WASHINGTON/KHERSON, Ukraine—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 an oil price cap to squeeze Moscow’s export earnings.
Western powers are trying to rally support for Ukraine, which is reeling from 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 reduce the money 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 on Thursday 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.”
Macron said he would continue to talk to Putin to “try to prevent escalation and to get some very concrete results” such as the safety of nuclear plants.
Attacks on Infrastructure
The stakes have increased in recent weeks as Russia intensified a campaign to knock out power, water, and heat supplies in Ukrainian cities. Ukraine and the West say the strategy deliberately intends to harm civilians.
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.
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, having abandoned the city of Kherson in November, are trying to establish defensive positions and are shelling several towns 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 Defense 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.