PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — One day after Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony, the top diplomats of the United States and Russia said on Friday that their governments were ready to negotiate over securing the freedom of both the American basketball star and Paul N. Whelan, a former U.S. marine who is also imprisoned by Russia.
Speaking at separate news conferences, the American secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergie Lavrov, said the negotiations would be conducted through a special channel. That appeared to be a reference to an agreement between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, reached at a summit in Geneva last year, to negotiate prisoner and hostage exchanges.
But in a possible measure of how fraught the countries’ relations are Mr. Blinken and Mr. Lavrov made their comments after sitting close to each other — but not talking — during a meeting in Cambodia of foreign ministers from East Asia and partner countries.
Ms. Griner was convicted and sentenced on a drug charge by a Russian judge in a courtroom outside Moscow on Thursday. American officials have said that Ms. Griner was “wrongfully detained” and that her trial was politically motivated. Tensions between the two countries remain high over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Biden administration has offered to free Viktor Bout, an Russian arms dealer imprisoned in the United States, in exchange for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan, people familiar with the proposal have said. Mr. Blinken and the State Department have not publicly divulged details of the proposal.
After the meeting on Friday, Mr. Lavrov needled Mr. Blinken for not making any effort to talk to him.
“Today, there was only one person between us at the table,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference broadcast by the foreign ministry. “I didn’t see him trying to catch me.”
Asked in the afternoon about Mr. Lavrov’s assertion that Mr. Blinken had not approached him, Mr. Blinken said only that talks would take place through the channel cited by Mr. Lavrov.
“We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on,” Mr. Blinken said. “And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning, and said publicly, is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that, and we’ll be pursuing it.”
Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Blinken spoke last week about the potential for a prisoner swap, according to people familiar with the conversation. At the time, Mr. Lavrov criticized the United States for what he described as trying to negotiate a prisoner exchange in public.
Russian officials have insisted that the legal proceedings in Ms. Griner’s case be completed before negotiations on an exchange. On Thursday, Ms. Griner’s lawyers said they would appeal the sentence, which might delay talks.
Mr. Blinken said on Friday that Ms. Griner’s conviction “puts a spotlight on our very significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns. The same goes for Paul Whelan.”
Mr. Whelan is a former U.S. Marine who was convicted by a court in Moscow of espionage charges in 2020 after first being detained in 2018.
DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials have been raising alarms for months. The world’s nuclear watchdog agency warned of the extraordinary risks just this week. Then on Friday, artillery duels near a giant nuclear power plant on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine added new safety risks.
Explosions in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex — the largest in Europe — at about 2:30 p.m. destroyed electrical transmission lines and posed risks of damaging the plant, forcing engineers to alter the operation of one of its six reactors by reducing power, Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, said.
Hours later, a second series of three explosions damaged an auxiliary building near one of the nuclear reactors, raising the risk of hydrogen leaks and fire, the company said.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks near the nuclear complex, which the Russian military controls and is using as a fortress, even as Ukrainian engineers continue to operate it.
For a about a month, Russia has used the site to stage artillery strikes on Ukrainian targets without fear of retaliation, since the Ukrainian military cannot fire back without risk of hitting safety equipment, reactors or storage facilities for spent fuel. Ukrainian officials say the Russians aim to disrupt a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the country’s south.
After the explosions on Friday afternoon severed a high-voltage electrical line, the plant operators reduced output from one of the reactors. Previously, three of the six reactors at the plant were operational, two were on standby and one was undergoing planned repairs.
It was not clear if the reactor whose operation was altered on Friday was shifted to a standby status, said Dmytro Orlov, a former plant engineer who is now the mayor of Enerhodar, where the plant is located.
“This is an unusual event but not unpredictable,” he said. “Personnel were prepared.” He compared it to the emergency response in the case that an electrical line were damaged by wildfire or another accident.
Energoatom, the state power company, released a statement on the Telegram social networking site saying that Russian artillery fire had severed the electrical line. “The Russian military again resorted to provocation,” the company said. It said an industrial space on the complex’s grounds was struck three times, hitting the wiring and a transformer.
The statement said the operators reduced output and disconnected one reactor from the electrical grid. “Releases of radioactive substances were not recorded,” the statement said.
Russian state media blamed Ukrainian forces for the explosions and reported they had caused a fire.
