August 4, 2022 Brittney Griner verdict and Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Ivana Kottasová and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:33 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022
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8:02 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Prosecutor seeking over 9 years of jail time for Griner

From CNN's Zahra Ullah and Masha Angelova 

The prosecutor is seeking 9.5 years of jail time for WNBA star Brittney Griner, her attorney Maria Blagovolina, partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners law firm, said in a statement to media. 

CNN's team also heard the prosecutor's demand on an audio feed of the trial. 

8:03 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Verdict expected in WNBA star Griner's Russian trial, her lawyer says

From CNN's Masha Angelova and Zahra Ullah

US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4.
US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

WNBA star Brittney Griner has arrived at Khimki court in the Moscow region for her eighth hearing as her drug-smuggling trial continues Thursday. The court is hearing closing arguments in the case. 

The verdict in Griner's case is expected to be announced by Thursday evening local time, her attorney Maria Blagovolina, partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners law firm, said in statement provided to media including CNN. 

From inside the courtroom cell, Griner held up a photo of her teammates from UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russia basketball team she played for during WNBA offseason. 

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison. 

The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges last month in what her lawyers say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency if she is ultimately convicted and sentenced. 

8:05 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Separatist authorities say 5 people were killed in Ukrainian shelling of Donetsk

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych 

Authorities in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine said five civilians have been killed in Ukrainian shelling of the Donetsk city center on Thursday.

The Territorial Defense of the DPR said that the Ukrainian shelling was designed "to inflict maximum damage on the civilian population, including the leadership of the Republic." 

The shelling took place close to a theater where the leaders of the DPR were attending a memorial service.

"As a result of the shelling of residential areas in the Voroshilovskyi district, five civilians were killed, six people were injured, residential buildings, a hotel, and civilian infrastructure were destroyed," the Territorial Defense said.

There's been no word from the Ukrainian side on the strike. But the city, which is only 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the front lines, has come under fire by Ukrainian artillery and rockets since the Russian invasion began.

8:06 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Lebanese authorities release ship that Ukraine accuses of carrying stolen grain

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Mia Alberti and Mostafa Salem

The ship Laodicea docked at the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, on July 29.
The ship Laodicea docked at the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, on July 29. (Walid Saleh/Retuers)

A Syrian-registered ship accused by Ukraine of carrying stolen grain has been allowed to leave Lebanon by authorities, Lebanese state-run news agency NNA said on Thursday.

"The Syrian ship, LAODICEA, is now outside Lebanese territorial waters,” Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamie said on Twitter.

Ukraine said the ship, which was previously docking in the port of Tripoli in Lebanon, is transporting tons of agricultural products stolen by Russia.

The vessel belongs to the Syrian state shipping company SYRIAMAR and was photographed passing through the Bosphorus strait onto the Mediterranean on July 23.

“The Syrian ship, LAODICEA, coming from the Russian Federation, passing through Lebanon to Syria, was granted permission to leave by the Tripoli Port Authority, in accordance with the Lebanese legal principles, based on our sovereignty over our land, sea and air," NNA quoted Hamie as saying.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it was “disappointed” by the decision to allow the ship to leave, warning that Lebanon was endangering economic relations with Ukraine.

“This decision actually encourages Russia to continue thefts in the temporarily occupied southern Ukraine with a sense of impunity. In addition, with such a decision, Lebanon actually undermines its own food security, pushing Ukraine away as its reliable partner,” the statement said. 

The Russian Embassy in Lebanon had denied the grain is stolen, according to a statement on Facebook last week.

7:25 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Up to 20,000 Russian soldiers killed since war began, western officials say

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Ukrainian forensics experts examine the body of a Russian soldier exhumed in the village of Zavalivka, west of Kyiv, in a refrigerated rail car stacked with the Russian dead on May 11.
Ukrainian forensics experts examine the body of a Russian soldier exhumed in the village of Zavalivka, west of Kyiv, in a refrigerated rail car stacked with the Russian dead on May 11. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Western officials have told CNN they estimate that up to 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. 

They added 55,000 Russian soldiers have been wounded, saying that between the dead and injured, Moscow suffered around 75,000 casualties in total.

“The course of the battle has slowed down and so the statistics have slowed down as well,” the officials told CNN on Thursday.

“We are still up to 20,000 Russian soldiers dead and then, in terms of the 75,000 number in (total) casualties, that would sound right to us.”

“That's broadly our understanding,” the officials added. “But certainly the battle has slowed.”

7:38 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

US embassy official arrives in Russian court for expected closing arguments in Griner case

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner is escorted before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4.
U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner is escorted before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, has arrived at Khimki court in the Moscow region for WNBA star Brittney Griner's eighth hearing as her trial continues Thursday.

The court is expected to hear closing arguments in the case. Griner hadn't arrived at the court at the time of this post.

