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SpaceX founder Elon Musk said Monday that the funding request the company had made to the Pentagon to start picking up the bill for satellite internet services for Ukraine has been withdrawn.
Musk’s announcement on Twitter followed an exclusive CNN report that SpaceX made a request to the Pentagon in September saying they were no longer able to donate the critical Starlink terminals or support the expensive accompanying service “for an indefinite period of time.” SpaceX asked the Pentagon to start paying for the service for the current terminals operated by the Ukrainian government as well as fund almost 8,000 new terminals and service for Ukraine’s military and intelligence services.
After the CNN report revealed the request and showed in greater detail that SpaceX is not solely responsible for Starlink access in Ukraine (in fact numerous international efforts funded much of it), Musk tweeted on Saturday: “To hell with it…even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding the Ukraine govt for free.”
Musk’s tweet on Monday went a bit farther, saying the step had been taken to rescind the request to the Defense Department.
CNN has asked the Pentagon if SpaceX has withdrawn its request for funding.
Two sources briefed on the discussions between SpaceX and the Pentagon told CNN that as of Friday, before Musk’s apparent about-face, the Pentagon had in fact agreed to the request from SpaceX to pay for ongoing service for Ukraine’s government and the new request from Ukraine’s commanding general.
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Brittney Griner’s family and supporters are launching a #WeAreBG messaging campaign for the WNBA star’s 32nd birthday on Tuesday, which she will be spending in a Russian prison.
“I’ve felt every moment of the grueling seven months without her,” Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, says in a video. “I want to thank President Biden for the Administration’s efforts to secure her release.”
The friends and family of Griner want to once again bring attention back to Griner’s wrongful detention. The US Embassy in Russia has not had consular access to Griner since early August, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week.
Griner has a hearing next week for the appeal of her prison sentence.
Some background: Earlier this month, Cherelle Griner said on CBS This Morning that she thinks it’s going to take Russian President Vladimir Putin to “have mercy” on her wife to get her home.
“I feel like at this point it's going to take Putin to have that same mindset and say ‘You know what, Brittney Griner Z– who came to my country for seven, eight years, and helped my country be recognized through sport, paid taxes in my country, helped my country – I'm going to sit at a table, and I'm going to be clear about what I need in return for her release,’ so that we can actually get a meeting of the minds between these two governments,” she said.
The WNBA star was sentenced in August to nine years in a Russian jail for drug-smuggling. She turns 32 on Tuesday.
In a first, Ukrainian and Russian human rights officials met Monday during a prisoner exchange between the two sides.
Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, met with Tatyana Moskalkova, Russian Human Rights Commissioner, during the swap of more than 200 prisoners of war.
Moskalkova posted video of the meeting on Telegram. It is unclear where exactly the exchange took place.
In the video, Lubinets and Moskalkova approach each other on a deserted highway, shake hands, and have a brief exchange.
“Today is the day that our civilian sailors will be coming home,” Moskalkova told Lubinets. “It's also important that we ensure that safe corridors exist for our work with the evacuated. We have a Iot of questions, but the most important is returning all their documents to them. So that's what I am coming to you today for, and I'm here to help in the case that an evacuee or refugee needs a specific document or confirmation of their identity.”
“It's an important humanitarian aspect in terms of social rights,” she said.
Lubinets replied that “we are exchanging lists, and I request that you will work through it and be in touch on what's possible.”
“Most importantly, we have activated the process of exchanging civilians of our countries. I'm sure that you want this as much as we do.”
Moskalkova said that “certainly everyone is interested in this path forward.”
In a summation of the meeting posted on Telegram, Moskalkova said that she “met for the first time with Commissioner for Human Rights of Ukraine Dmitry Valeryevich Lubinets. We had a constructive dialogue and agreed to continue working to ensure the proper treatment of prisoners, keep working for future exchanges, to protect the rights of civilians, and learn the fate of missing persons.”
Lubinets, on his Telegram account, said that “the need for negotiations is the humanitarian sphere.”
“In particular, we talked about the need to intensify the repatriation of prisoners of war and the release of civilian hostages,” he said.