Hours later, the energy company reported a second attack on Telegram, saying Russians had fired three rocket-propelled grenades that landed near one of the nuclear reactors. The explosions, the statement said, damaged an auxiliary building and a specialized station. “Fire danger is high,” the company said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was aware of the reports and seeking further information about the situation.
Ukrainian officials say they have few options but to endure the Russian bombardments. In July, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said it had used a precision-guided “kamikaze” drone, which explodes on contact with a target, to destroy a Russian rocket launcher and air defense system located about 150 yards from a reactor, without damaging the reactor itself.
The I.A.E.A. has warned of grave dangers from the plight of the plant. Cornerstones of nuclear safety, it said, are being knocked out from the plant even as it continues operating. Among the shortcomings, it said, are a lack of physical security and regulatory oversight, which is in limbo now.
Those concerns were echoed by Britain’s defense ministry on Friday. In its daily intelligence update, the ministry said that Russian troops “have likely undermined the security” of the plant by using it as a base to “target Ukrainian territory on the western bank of the Dnipro river.”
Fighting around the complex in March had caused a fire that stoked global concerns about a possible nuclear accident.
Although a Russian court has sentenced the American basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in a penal colony, she may have to wait months to find out what comes next for her, as her legal team files an appeal in the case, and Moscow and Washington engage in diplomatic posturing over a possible prisoner exchange.
Aleksandr Boikov, a lawyer with the Moscow legal center representing Ms. Griner, said on Friday that her legal team would file an appeal within nine days.
“Chances are slim, but we need to use all opportunities,” he said, adding that the terms of an appeal were unpredictable. “Usually it takes two to three months,” Mr. Boikov said.
Filing an appeal would delay the start of Ms. Griner’s time in a penal colony while proceedings continue in a higher court. But it also might delay negotiations over a prisoner swap, since Russian officials have said they will not consider an exchange until her legal proceedings finished.
Her lawyers said they could drop the appeal if it got in the way of an exchange. “We can always withdraw the appeal before it gets considered by court,” Mr. Boikov said. “Then the verdict will come into force, and you can ask for clemency.”
Ms. Griner, a W.N.B.A. player and Olympian, was arrested in an airport near Moscow in February while traveling to join her Russian basketball team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, for its league’s playoffs. Customs officials said they found hashish oil in vape cartridges in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to the charge but said in court that she had not intended to break the law.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said last month that he had urged Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, to accept a deal for the release of Ms. Griner and another American, Paul N. Whelan, both of whom the State Department labels “wrongfully detained.” The Biden administration has offered to hand over Viktor Bout, an imprisoned Russian arms dealer, in exchange for the two Americans, according to a person briefed on the discussions.
Mr. Blinken and Mr. Lavrov both attended a meeting of foreign ministers in Cambodia on Friday, but the two said that they did not discussed a prisoner exchange there and that their countries would do so through an appropriate channel.
Her legal team has appealed for leniency throughout the case, maintaining that she had not intended to break Russian law and that she had contributed to Russian society through her involvement with UMMC Yekaterinburg, which she has played for during the W.N.B.A. off-season since 2014.
MYKOLAIV, Ukraine — The southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv will be blocked off and under a strict curfew over the weekend as law enforcement agencies search for enemy collaborators, officials said Friday.
The drastic decision — which will see no one allowed in or out — comes amid a significant escalation in Russia’s shelling of the city, which has had only about two dozen violence-free days since the war began on Feb. 24, officials said.
Vitaliy Kim, the military governor of the Mykolaiv region, urged residents to stock up on food and water and to cooperate with any law enforcement officials they might encounter over the weekend. Public transportation will also be shut down.
“Honest people have nothing to worry about,” Mr. Kim said. “We will be working on collaborators.”
Mr. Kim did not specify how law enforcement agencies planned to go about finding enemy collaborators. In recent weeks, he and other officials have issued increasingly urgent warnings about the presence of subversive forces in the city, including those responsible for directing enemy fire at military targets.
Mr. Kim has offered cash rewards of $100 out of his own pocket to citizens who turn in suspected collaborators. This week, he said that four people had been arrested as a result of tips from Mykolaiv residents, though he offered no details.
Rarely do Mykolaiv residents make it through the night without the violent thump of rocket or artillery fire jolting them awake and sending them fleeing to shelter in basements. On Friday, the first air raid siren sounded just before 1 a.m., and booms of incoming ordnance were heard long after the sun came up.
