Russian President Vladimir Putin is not sincere about peace talks with Ukraine while he is taking the war to a new level of "barbarism" by trying to turn off the lights of civilians, a top U.S. diplomat said on Saturday.
U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other senior Ukrainian officials in Kyiv to show support at a time when Russia is trying to destroy the country's energy infrastructure.
"Diplomacy is obviously everyone's objective but you have to have a willing partner," she told reporters. "And it's very clear, whether it's the energy attacks, whether it's the rhetoric out of the Kremlin and the general attitude, that Putin is not sincere or ready for that."
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday he was prepared to speak to Putin if the Russian leader was interested in ending the war. But the idea died quickly when the Kremlin said the West must recognize Moscow's declared annexation of four Ukrainian regions.
This reaction from Russia, Nuland said, showed "how not serious they are".
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.
"Putin has taken this war to a new level of barbarism, taking it into every single Ukrainian home as he tries to turn off the lights and the water and achieve what he couldn't on the battlefield," Nuland said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quick to respond.
"It is not for Nuland to teach the world - only the United States and NATO combined destroyed more energy networks than the United States destroyed by itself," Zakharova said on the Telegram channel, pointing to the 1999 attacks on Serbia.
During the attacks in Serbia, warplanes shut off power to more than 70% of the area, according to NATO.
Nuland also met Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskiy's office, who expressed thanks for the billions of dollars worth of aid Washington has committed to Ukraine.
"Ukraine's victory, which we are sure of, will be our joint victory," Zelenskiy's office quoted him as telling Nuland.
** U.S. intelligence expects the reduced tempo in fighting in Ukraine to continue in the next several months and sees no evidence of a reduced Ukrainian will to resist, despite attacks on its power grid and other critical winter infrastructure, the Director of National Intelligence said on Saturday.
"We're seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict ... and we expect that's likely to be what we see in the coming months," Avril Haines told the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
She said both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries would be looking to try to refit and resupply to prepare for a counter-offensive after the winter, but there was a question as to what that would look like, and added:
"We actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that. I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe."
Asked about the effects of Russian attacks on Ukraine's power grid and other civilian infrastructure, Haines said Moscow's aim was partly to undermine the will of Ukrainians to resist, and added: "I think we're not seeing any evidence of that being undermined right now at this point."
She said Russia was also looking to affect Ukraine's capacity to prosecute conflict and added that Kyiv's economy had been suffering very badly.
"It can over time, obviously, have an impact. How much of an impact will be dependent on how much they go after, what they're capable of doing, the resilience of that critical infrastructure, our capacity to help them defend it."
"Ukraine's economy is suffering very badly. It's been devastating, and ... obviously taking down the grid will have an impact on that as well."
Haines said she thought Russian President Vladimir Putin had been surprised that his military had not accomplished more.
"I do think he is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia. But it's still not clear to us that he has a full picture at this stage of just how challenged they are ... we see shortages of ammunition, for morale, supply issues, logistics, a whole series of concerns that they're facing."
Haines said Putin's political objectives in Ukraine did not appear to have changed, but U.S. intelligence analysts thought he may be willing to scale back his near-term military objectives "on a temporary basis with the idea that he might then come back at this issue at a later time."
She said Russia appeared to be using up its military stockpiles "quite quickly."
"It's really pretty extraordinary, and our own sense is that they are not capable of indigenously producing what they are expending at this stage," she said.
"That's why you see them going to other countries effectively to try to get ammunition ... and we've indicated that their precision munitions are running out much faster in many respects."
Haines said the United States had "seen some movement" in supplies of munitions from North Korea, "but it's not been a lot at this stage."
She said Iran had supplied Russia with drones and Moscow was looking for other types of precision munitions from Tehran, something that would be "very concerning in terms of their capacity."
The impact of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is harsher on the EU than on the US, European Council President Charles Michel has said.
According to Michel, security ties between Brussels and Washington have strengthened since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, in which the West is backing Kiev. “There’s unprecedented coordination on the war in Ukraine,” he said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Saturday.
But apparently the same can’t be said about economic cooperation, with the European Council head pointing out that “the impact of the conflict on the US is not the same as on Europe.”
Things are easier for America because it is an exporter of energy resources and benefits from spiking gas and oil prices, while the EU “has to pay a heavy price,”he said. “We’re at risk of an economic recession,” the bloc’s chief added.
“European industries pay more for energy and face competition from American ones,” Michel explained.
The European Council president was also asked if he felt “betrayed” by the Inflation Reduction Act, passed by the administration of President Joe Biden, which offers huge subsidies and tax breaks to green businesses. Fears have been expressed in Brussels that the scheme could end up luring European businesses to America due to much lower energy prices there.
“I wouldn't use this term, but I would’ve preferred another behavior” from Washington, Michel replied. “But let's not be naïve, the US – even under the current administration – prioritizes its own economic interests.”
Reciprocity and having a level playing field are “essential for globalization to work,” he said, expressing hope the EU will be able to engage with the US in the coming weeks to discuss mutual cooperation.
A report by Politico in late November claimed that Brussels was angry at the Biden administration for capitalizing on the fighting in Ukraine. The US is profiting from the conflict the most as “they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons,” one senior EU official told the outlet.
** Moscow will not accept a price cap on Russian oil, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
"We are assessing the situation. Certain preparations for such a cap were made. We won’t accept the price cap and we will inform you how the work will be organized once the assessment is over," the Kremlin spokesman said, commenting on the EU’s decision.
On Friday, European Union countries agreed to cap the price of Russian seaborne oil at $60 a barrel. Members of the G7 group and Australia announced similar measures.
** The West is currently considering options to continue military activities in Ukraine, which ensures the continuation of Russia’s special military operation, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu on Saturday.
"We believe that they are thinking about ways to carry on with the war. If so, the special operation won’t end," Lukashenko said, as cited by the BelTA news agency.
According to the Belarusian president, Russia’s opponents are in no hurry to engage in talks. "If they want to fight until the last Ukrainian, or the last Pole and other mercenaries, that’s their choice," he noted. "So far, neither our intelligence agencies nor I see their willingness to engage in full-scale talks," Lukashenko stressed.
"We openly clarified our position. Neither you (Russia - TASS), nor we have ever wanted war," Lukashenko said.