Lavrov’s comments comes as six million people in Ukraine are still without power.
As Ukrainian officials warned that Moscow was preparing to launch yet another wave of missile strikes aimed at destroying the nation’s energy grid, Russia’s foreign minister on Thursday defended Moscow’s attacks, calling infrastructure a legitimate military target despite warnings by the United Nations that they could amount to war crimes.
Sergei V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, spoke at a news conference hours after Ukrainian officials said that Russian attacks had disabled the power grid in the southern city of Kherson and six million people across the country were still without power after previous assaults.Drawing on familiar Kremlin themes framing the Ukraine war as a battle with the West, Mr. Lavrov said that Russia is hitting targets that are used to replenish Ukrainian forces with weapons provided by Western nations and that the Ukrainian forces rely on to operate. He did not elaborate.
The Ukrainian military has said that its forces have their own autonomous energy supply and the strikes had no impact on their fighting capability.
But the impact on civilians is mounting. The strikes have knocked out electricity and water for millions of people in Ukraine, and Ukrainian and Western officials have accused Russia of trying to make life miserable for people by striking residential areas, electrical transformers, power plants and other civilian targets.
“As Ukraine continues to seize momentum on the battlefield, President Putin continues to focus his ire and his fire on Ukraine’s civilian population,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a meeting of NATO allies this week. “Heat, water, electricity — for the children, for the elderly, for the sick — these are President Putin’s new targets. He’s hitting them hard. This brutalization of Ukraine’s people is barbaric.”
Ukrainian officials say it could take months to repair the damage already done to the grid and there was no indication the attacks would stop.
“There is still a threat of missile strikes on critical infrastructure of Ukraine and military facilities in the near future,” Brig. Gen. Oleksii Hromov, a member of Ukraine’s General Staff, warned on Thursday. “The enemy’s goal is to cause panic in the population.”
Soon after he spoke, air raid alarms sounded across the country, though they were followed by an all-clear.
Mr. Lavrov said that Russia used high-precision weapons against Ukrainian energy facilities that support Kyiv’s combat operations and are used “to pump up Ukraine with Western weapons for it to kill Russians.”
He defended Russia’s strikes against Ukrainian areas that Moscow has illegally annexed and now considers its own territory, such as the Kherson region, comparing its assaults to Stalingrad, which was leveled during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II when Soviet forces achieved a pivotal victory against Nazi Germany.
“Stalingrad was our territory too and we have beaten Germans there so much that they ran away,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Repeating Russia talking points, he accused the United States and Europe of being “directly involved” in the Ukraine conflict, which, he said, was sparked by NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe and Western meddling in Ukraine’s affairs.
He also dismissed as “laughable” the idea that Moscow is trying to engage Kyiv in cease-fire negotiations as a way to buy time and replenish its forces amid setbacks on the battlefield. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmitry Kuleba, has warned that a cease-fire would allow Russia’s “depleted invasion forces to take a break before returning for further aggression.”
“We have never asked for any negotiations,” Mr. Lavrov said. “But we have always said that if someone is interested in finding a negotiated solution, we are ready to listen.”
Mr. Lavrov also accused NATO of stirring up tensions elsewhere in the world, including with China, and of trying to drag India into what he called “an anti-Russian and anti-Chinese alliance.” India and China have both called for de-escalation after Russian strikes.
— Ivan Nechepurenko and Marc Santora
Russian shelling again cuts power to Kherson.
Russian shellfire has crashed into the power grid in the southern city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said on Thursday, cutting power to beleaguered residents and illustrating the problem for Ukraine as it races to restore basic utilities damaged by weeks of Russian strikes.
The attacks are the latest frustration for the city, which sits on the west bank of the Dnipro River. Ukraine reclaimed Kherson on Nov. 11, forcing Russian troops to withdraw to the east bank after a counteroffensive that lasted for months. Since then, Russian forces have fired hundreds of shells across the river at the city.
The authorities have been encouraging residents to leave Kherson, given the lack of power and water in the city, but they have also been racing to reconnect supplies. On Wednesday, the authorities said they had restored power to 20 percent of customers, only for more strikes to reverse the situation.
“There is no voltage in power lines in Kherson,” Yaroslav Yanushevych, the head of the regional military administration, said in a post on the Telegram social messaging app. “This happened because of large-scale attacks on the city by the Russian invaders.”
