By Steve Holland and Anthony Deutsch
WASHINGTON/KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) -The presidents of the United States and France said they would hold Russia to account for its actions in Ukraine and the European Union reached tentative agreement on Thursday on an oil price cap aimed at starving Moscow of resources.
Western powers are trying to rally support for Ukraine, which is reeling from near weekly missile and drone attacks targeting power supply, water and heat in its cities just as winter has set in nine months into Russia’s invasion.
Russia meanwhile accused the United States and NATO of playing a direct and dangerous role in the war and said Washington had turned Kyiv into an existential threat for Moscow which it could not ignore.
In a bid to cut resources available for Moscow’s war effort, the European Union tentatively agreed on Thursday on a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian seaborne oil, according to diplomats. The measure would need to be approved by all EU governments in a written procedure by Friday.
U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron said in a joint statement after Oval Office talks that they were committed to holding Russia to account “for widely documented atrocities and war crimes, committed both by its regular armed forces and by its proxies” in Ukraine.
Biden said Washington and Paris “are facing down Vladimir Putin’s grasping ambition for conquest” and “defending the democratic values and universal human rights.”
Biden told reporters he was prepared to speak with the Russian president “if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war,” but added that Putin “hasn’t done that yet.”
There are no political talks under way to end the war, which Russia began on Feb. 24 as a “special military operation” claiming its aim was to disarm its neighbour and root out leaders it characterises as dangerous nationalists.
Ukraine and the West call it an imperialist land grab, which has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides.
Ukraine’s armed forces have lost somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 soldiers so far, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told a Ukrainian television network on Thursday.
“We will never urge the Ukrainians to make a compromise which will not be acceptable for them, because they are so brave,” Macron said in Washington.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a video posted on Thursday night, remarked that Dec. 1 was 31 years since a referendum when Ukraine – then still part of the Soviet Union – voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence.
“Our desire to live freely … will not be broken. Ukrainians will never again be a tiny stone in some empire,” Zelenskiy said.
ATTACKS ON INFRASTRUCTURE
The stakes have been increased in recent weeks as Russia has intensified a campaign to knock out power, water and heat supplies in Ukrainian cities, which Ukraine and the West say are intended to harm civilians, a war crime.
Kyiv mayor Vitaliy Klitschko on Thursday told residents to stock up on water, food and warm clothes in the event of a total blackout and advised people to consider staying with friends on the outskirts of the capital if they could.
The attacks on infrastructure are likely to increase the cost to keep Ukraine’s economy going next year by up to $1 billion a month, IMF head Kristalina Georgieva told the Reuters NEXT conference on Thursday. Damage from Russian attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure are increasing the amount of aid the country needs “front-loaded”, she said.
Russian artillery pounded the regional capital of Kherson in southern Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on Thursday night.
Russian forces, which abandoned the city of Kherson in November, are trying to establish defensive positions and are also shelling several towns just north of Kherson, the statement said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking during an annual news conference in Moscow, defended recent missile strikes, saying it was targeting Ukraine’s civil infrastructure to prevent Kyiv from importing Western arms.
He did not explain how such attacks could achieve that aim.
“We disable energy facilities (in Ukraine) that allow you (the West) to pump lethal weapons into Ukraine to kill Russians,” Lavrov said.
“So don’t say that the U.S. and NATO are not participants in this war – you are directly participating.”
In a sign some channels of communication remain open, Russia’s Defence Ministry and the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration said the two countries swapped 50 service personnel on Thursday.
After pulling back in the south in November, Russia has focused its firepower on a section of the front line in the east near the city of Bakhmut.
Russian forces shelled about a dozen towns in the area, including Bakhmut and nearby Soledar as well as further north near Sporniy and in Bilohorivka, Thursday night’s Ukrainian military statement said.
Reuters could not independently confirm battlefield reports.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)