Mr. Kim said Friday that a Russian unit that had been firing powerful S-300 rockets at the city for weeks — destroying schools, a clinic and a number of houses — had finally been silenced by Ukraine’s military.
The attacks have ravaged Mykolaiv. Mr. Kim’s own office in a towering building in the city center was cleaved nearly in two by a Russian cruise missile in March. Nearly 40 people were killed in that strike.
But Mykolaiv is also far enough away from the front lines that residents still manage to carry on a semblance of normal life. Some cafes and restaurants are open. One clothing store on the first floor of a hotel complex hit by a rocket strike this month was doing decent business on a recent afternoon, offering discounts on swimwear.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were meeting on Friday in the southern Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi, for a second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks against a complex backdrop of dovetailing and competing interests.
Aides to the leaders portrayed the talks in Sochi as a continuation of their discussions in Iran on July 19 — some of which included Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader — covering issues like drones, grain shipments, energy and Syria.
Mr. Erdogan has emerged as an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia, which is probing for ways to break out of the economic and political isolation imposed by the West over its invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and long-frustrated E.U. applicant, proved instrumental in forging an agreement between the two warring countries to restart Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea urgently.
In brief remarks to the cameras before the leaders’ discussion began, Mr. Putin thanked Mr. Erdogan for Turkey’s role in mediating a deal to export Ukrainian grain that also allowed for shipments of Russian food and fertilizer exports. There was a heavy emphasis on economic matters, with Mr. Putin expressing hope that the talks would bring enhanced trade and economic ties.
On Syria, Mr. Putin said the two would discuss “security issues in the region, primarily the Syrian crisis,” choosing to emphasize efforts to normalize the situation there rather than focusing on their sharp divisions. Turkey has long threatened an incursion against Kurdish groups along the border, but wants to do so without risking an armed clash with Russia of the type that frayed relations in 2015 after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter.
Mr. Erdogan, while broaching many of the same themes, said that the steps taken on issues like energy, grain, the Black Sea and transportation were examples of the important role that Turkey and Russia play in the region.
Mr. Erdogan is treading a fine line to retain the ability to talk to both Russia, NATO’s foe, and to Western members of the alliance. Turkey has held to its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, irking its NATO allies, but Mr. Erdogan also, in a crucial move, eased his initial objections to Sweden’s and Finland’s joining the alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
Russia is a critical supplier of energy to Turkey, providing a quarter of the country’s crude imports and almost half of its natural gas purchases last year. Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation, is building a nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean projected to provide 10 percent of Turkey’s energy needs after its scheduled completion in 2026.
For its part, Turkey is becoming an important transshipment point for goods headed to Russia now that many Western freight companies no longer handle Russia-bound shipments for fear of defying sanctions, the Turkish newspaper Dunya reported on Thursday. The country also remains a popular destination for Russian tourists.
However, stark differences remain between the two leaders. Their countries have backed opposing sides in the civil war in Syria, Turkey’s neighbor. The Kremlin has expended blood and treasure to shore up President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has absorbed more than 3.7 million Syrian war refugees, supports an opposing rebel faction and is threatening a new military offensive in Syria’s north. They have also been involved on opposing sides in the violently flaring border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Their relations regarding weapons are also complex. In recent years, Turkey defied its NATO partners to buy Russian antiaircraft missiles. And now, Russia — starved by war-related Western sanctions for technology like guidance systems for missiles and drones — is urgently seeking matériel.
“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is permanently on the agenda, and the very fact that our interaction is developing in this sensitive sphere shows that, on the whole, the entire range of our interrelations is at a very high level,” Dmitri S. Peskov, Russia’s presidential press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Safak Timur contributed reporting.
Three ships loaded with grain left Ukrainian ports on Friday, days after the first grain-laden vessel left the country since Russia’s invasion. They are making the journey as part of a hard-won deal to free more than 20 million tons of Ukraine’s desperately needed stores.
The ships were granted permission to depart by a joint coordination center in Istanbul, created by the agreement and staffed by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, and are carrying a total of about 64,000 tons of corn bound for ports in Britain, Ireland and Turkey.
The ships that departed on Friday morning were the Polarnet and the Rojen from Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, and the Navi-Star from Odesa, according to the joint coordination center. Under the deal, their first stop will be in Turkish waters for a joint-team inspection.
