NATO allies promised more arms for Kyiv and equipment to help restore Ukrainian power and heat knocked out by Russian strikes, as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Moscow's forces were attempting to advance in multiple regions.
Ukrainians on Tuesday fled for bomb shelters after air-raid warning sirens, although the all-clear later sounded across the country. In the eastern Donetsk region Russian forces pounded Ukrainian targets with artillery, mortar and tank fire.
Zelenskiy said the Russian military was also attacking in Luhansk in the east and Kharkiv in the northeast, the latter an area Ukraine recaptured in September.
"The situation at the front is difficult," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. "Despite extremely large losses, the occupiers are still trying to advance" in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv. And "they are planning something in the south," he said.
Ukraine regained control of Kherson in the south this month after Russian forces retreated. Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Foreign ministers from the NATO alliance, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, began a two-day meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday, seeking ways both to keep Ukrainians safe and warm and to sustain Kyiv's military through a coming winter campaign.
"We need air defence, IRIS, Hawks, Patriots, and we need transformers (for our energy needs)," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO meeting, enumerating various Western air defence systems.
"In a nutshell: Patriots and transformers are what Ukraine needs the most."
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriot missile defence systems and denounced the Atlantic alliance as a "criminal entity" for delivering arms to what he called "Ukrainian fanatics."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "trying to use winter as a weapon of war" as Moscow's forces lose ground on the battlefield.
U.S. and European officials said ministers would focus in their talks on non-lethal aid such as fuel, medical supplies and winter equipment, as well as on military assistance. Washington said it would provide $53 million to buy power grid equipment.
U.S. President Joe Biden said providing more military assistance for Ukraine was a priority, but Republicans, who take control of Congress' House of Representatives in January, have talked about pausing the funding, which has surpassed $18 billion.
Russia has been carrying out huge attacks on Ukraine's electricity transmission and heating infrastructure roughly weekly since October, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians, a war crime.
In Kyiv, snow fell and temperatures were hovering around freezing as millions in and around the capital struggled to heat their homes. An official with the power company said on Facebook that 985,500 customers in Kyiv were without power, and another electricity provider said the city would have emergency power cuts on Wednesday.
In a brief posting on Telegram, Kherson region governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on Tuesday electricity had been restored to half of the city of Kherson.
Ukrainian forces struck a power plant in Russia's Kursk region on Tuesday, causing some electricity outages, Roman Starovoyt, the governor of the region, said on the Telegram messaging app.
Moscow says hurting civilians is not its aim but that their suffering will end only if Kyiv accepts its demands, which it has not spelled out. Although Kyiv says it shoots down most of the incoming missiles, the damage has been accumulating and the impact growing more severe with each strike.
A senior U.S. military official said on Tuesday Russia was firing unarmed cruise missiles that were designed to carry nuclear warheads at targets in Ukraine to try to deplete Kyiv's stocks of air defences.
The worst barrage so far was on Nov. 23, leaving millions of Ukrainians in cold and darkness. Zelenskiy told Ukrainians at the start of this week to expect another soon that would be at least as damaging.
There are no political talks to end the war. Moscow has annexed Ukrainian territory which it says it will never relinquish; Ukraine says it will fight until it recovers all occupied land.
Kyiv said it wants weapons to help it end the war - by winning it.
A price cap on Russian oil could cause shortages and disrupt investment in the energy sector, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak has warned. Moscow will strictly observe its commitment to market principles in international trade, he added.
“Our position is pretty rigid here, and I have voiced it on many occasions. Regardless of what level is picked for the price cap, even if it is high, it will be unacceptable in principle in terms of signing contracts. We will work under market conditions,” Novak told a business forum on Tuesday, according to Russian media.
The deputy prime minister blasted the US and its allies for trying to impose various restrictions on Russia’s energy industry, blocking its access to technologies and stifling Russian international trade. Such actions “come with great risks” and may cause deficits and underinvestment, he said.
“This would be true for any commodity that Western nations may want to impose their rules on in the future,” Novak predicted.
G7 nations agreed to impose a price cap on Russian crude in September, with enforcement set to begin on December 5. The EU is negotiating its own version of similar restrictions, with Poland reportedly standing in the way of an agreement by pushing for a lower cap level. Shipments of Russian crude that don’t comply would be denied insurance and other services by companies in Western jurisdictions, according to the plan.
Western officials believe Russia will still sell under the new terms, but would be denied windfall profits amid the global energy-price hike. However, Novak and other top Russian officials have said the country will not accept any cap.
Novak’s remarks came during the Russian-Chinese Energy Business Forum, an event organized by the governments of the two nations every year since 2018. Chinese Vice Premier of the State Council Han Zheng read a statement from President Xi Jinping during the event, in which the Chinese leader described energy as a “cornerstone of practical cooperation” between the two nations.
“China intends to build closer partnership with Russia in the energy sphere, foster development of clean and ‘green’ sources of energy, jointly defend international energy security and stability of supply chains, and contribute to the long-term reliability of the international energy market,” the message read.
Russia became the biggest supplier of oil to China after EU nations chose to cut trade with Moscow as a form of punishment for its role in the Ukraine conflict. Beijing disapproved of Moscow’s decision to send troops into its neighboring country in February, but blamed the US and the expansion of NATO in Europe for triggering the hostilities in the first place.
** Russia and China are working on a reciprocal opening of company accounts to avoid the use of SWIFT, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday. He was speaking at the 4th Russian-Chinese Energy Business Forum.
Novak recalled that payments under contracts for gas supplies from Russia to China are already switching to the national currencies of the two countries. Besides that, settlements for supplies of oil, petroleum products and coal are being actively transferred in rubles and yuan, he added.
"Such work makes it possible to prevent risks and promote the transition of the ruble and yuan into the status of world reserve currencies. In this regard, the Central Bank of Russia and the Bank of China are working on the possibility of opening accounts for Russian companies in China, Chinese companies in Russia, and creating a payment system without using SWIFT," the Deputy Prime Minister said.
Novak added that Russia and China also plan to jointly develop the production of equipment for the energy sector.
"Today, China is one of the key manufacturers of equipment in the oil and gas sector. There is already close cooperation on supply of oil and gas equipment for projects in Russia," he stressed.
** The civilized world does not need NATO, a "criminal organization" whose member states account for just about 12% of the world’s population, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday.
"NATO countries account for not more than 12% of the planet’s population. The civilized world does not need this organization. It should repent before the humanity and dissolve itself on the grounds of being a criminal organization," Medvedev wrote on his Telegram channel.
According to the Russian security official, NATO "easily forgot" what it had done all over the world, including orchestrating state coups and toppling legitimate state leaders. The organization and its leadership also seem to have forgotten about numerous civilian casualties, caused by its operations and arms supplies to extremist regimes, Medvedev added.
Medvedev also commented on NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s recent remarks about the need to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.
"But he made no mention of its territorial integrity. Like, it is supposed to win, but, apparently, with a decimated territory," he said.