Your Friday Briefing

Brittney Griner, the American basketball star imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, was released yesterday after nearly 10 months of captivity in a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer. President Biden announced her release in a brief statement. She is returning to the U.S. and was to be examined at a military hospital in Texas.

Griner, 32, a W.N.B.A. All-Star center with the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, had been serving a nine-year prison sentence. In February, she was stopped at an airport near Moscow after customs officials found two vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

Her case became an international cause. She was seen as a hostage held by the Russian government as it faced international sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine, which began a week after her arrest. The Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate a prisoner swap stalled for months as she was sent to a penal colony outside Moscow.

“The Merchant of Death”: The trade freed Bout, one of the most notorious arms dealers of modern times. Accused of supplying weapons to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and militants in Rwanda, he was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and convicted in New York in 2011 on charges that included conspiring to kill Americans.

Context: Celebrations over Griner’s release were shadowed by the failure to secure the release of Paul Whelan, an American who remained in Russian custody despite months of efforts by U.S. diplomats to include him as part of the deal.

An initial decision not to impose a lockdown this fall during an outbreak of Ebola in central Uganda has come to haunt the country. The disease spread to nine districts, including the capital, Kampala. The W.H.O. reported 142 confirmed cases and 55 confirmed deaths, with an additional 22 deaths probably linked to the outbreak.

Officials feared a backlash to harsh measures like a lockdown because of lingering anger over the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, they said. They now acknowledge they acted too late to limit the outbreak, the country’s deadliest in over two decades.

The Ugandan public’s lack of trust in the government’s Ebola response created fertile ground for misconceptions, including the belief that Ebola does not exist, that the disease is caused by witchcraft and that the burials of Ebola victims are kept closed — not to prevent contagion, but so that their organs can be harvested and sold.

Details: Ebola, a highly contagious disease mostly seen in Africa, causes fever, fatigue and bleeding from the eyes and the nose. The virus kills about half of those it infects. Vaccines exist to prevent the disease, but there is no approved vaccine or drug treatment for the Sudan strain of the virus, which caused the recent outbreak.

Saudi Arabia and China signed a strategic partnership agreement yesterday during a visit by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to the kingdom, underlining the growing ties between Beijing and a longstanding American ally that is seeking greater self-reliance.

Xi held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. Over a three-day visit, Xi is expected to attend summits with leaders from Gulf, Arab and African countries, including Egypt, Djibouti and Iraq. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, is also expected to join.

Prince Mohammed has accelerated efforts to diversify Saudi Arabia’s alliances, trying to move beyond its reliance on the U.S. for security and weapons. There are growing perceptions in Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East that the U.S. — seen as a superpower in long-term decline — has lost interest in the region.

Context: Saudi Arabia’s ties to China have been strengthening rapidly, turning what was once a mostly oil-based relationship into a more complex one involving arms sales, technology transfers and infrastructure projects.

China’s Covid pivot:

  • As China casts aside many Covid rules, it is also playing down the threat of the coronavirus. The move could help ease the burden on hospitals but comes with risks.

  • After easing its restrictions and restarting its economy, Beijing faces twin challenges: rising caseloads and wary consumers.

Qatar spent a reported $220 billion preparing for the World Cup, conjuring new buildings, new neighborhoods and even an entirely new city, Sarah Lyall, a Times writer, says in an essay.

It’s hard to separate the majesty from the folly, she observes: “The shipped-in grass and the ornamental trees in places where these things do not grow; the sense that the infrastructure, rich in detail and high design, is meant to create future need, not meet one in the present.”

How Netherlands players (finally) learned to start loving each other: News conference kisses, family at the training grounds and Uno on boats — this World Cup has been one long love fest for the Dutch.

This is Maradona’s Argentina: Diego Maradona has been synonymous with Argentina and the World Cup for decades. Even after his death, his presence looms over the team.

The greatest soccer prodigy you’ve never heard of: Yann Gueho was a Chelsea and France prospect rated better than Kylian Mbappé. Now? There’s little trace of the 28-year-old after prison spells and a belated diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

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.

In the first three episodes, which were released on Thursday, the couple air complaints about Britain’s news media, reveal details of Meghan’s rocky relationship with her relatives, and claim that some royals view harassment as a “rite of passage.” Three new episodes will be released next week.

Here are the main takeaways. (The villain, surprisingly, is not the royal family.)

Response: Critics on both sides of the Atlantic found common ground in negative reviews of the first episodes of the series.

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