Griner freed in swap for Russian arms dealer

Plus, China courts the Arab world and the World Cup quarterfinals.
Author Headshot

By Carole Landry

Editor/Writer, Briefings Team

Good morning. In today’s briefing, a prisoner swap for the release of Brittney Griner from Russia, Xi Jinping’s bid to woo the Arab world and the World Cup quarterfinals.

After months of detention in Russia, Brittany Griner was finally released in a prisoner exchange.Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A U.S. prisoner swap with Russia

Brittney Griner, the American basketball star imprisoned in Russia, was released in an exchange for the convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. President Biden said Griner had landed safely in the United Arab Emirates and would be back in the U.S. within 24 hours.

The trade ended 10 months of captivity for Griner, who was arrested just before Russia invaded Ukraine and found guilty of trying to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in one of Russia’s most feared penal colonies.

Bout, who earned the nickname “Merchant of Death,” was freed after serving less than half of his 25-year prison sentence. Accused of supplying weapons to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and rebels in Rwanda, Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and convicted in New York in 2011 on charges including conspiring to kill Americans.

Context: The swap may have been an effort by President Vladimir Putin’s government to divert attention from Russia’s flailing war effort in Ukraine. Kremlin supporters greeted the exchange as a notable Russian victory.

Left behind? The U.S. had initially offered to release Bout for two Americans: Griner and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive, who was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018. Biden says his administration is still working on getting Whelan released.

Xi Jinping arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China courts the Arab world

The Chinese leader Xi Jinping began a visit to Saudi Arabia that showcased the growing ties between Beijing and Riyadh. Leaders from other Gulf and Arab countries are traveling to Saudi Arabia for a series of summits with Xi.

“This will be the largest and highest-level diplomatic event between China and the Arab world since the founding of the People’s Republic of China,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, told reporters.

Xi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, signed a strategic partnership agreement reflecting their growing alliance on oil, arms, technology and infrastructure.

Saudi Arabia has been a close American ally for more than half a century, and the U.S. remains the kingdom’s main security guarantor. But the Saudi rulers have long sought to strengthen other alliances to prepare for what they see as an emerging multipolar world, with China as a key superpower.

Context: Saudi Arabia’s ties with the U.S. have been strained over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Saudi citizen killed by Saudi agents in Istanbul in 2018.

Red carpet versus purple carpet: Xi was greeted in grander fashion than President Biden was greeted in July.

Related: China’s “zero Covid” curbs have been eased, but the economy’s road map for the next several months is highly uncertain.

The House approved the Respect for Marriage Act, securing its passage.Joshua Roberts/Reuters

U.S. passes same-sex marriage bill

The House of Representatives gave final approval to the measure, with lawmakers from both parties voting in favor. It now goes to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

The bill, which mandates federal recognition for same-sex marriages, highlights a significant shift in American politics and culture on an issue that was once considered politically divisive.

Over the past decade, same-sex marriage has become widely accepted by members of both parties, and polls show that more than 70 percent of voters in the U.S. support same-sex marriage.

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THE LATEST NEWS

Asia Pacific
Tourists going on a boat tour at Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir.Farooq Khan/EPA, via Shutterstock
Around the World
Demonstrators outside the Iranian embassy in Berlin protested the execution of Mohsen Shekari.Joerg Carstensen/DPA, via Associated Press
World Cup
A Morning Read
These siblings just got younger, according to a new law in South Korea.Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Next year, some South Koreans will turn a year or two younger — if only on paper. A new law passed yesterday will standardize the way the government counts a person’s age, doing away with several methods, including one that counts people as 1 year old at birth and adds a year on Jan. 1.

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ARTS AND IDEAS

A new documentary series provides a deeply personal glimpse at the lives of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Joshua Sammer/Getty Images for Invictus Games

Harry and Meghan, ‘personal and raw’

The Netflix series “Harry and Meghan” is one of the most anticipated television spectacles of the year — more media event than documentary.

Encouraged by friends to document their dramatic decision to “step back” as senior members of the British royal family, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, shot more than 15 hours of personal video in the early months of 2020 as they finalized their plans to exit Buckingham Palace.

The first three episodes, which were released Thursday, focus on the couple’s complaints about Britain’s news media, reveal details of Meghan’s rocky relationship with her relatives, and claim that some royals viewed harassment as a “rite of passage.” Here are the main takeaways.

Three new episodes will be released on Dec. 15.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook
Con Poulos for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich.

These gingerbread cookies are tender and gently spiced. Watch your favorite New York Times Cooking personalities bake their favorite cookies, then make them yourself.

What to listen to

The travel show “Not Lost” is on our list of the best podcasts of 2022.

Travel

Spend 36 hours in Wellington, the pint-size capital of New Zealand.

Wellness
Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Phony (5 letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Carole

P.S. Reporters and editors at The New York Times held a one-day strike after the company and the union representing most of the newsroom failed to reach an agreement on a new contract.

The Daily” is on Haiti’s request for an international intervention.

You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

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