Russian forces fired 34 shells on Thursday that hit five settlements in the broader region, killing one person and wounding two others, Mr. Yanushevych said, adding that engineers from local power company Khersonoblenergo were again working to restore the power lines.
Russia’s aerial attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure escalated sharply in October as Moscow sustained a series of battlefield losses that military experts say have thwarted its strategy for securing Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and the whole of the eastern Donbas region.
Despite the efforts of Ukrainian engineers, and the support of the European Union and the United States, which have started to deliver both transformers and heavy generators, it will take six months to restore the damaged infrastructure, according to Andriy Herus, head of Ukraine’s committee on energy and housing.
“During this winter it is impossible to restore all the damaged facilities of the energy infrastructure,” Mr. Herus said on Ukraine’s Espresso television channel. “The Ukrainian energy system is under constant Russian fire.”
Ukraine’s European partners were having to manufacture some of the equipment that Ukraine needs, a process that would take six months, he said. At the same time, Ukraine was trying to repair damaged facilities but had instituted a series of rolling blackouts to compensate for the shortages.
This week, the deputy minister of internal affairs, Yevhen Yenin, said on Ukrainian television that a total of 520 cities, towns and villages were facing power supply problems because of the attacks.
Places on the conflict’s front lines, such as the city of Kherson, face a particular problem because they are also subject to local mortar and artillery fire, as well as broader strikes.
The head of the regional military administration in Donetsk, a province in Donbas, told journalists on Wednesday that it was too dangerous for engineers to try to fix the power system in Bakhmut, a city that has been devastated by months of fighting as Russian forces attempt to capture it.
“Aerial power lines are destroyed to the extent that we can count them in kilometers,” said the official, Pavlo Kyrylenko, adding that 1,235 people had been killed by shellfire in the province since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Donetsk in February.
— Matthew Mpoke Bigg
The State of the War
- A Pivotal Point: Ukraine is on the offensive, but with about one-fifth of its territory still occupied by Russian forces, there is still a long way to go, and the onset of winter will bring new difficulties.
- Ukraine’s Electric Grid: As many Ukrainians head into winter without poweror water,Western officials say that rebuilding Ukraine’s battered energy infrastructureneeds to be considered a second front in the war.
- A Bloody Vortex : Even as they have celebrated successes elsewhere, Ukrainian forces in the small eastern city of Bakhmut have endured relentless Russian attacks. And the struggle to hold it is only intensifying.
- Dnipro River: A volunteer Ukrainian special forces team has been conducting secret raids under the cover of darkness,traveling across the strategic waterway that has become the dividing line of the southern front.
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The U.N. seeks $51.5 billion in aid, driven in part by the war in Ukraine.
GENEVA — The United Nations launched a record-breaking appeal to international donors on Thursday asking for $51.5 billion to tackle spiraling levels of desperation, fueled in part by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The disruption to food and fertilizer shipments caused by the war has combined with climate-related disasters and a looming threat of a global economic recession to produce what the U.N. appeal warns is “the largest global food crisis in modern history.”
“The needs are going up because we have been smitten by the war in Ukraine, by Covid, by climate, and I fear that 2023 is going to see an acceleration of all those trends,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator, told reporters in Geneva.
About 339 million people, or one in every 23 people on the planet, will need assistance in 2023, the United Nations estimates. That is 25 percent more than in 2022 and more than the population of the United States, the world’s third most-populous country.
“It’s a phenomenal number, and it’s a depressing number,” Mr. Griffiths said. Global needs, he added, are outstripping the capacity of relief agencies to meet them.
Ukraine tops the list of funding needs for a single country going into 2023, he said.
U.N. agencies have delivered aid to more than 13 million people in Ukraine this year and are seeking $5.7 billion in 2023 to keep assistance flowing to country and to some five million Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war for other countries in Europe. To deal with the humanitarian crisis triggered by the war, the United Nations said it had delivered the largest cash assistance program on record, providing $1.7 billion to a total of more than six million people, up from 11,000 people in the previous year.
At least 222 million people in 53 countries will face acute food shortages by the end of this year, the United Nations estimates. Five countries are already grappling with famine, Mr. Griffiths said, and 45 million people in 37 countries are facing the risk of starvation.
