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Russia ‘ready’ to talk Britney Griner prisoner swap, Lavrov says

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Russia’s top diplomat signaled on Friday that Kremlin was ready to discuss a prisoner exchange with the US — a day after Brittney Griner was convicted of cannabis possession and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden had previously agreed that a private diplomatic channel should be used to discuss possible prisoner exchanges, “no matter what anyone says publicly.”

Referring to the prospect of a swap, Lavrov told reporters while attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia: “We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden.”

He added: “If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy … that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.”

Griner, 31, was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prisoner after being found guilty of cannabis smuggling.
AP
Secretary of State Antony Blinken decried Griner's "wrongful detention" and on Friday vowed to pursue prisoner swap talks with his Russian counterpart
Secretary of State Antony Blinken decried Griner’s “wrongful detention” and on Friday vowed to pursue prisoner swap talks with his Russian counterpart
AFP via Getty Images
Both Lavrov and Blinken attended a summit in Cambodia but did not meet in private.
Both Lavrov and Blinken attended a summit in Cambodia but did not meet in private.
AP

Lavrov’s American counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, concurred that Washington was prepared to pursue talks with Moscow through the established diplomatic channels.

There have been discussions that the 31-year-old WNBA star and retired Marine Paul Whelan, who is imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, could be exchanged for Victor Bout, a notorious arms dealer dubbed “the Merchant of Death” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US.  

After Griner’s verdict was announced at the Khimki court just outside Moscow on Thursday, Blinken said in a statement that her sentencing “compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention.”

Kremlin has remained tight-lipped on the prospect of a swap, saying that if prisoner exchanges were discussed in the media, they would never happen.

“The Americans have already made that mistake, suddenly deciding to use megaphone diplomacy to resolve these issues,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is not how they are resolved.”

A possible prisoner exchange deal would also include retire Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving time in Russia on an espionage conviction.
A possible prisoner exchange deal would also include retire Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving time in Russia on an espionage conviction.
AP

Peskov declined to comment on Griner’s verdict. When asked if she could be pardoned, he said that the clemency procedure was coded in Russian laws.

The US has already made what Blinken called a “substantial offer” to secure the release of Griner and Whelan.

“We urge them to accept it,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said. “They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it.”

Kirby did not elaborate on the proposal, but sources familiar with the matter said the Biden administration has offered to swap Bout for the two jailed Americans.

Russia also reportedly had tried to add convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov, imprisoned in Germany, to the proposed exchange.

A State Department official said that Blinken and Lavrov had not met at the summit in Cambodia, reported CNN.

There have been discussions that Griner and Whelan could be exchanged for Victor Bout, an arms dealer who is serving 25 years in the US.
There have been discussions that Griner and Whelan could be exchanged for Victor Bout, an arms dealer who is serving 25 years in the US.
Reuters

Griner was arrested on Feb. 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

The United States argued she was wrongly detained and being used as a political pawn chip by Moscow. Russian officials dismissed that claim, saying Griner had broken Russian law and should be judged accordingly.

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges but testified that she made an “honest mistake” by placing the cartridges in her luggage while “stress-packing,” and that she never intended to break Russian law.

Before her verdict was announced on Thursday, Griner offered a tearful apology and begged for mercy.

 “I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” she said.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that, that is far from this courtroom,” she added.

With Post Wires

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Your Holiday Rituals

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“Our holiday ritual involves stretching buñuelos over cheesecloth on our bent knee. We use a secret family recipe that my older sister has yet to share. Everyone is involved in an assembly line according to expertise, mixing, forming testales, rolling out perfectly round tortillas, stretching, then frying to a golden color!” — Elma Cadena, San Antonio, Texas

“My family and I burn a yule log on the winter solstice. We find a weirdly shaped or very large hunk of wood, decorate it with twigs, berries, foliage and other items as we see fit, then we fasten a note or make a marking on the log indicating some intention we have for the coming year.” — Candace Abraham, Newport, Wash.

“I carry around one $100 bill to tip someone randomly. I go about my business and when I find that person who needs a pick-me-up, I plant the big bill as I normally would: in the hand of the hair dresser, jar at coffee shop, billfold for server. And don’t stick around for the reaction. Let them enjoy their surprise privately!” — Jackie Shapiro Brooker, Greenville, S.C.