The initial shipment under the deal left Ukraine’s Port of Odesa on Monday on the Razoni, which was led by a tugboat to avoid Ukrainian mines and passed through a Russian-controlled Black Sea corridor. It anchored in Turkish waters at the Bosporus for inspection, and on Wednesday was cleared to sail on to Tripoli, Lebanon.
Many potential hazards lie ahead, but the safe passage of the Razoni offered has hope that the long-negotiated deal will fulfill its aim of helping address — though not by itself resolving — global food shortages and high grain prices.
A fourth ship, the Fulmar S, now anchored near Istanbul, was awaiting inspection to be cleared to travel to the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk, officials from the joint center said on Thursday.
Their statement said that the inbound Fulmar S would serve as “a second ‘proof of concept’” of the grain deal, and noted that the allowed travel corridor had been “revised to allow for more efficient passage of ships while maintaining safety.”
Safak Timur contributed reporting.
— Farnaz Fassihi and Sophie Downes
Usually it is Russia, the aggressor in the nearly six-month war in Ukraine, that is accused of violating humanitarian law.
But Amnesty International turned its sights on Ukraine on Thursday, releasing a report that accused Ukrainian forces of putting civilian lives at risk. The report quickly drew fierce condemnation from Ukrainian officials.
The report said that Ukrainian soldiers had set up military bases in schools and hospitals and had launched strikes from residential areas, drawing retaliatory Russian fire that put civilians at risk. Amnesty said that it had documented a pattern of Ukraine violating the laws of war when its forces operated in populated areas.
The residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers based themselves were usually not the only option available to them, according to the report, which said that there were “military bases or densely wooded areas nearby” that they could have used instead.
Though the report noted that Ukraine’s tactics did not justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the response from Ukrainian officials was swift and angry. They dismissed the criticism, pointing out that it was Russia’s invasion that had put the lives of civilians at risk.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine slammed the report, saying in his nightly address that it tries to “shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim.”
“The only thing that poses a threat to Ukrainians is Russia’s army of executioners and rapists coming to Ukraine to commit genocide,” wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Ukrainian president, on Twitter.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, accused Amnesty of making a false comparison.
“This behavior of Amnesty International is not about finding and reporting the truth to the world, it is about creating a false balance between the criminal and the victim,” he said in a video address to the nation. He added: “Please stop creating a false reality where everyone is a little guilty of something.”
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said Russia’s strategy of trying to capture and hold populated areas was driving Ukrainian forces to operate in them too. “While we wait for the Russian enemy in the field, as some people sometimes advise us, the Russians will simply occupy all our houses,” she said.
Officials in Ukraine have issued numerous warnings for civilians to evacuate areas close to and caught up in the fighting. Residential areas are regularly evacuated, but not everyone wants to move, Ms. Maliar added.
The alternative tactics that Amnesty is suggesting Ukrainian forces follow — to base themselves in woods or structures further away from residential areas — are not realistic, according to John Spencer, a retired U.S. Army major and a specialist in urban warfare studies with the Madison Policy Forum.
“To say, ‘Don’t be in the urban areas’ doesn’t make sense,” he said. “The Russians are advancing to take cities. Ukrainians have to go into defense in the cities to stop that from happening.”
He added: “If the Ukrainians moved out into the open and brought the fight to the Russian military, the war would have already ended — they would have all died.”
Amnesty International, which has also repeatedly accused Russia of war crimes, stood by its report. On Thursday morning, its secretary general, Agnes Callamard, commented on Twitter: “To those who attack us alleging biases against Ukraine, I say: check our work. We stand by all victims. Impartially.”
— Ruth Maclean and Maria Varenikova
Phoenix Mercury Coach Vanessa Nygaard and her coaching staff stood in the empty Mohegan Sun arena on Thursday, puzzled.
The Mercury were set to take on the Connecticut Sun at 7 p.m., and her players were supposed to be on the court going through their normal pregame shoot-around, but no one showed up.
Instead, the Mercury players were back in the locker room, glued to the television screen and watching the conviction and sentencing of their teammate Brittney Griner on drug smuggling and possession charges earlier that day in a Russian court thousands of miles away.
“It was like you’re waiting for a bomb to drop,” Mercury guard Diamond DeShields said.
