, according to regional Governor Vyacheslav Chaus.
The strikes occurred a day after a pro-Moscow separatist leader in the east publicly called for the liberation of “Russian cities founded by the Russian people — Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lutsk.”