He said that the two discussed, among other things, the need to “develop ways to visit prisoners of war, inspect places of their detention, both on the territory controlled by the Russian Federation and in Ukraine” and “thorough searches for missing persons.”
They also discussed Ukraine’s desire to visit prisoners of war held in Olenivka, which is in an occupied portion of the Donetsk region.
“At the end of the meeting, it was agreed to send official letters for the implementation of the discussed tasks involving the protection of human rights,” Lubinets said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday hailed an exchange of more than 200 prisoners by Russia and Ukraine.
Among those released by Russian and pro-Russian forces, he said, were people who had been detained since before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February.
“We do not forget about any of our people,” he said. “We must return them all. And we will.”
“I thank all those involved for this success, and I also thank all those who replenish our exchange fund, who ensure the capture of the enemy," he added.
“The more Russian prisoners we have, the sooner we will be able to release our heroes. Every Ukrainian soldier, every commander on the front line must remember this.”
A Russian drone attack on the Ukrainian capital Monday morning killed a woman who was 6 months pregnant and her husband, according to Kyiv's mayor.
In reaction, President Volodymyr Zelensky said:
"Vladimir Putin can record another ‘achievement’ – he killed another pregnant woman."
“The world can and must stop this terror,” Zelensky said. “When we talk about Ukraine's need for air and missile defense, we are talking about real lives that are taken by terrorists.”
He said that though Ukraine has been successful in shooting down Iranian-made Shahed drones, it was not enough.
“In order to guarantee the protection of our skies and reduce to zero the capabilities of Russian terrorists, we need much more modern air defense systems and more missiles for such systems,” he added.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned Russia's latest attacks on Kyiv, Ukraine. While she would not say whether the Biden administration believes the war is entering a new phase, she did describe the last few weeks as an "escalation."
"I'm not going to go into any analysis on where we are in this war, we have been very clear about how we — how we've been seeing Russia's escalation over the past several weeks," Jean-Pierre told CNN's MJ Lee.
She also again noted that the administration is in daily contact with the Ukrainians and she pointed to the latest security package the US has announced for Ukraine, adding: "The most recent escalation, the United States strongly condemns Russia's missile strikes today which continue to demonstrate Putin's brutality."
Police in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk says that they continue to exhume up to 10 to 15 bodies per day in previously Russian-occupied areas of the region.
“By now, 43 mass graves are known in Donetsk oblast,” Oleksandra Havrylko, press officer for the Donetsk Oblast Police, said during a media briefing. “For example, two mass graves — with both civilians and military — were found in Lyman. Moreover, the Oblast Police receives information about spontaneous burials in human yards, where each grave may contain up to 10 people.”
Many people are believed to have died of injuries from explosives, Havrylko said, but the police also have information about citizens “who were killed through violence.”
Exhumations in Lyman have so far revealed 35 members of the military and 152 civilians, Havrylko said. He said that 40 hard-to-reach graves have yet to be exhumed.
The Kyiv region’s air defense is actively responding to a Russian drone attack, the mayor of Boryspil on the outskirts of Kyiv city said Monday evening.
“Air defense system is working above our city so I strongly recommend everyone to stay in shelters,” Volodymyr Borysenko said on Facebook. “Situation is under control. Our Armed Forces are doing their job well. But the threat remains.”
“The bright strip of light is our military trying to see the enemy drones, so don't panic. Stay in shelters,” the mayor added.
Moscow's strikes on Kyiv: At least four people were killed after Russia attacked the capital of Kyiv with Iranian-made "kamikaze" drones on Monday, according to Ukrainian officials, who have repeated their calls for Western allies to supply Ukraine with more advanced air defense systems.
Ukraine's interior minister said Kyiv's security forces were able to shoot down 36 of 42 attack drones that Russia launched on Monday.
“It shows that this attack has not reached its goal. I think that the goal was to outdo the last Monday missiles attack. But this did not happen today,” Denys Monastyrskyi told Ukrainian television.
Of those 42 drones, around 30 targeted Kyiv, he said, adding that the others targeted the Sumy and Dnipropetrovsk regions.