Sat, 04 Feb 2023

The United States said Wednesday that Russia's weeks-long campaign targeting attacks on Ukraine's vital heating, electrical and water infrastructure would not diminish Western resolve to support Kyiv in its nine-month fight against Moscow's invasion.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, following a two-day NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, said at a news conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin had focused his 'fire and ire' against the Ukrainian civilian population as the brutally cold winter months settle in.

'Heat, water, electricity - these are President Putin's new targets. He's hitting them hard. This brutalization of Ukraine's people is barbaric,' Blinken said.

The top U.S. diplomat accused Putin of trying to divide the Western coalition supporting Ukraine as world energy prices spike while Ukrainians face routine, widespread electrical blackouts.

'This strategy has not, and will not, work,' Blinken said. 'We will continue to prove him wrong. That's what I heard loudly and clearly from every country here in Bucharest.'

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for a special court to prosecute Russian crimes against Ukraine.

Von der Leyen proposed a court backed by the United Nations 'to investigate and prosecute Russia's crime of aggression.'

She also said Russia and Russian oligarchs need to pay for costs to rebuild Ukraine from the damage done by Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine in February.

'Russia's horrific crimes will not go unpunished,' von der Leyen said in Bucharest as the NATO foreign ministers discussed continued support for Ukraine.

Members of a forensic team carry a plastic bag with a body inside as they work in an exhumation in a mass grave in Lyman, Ukraine, Oct. 11, 2022. Members of a forensic team carry a plastic bag with a body inside as they work in an exhumation in a mass grave in Lyman, Ukraine, Oct. 11, 2022.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday Ukraine would one day join the Western military alliance in direct defiance of Putin.

'NATO's door is open,' Stoltenberg said, renewing a commitment for Ukraine membership first made in 2008 but has stalled since then. He noted that North Macedonia and Montenegro recently joined the West's chief post-World War II military alliance, and that Sweden and Finland also will do so soon.

'Russia does not have a veto' on countries joining, Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, said. 'We stand by that, too, on membership for Ukraine.'

The former Norwegian prime minister added, 'President Putin cannot deny sovereign nations to make their own sovereign decisions that are not a threat to Russia. I think what he's afraid of is democracy and freedom, and that's the main challenge for him.'

But Ukraine will not soon join NATO, which under terms of the alliance's charter, would likely push the armed forces of the 30-member nations directly onto the battlefield fighting Russian troops. It would be a commitment far beyond the billions of dollars in military and humanitarian assistance the United States and its allies have already sent to the Kyiv government to help Ukrainian fighters defend their country.

Blinken said the United States is sending Kyiv another $53 million to support the purchase of critical electricity grid equipment in the face of Russian airstrikes targeting Ukrainian infrastructure to knock out power and water systems as winter weather takes hold in the country.

The top U.S. diplomat said the equipment would be sent to Ukraine on an emergency basis and include distribution transformers, circuit breakers, surge arresters, disconnectors, vehicles and other key equipment.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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