The number of displaced people has climbed to more than 100 million, a record high, Mr. Griffiths noted.
Threats to public health remained another challenge, he said, citing the continuing spread of Covid-19, the return of Ebola in parts of Africa and outbreaks of cholera typically associated with conflict and displacement that are occurring in 30 countries.
The worry for U.N and international relief agencies, Mr. Griffiths said, is the yawning gap between humanitarian needs and the funding available. In previous years, the United Nations typically raised about 60 to 65 percent of the funding it requested. In 2022, it fell to less than half. The United Nations had appealed for $41 billion for humanitarian relief at the start of the year but, by mid-November, had raised its appeal to $51 billion and had received $24 billion.
Key international donors — including the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Nordic and other European countries — had largely sustained or even increased their funding. “The gap is because of the needs, not the funding,” Mr. Griffiths said.
— Nick Cumming-Bruce
Concern grows about Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia.
The Biden administration is “deeply concerned” about Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia who has been transferred to a prison hospital, a White House spokesman said on Wednesday.
Mr. Whelan’s brother, David, said in emails to supporters this week that his brother was moved on Nov. 17 to a hospital in the prison where he is being held.
His family, who have not heard from him in a week, grew particularly alarmed when Mr. Whelan missed a scheduled call home on Thanksgiving Day and further still when he failed to call home on Wednesday, his father’s 85th birthday.
“Paul was not complaining of any health conditions that required hospitalization, so has there been an emergency?” David Whelan wrote. He added that his brother “appeared healthy and well” to U.S. Embassy staff who visited him in November.
John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters in a telephone briefing on Wednesday that the U.S. government had been trying unsuccessfully to get information on Mr. Whelan’s condition and his whereabouts.
“As we speak this morning, regrettably, we do not have an update specifically about where he is or what condition he’s in,” Mr. Kirby said. He added: “We are deeply concerned about the lack of information and the lack of contact from Paul, and we’re working on this really as hard as we can through diplomatic channels.”
Speaking on MSNBC during a visit to Bucharest, Romania, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that U.S. officials had visited Mr. Whelan on Nov. 16 and spoken to him by phone at “roughly” the same time but had not had contact with him since. “We are working every day to make sure that we have contact with him, that we understand what the exact situation is,” Mr. Blinken said.
David Whelan said in an email on Wednesday: “It could be nothing but, in this case, you always have to consider worst case scenarios.”
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who later worked as a corporate security executive, was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and was convicted in June 2020 on espionage charges that the U.S. government says were manufactured.
U.S. officials have linked Mr. Whelan’s fate to that of Brittney Griner, the American professional basketball player imprisoned in Russia, and have been trying for months to negotiate their joint release. The United States has offered to release from federal prison a notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for the two Americans. Russia has yet to accept the offer.
In a Nov. 9 statement, the White House said that it had “continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels” but did not offer further details.
Mr. Whelan is being held at a high-security prison called IK-17, about an eight-hour drive from Moscow.
— Michael Crowley
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For Putin’s opponents, exile from Russia proves a boon.
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Sitting before a large video monitor in his suburban Moscow office last week, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia addressed local officials opening a turkey breeding center in distant Siberia.
Before several dignitaries pushed a platter-size orange button in unison, Mr. Putin lauded homegrown turkeys as a model for assuring Russia’s independence. “Without any exaggeration, this is a question of our technological, scientific and food sovereignty,” he said.
The ceremony was carried solemnly by state television in Russia. But across the border in Vilnius, Lithuania, the event served as raw material for a very different type of broadcast: a skewering of the Russian president on YouTube by the exiled political team of Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader.
“With everything happening, it is completely insane,” said Nino Rosebashvili, an anchor at a YouTube channel run by the movement founded by Mr. Navalny. Mr. Putin, the anchor suggested, has taken to presiding over the most humdrum of events to avoid linking himself with Russia’s stumbling war against Ukraine.
In the time since Mr. Navalny was sent to a penal colony last year, his political network across Russia was crushed and the country’s opposition movement seemed dead. Many liberals fled into exile.
But now, with Russia mired in war, exile has proved a boon to the opposition movement. In Vilnius, the unofficial capital of Russian opposition abroad, the Navalny team is using YouTube to spearhead antiwar efforts in a way that is unthinkable at home.
— Neil MacFarquhar