“My husband’s family’s 20-plus-year tradition of a Christmas Eve dinner we call ‘mishy mashy.’ There is one rule: Every person must bring or make one food item that they want to eat. Anything is game, and no judgment allowed. Soft pretzels? Yum! Oyster soup? OK! Cheese shaped like reindeer that you just bought? Looks good!” — Jen Bowerman, Traverse City, Mich.

“When I was in my early 20s, we lost my 22-year-old brother to cancer just before Christmas. As a means of coping, my mom and I took a class where we constructed a gingerbread house completely from scratch. Over 40 years later, I continue to make one every Christmas season with my daughters.” — Beth Q. Reynolds, Hopkinton, Mass.

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US woman killed when ‘rogue wave’ strikes Antarctic cruise ship

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An American woman died and four other passengers were injured when a “rogue wave” hit a Viking cruise ship sailing near the southernmost tip of South America on an Antarctic cruise, the company said Thursday. 

The unidentified 62-year-old woman was hit by broken glass when the wave broke cabin windows on the Viking Polaris ship late Tuesday during a storm, Argentine authorities said. The ship suffered limited damage and arrived in Ushuaia, 1,926 miles south of Buenos Aires, the next day.

“It is with great sadness that we confirmed a guest passed away following the incident,” Viking said in a statement. “We have notified the guest’s family and shared our deepest sympathies.”

The four passengers injured were treated onboard the ship by a doctor and medical staff for non-life-threatening injuries, the company said. 

The ship itself sustained “limited damage,” Viking said. 

“We are investigating the facts surrounding this incident and will offer our support to the relevant authorities,” the company said. “Our focus remains on the safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew, and we are working directly with them to arrange return travel.”

Damage is seen on the bottom windows of the Viking Polaris ship after a wave hit it on Thursday.
AFP via Getty Images

Rogue waves, also known as “extreme storm waves” by scientists, are greater than twice the size of surrounding waves and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Suzie Gooding, who was on the ship when the incident happened, told WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, that it felt like the ship had struck an iceberg.

“Everything was fine until the rogue wave hit, and it was just sudden. Shocking,” she said. “We didn’t know if we should get our gear ready for abandoning ship.”

Viking said it has canceled the ship’s next scheduled departure, the Antarctic Explorer, slated to sail from Dec. 5-17. The Viking Polaris, a vessel that has luxury facilities and was built in 2022, has a capacity for 378 passengers and 256 crew members.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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With Mauna Loa’s Eruption, a Rare Glimpse Into the Earth

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In 1963, a geophysicist named John Tuzo Wilson proposed that the islands, which are covered with layers of volcanic stone, sit above a magma plume, which forms when rock from the deep mantle bubbles up and pools below the crust. This “hot spot” continually pushes toward the surface, sometimes bursting through the tectonic plate, melting and deforming the surrounding rock as it goes. The plate shifts over millions of years while the magma plume stays relatively still, creating new volcanoes atop the plate and leaving inactive ones in their wake. The results are archipelagoes like the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain and parts of the Iceland Plateau.

The hot spot theory gained broad consensus in the subsequent decades. “There is no other theory that is able to reconcile so many observations,” said Helge Gonnermann, a volcanologist at Rice University.

Some confirming observations came relatively recently, in the 2000s, after scientists began placing seismometers, which measure terrestrial energy waves, on the ocean floor. John Orcutt, a geophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, who helped lead that research, said that the seismometers had provided an X-ray of the magma plume rising beneath Hawaii. The instruments were able to accurately read the direction and speed of the magma’s flow; the results pointed resoundingly toward the presence of a hot spot.

This hot spot has probably been fomenting volcanic activity for tens of millions of years, although it arrived in its current position under Mauna Loa only about 600,000 years ago. And as long as it remains there, Dr. Orcutt said, it will reliably produce volcanic activity. “Few things on Earth are so predictable,” he added.

Closer to the surface, predicting when, where and how intense these eruptions will be becomes more difficult, despite the profusion of seismometers and satellite sensors. “The deeper you go, the more smooth the behavior gets,” Dr. Orcutt said. “By the time you get this interface between rock and molten rock and the ocean, the magma tends to come out sporadically.”

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