The court hearing comes six months after Griner, 31, was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist, who also plays for a Russian team in the WNBA offseason, pleaded guilty to drug charges last month in what her lawyers say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency if she is ultimately convicted and sentenced. 

The previous hearing on August 2 ended without a verdict, with an expert called by her defense team testifying that the initial examination of the substance contained in Griner's vape cartridges did not comply with Russian law.

7:10 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Zelensky seeking to speak "directly" with China about the war in Ukraine

From CNN’s Sophie Jeong in Yongin, South Korea, and CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Ukraine is seeking an opportunity to speak “directly” with China about its ongoing war with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

“I would like to talk directly. I had one conversation with [President] Xi Jinping that was a year ago,” Zelensky told SCMP in an exclusive interview published on Thursday.

Zelensky said Ukraine has officially asked for a conversation with China after the Russian invasion began in late February.

“But we (haven’t had) any conversation with China even though I believe that would be helpful,” he said. 

When asked whether China has replied to Zelensky’s request for a meeting, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that “China maintains close communication with Ukraine through diplomatic channels, and this communication has never been broken.”

Zelensky said that because China is “a very powerful state” and “a powerful economy,” it “can politically, economically influence Russia.”

He said that he believed China had an economic leverage to pressure Russia, according to SCMP, but added that he understood China wished to maintain a “balanced” attitude towards the war in Ukraine but urged China to review its attitude toward Russia.

7:30 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

NATO chief: We are seeing destruction not seen since World War II

From CNN's Ivana Kottasova

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a speech to a youth camp in Utoya, Norway, on August 4.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a speech to a youth camp in Utoya, Norway, on August 4. (Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen/Reuters)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said the military alliance "cannot be indifferent" to the "brutal war of aggression" Russia is inflicting on Ukraine.

"We are seeing acts of war, attacks on civilians and destruction not seen since World War II," he said in a speech in Norway on Thursday.

Stoltenberg said NATO will keep supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia, and praised the alliance for charging ahead with accepting Finland and Sweden as its new members.

"A few hours ago, the US Senate ratified the accession protocols. This brings to 23 the number of Allies which have now ratified Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO ... so far, this has been the fastest accession process in NATO’s modern history," he said.

He also acknowledged NATO's support for Ukraine comes at a cost.

"We pay a price for our support to Ukraine. For the military, humanitarian and financial support. For the sanctions, which have resulted in increased inflation and higher prices in our countries," he said, adding:

But remember – the price we pay may be measured in money. The price Ukraine pays is measured in human lives. Hundreds killed or wounded every day.

Stoltenberg said NATO cannot allow Russia to succeed in Ukraine:

A world where the lesson for Putin is that he gets what he wants by using military force is also a more dangerous world for us. If Russia wins this war, he will have confirmation that violence works. Then other neighboring countries may be next.
10:07 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Amnesty International says Ukrainian Armed Forces violating humanitarian law

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton

Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they try to repel the Russian invasion that began in February, Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday.

It said that such tactics violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets. 

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Not every Russian attack documented by Amnesty International followed this pattern, the statement added, saying:

In certain other locations in which Amnesty International concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military. Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian strikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak criticized the Amnesty report, accusing Moscow of trying to "discredit the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the eyes of Western societies." It was, he added in a tweet, "a shame that the organization like Amnesty is participating in this disinformation and propaganda campaign."

"The only thing that poses a threat to Ukrainians is (Russian) army of executioners and rapists coming to (Ukraine) to commit genocide," he said in the tweet.

Amnesty said that throughout the investigations, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions.

Most residential areas where soldiers located themselves were kilometers away from front lines, according to the statement.

Amnesty International said viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians -- such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas.

It also said that on the cases it documented, Amnesty International was not aware that the Ukrainian military who located themselves in civilian structures in residential areas asked or assisted civilians to evacuate nearby buildings which amounts to a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.

Podolyak said protecting civilians is the priority of Ukrainian forces. "Our defenders protect their nation and families. People's lives are the priority for Ukraine, that is why we are evacuating residents of front-line cities," he said.

“Ukraine strictly adheres to all laws of warfare and international humanitarian law,” Podolyak also said in a statement. “The absolute priority for the Armed Forces of Ukraine is to preserve the life and health of every citizen under condition of Russian barbaric aggression. Therefore, we are consistently taking all measures to help Ukrainians move from the zone of active hostilities to safer areas.”

Podolyak said Russia is the main offender. Experts have found that patterns of violent acts by Russian forces in Ukraine meet the qualification of crimes against humanity.

“Russia adheres to the tactics of total terror and ignores any rules and laws, trying to destroy civilian infrastructure and civilians as much as possible. There is no and cannot be any justification for this,” he said. “We regularly see how the Russian army shells residential areas 500+ km from the front, deliberately killing civilians and children.”

CNN's Olga Voitovych contributed reporting to this post.