They watched with tear-filled eyes as Ms. Griner fought through her own tears and pleaded with a Russian court not to “end her life” for an “honest mistake.” Ms. Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony and fined 1 million rubles, or about $16,000. The sentence opens the door for Ms. Griner to be returned to the United States through a prisoner swap, but for the players, the news was still heartbreaking to hear.
“And we’re still supposed to play this game,” Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said after the game, adding an expletive. “Nobody even wanted to play today. How are we even supposed to approach the game and approach the court with a clear mind when the whole group is crying before the game?”
DALLAS — Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary on Thursday criticized the U.S. response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as meek, telling a gathering of American conservatives that the U.S. president should be doing more to negotiate a peace deal with Russia.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Mr. Orban continued to ignore calls by fellow E.U. leaders for him to condemn President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for invading Ukraine and for war crimes by Russian troops.
Instead, he suggested the United States, which has armed Ukraine, had not done enough to bring a quick end to the war. Mr. Orban said the fighting in Ukraine had caused more than 1 million refugees to flood into Hungary.
“Mayday, mayday, please help us,” Mr. Orban said. “We need a strong America with a strong leader.”
Mr. Orban, an ally of former President Donald J. Trump who is revered by a wing of the American political right, did not mention President Biden by name during a speech in which he urged a foreign policy reboot.
“Without American-Russian talks, there will never be peace in Ukraine,” he said. “I cannot tell you what to do. It’s your sobering decision. Only strong leaders are able to make peace.”
Mr. Orban received several standing ovations during his 35-minute speech, which came less than two weeks after expressing his opposition to a “mixed-race” society, comments that were widely condemned.
In those remarks — made in July in Baile Tusnad in Romania, a majority ethnic Hungarian city — he assailed European countries that have large numbers of immigrants and struck a contrast with his hard-line policies against open borders.
“These countries are no longer nations: They are nothing more than a conglomeration of peoples,” Mr. Orban said, according to a translation from The Associated Press.
He spoke of a divided Europe where immigrants are changing the character of “our world.”
“We are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed race,” Mr. Orban said. “Migration has split Europe in two — or I could say that it has split the West in two.”
Criticism of Mr. Orban’s comments was swift.
Zsuzsa Hegedus, a confidante of Mr. Orban’s, wrote in a July 26 resignation letter published in the Hungarian news media that not even the most “bloodthirsty racist” could condone Mr. Orban’s rhetoric. She compared Mr. Orban’s message to themes used by the Nazis in Germany, including Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda chief for Adolf Hitler.
Deborah E. Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, echoed Ms. Hegedus a day later on her official Twitter account, calling Mr. Orban’s assessment alarming.
Mr. Orban defiantly shrugged off the criticism in his remarks on Thursday, and sneered at what he portrayed as the coming headlines on coverage of his CPAC speech, saying that the media would label him a “far-right, European racist antisemite strongman Trojan horse of Putin.”
As her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, calls on the nations of the world to supply Ukraine with weapons, Olena Zelenska is asking for ambulances.
Ms. Zelenska, who has lately become a highly visible advocate for humanitarian causes in her country, has raised more than $5 million in a little more than a week to help replenish the country’s supply of ambulances. The campaign, which is still collecting donations, has raised enough funds to buy nearly 50 ambulances, though Ms. Zelenska estimated that 400 vehicles are needed.
In an interview with a Ukrainian television network on Saturday, Ms. Zelenska encouraged more donations, no matter how small.
“Any amount is important now,” she said. She added, “I am grateful to everyone who joins our initiative.”
While his frequent video addresses have made Mr. Zelensky a familiar face since the start of the Russian invasion in February, the first lady has been increasingly in the spotlight in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, she made an rare appearance in Washington to address Congress, requesting more weapons to defend against Russia. Emphasizing the human toll of the war, Ms. Zelenska showed photos of children who had lost parents or limbs in the attacks.
She has also used her image outside the diplomatic sphere: Last week, Ms. Zelenska appeared on the cover of Vogue for an article titled “Portrait of Bravery.”
The ambulance initiative began during the Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen, which was hosted by Ms. Zelenska on July 23 to discuss Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction.
Each ambulance costs around $100,000 and is equipped with oxygen tanks, defibrillators, electrocardiographs, cardiomonitors and mechanical ventilators, according to United24, the public charity collecting the donations. They can also be driven off-road, a critical function under wartime conditions.
Donations have been received from 51 countries, led by contributions from Ukraine, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Israel, according to Ms. Zelenska.