Russian President Vladimir Putin is “trying to weaponize winter” with the goal of making Ukrainian civilians suffer, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.
The Russian military’s failures on the battlefield in Ukraine have forced Mr. Putin to engage in a strategy aimed at trying to cripple the Ukrainian energy grid as the coldest months of winter ensue, Mr. Blinken said.
Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the secretary of state said Mr. Putin has responded to recent overtures for peace negotiations — including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenkskyy — by escalating Russia’s campaign against Ukrainian civilians.
“Even as President Zelenskyy from Ukraine came to the G-20 countries, the leading economies in the world and put out a proposal for how to move forward toward peace, what did Vladimir Putin do? He doubled and tripled down … mobilizing more forces, annexing territory in Ukraine and now trying to weaponize winter,” Mr. Blinken said. “He’s been unable to win on the battlefield so he’s basically turning his ire and his fire on Ukrainian civilians, going after the energy infrastructure, trying to turn off the lights, turn off the heat, turn off the electricity.”
The comments were a reference to waves of Russian airstrikes that have pounded Ukraine’s energy facilities since mid-November.
Mr. Putin has made headlines in recent days by claiming the strikes on Ukrainian power lines and other civilian infrastructure have been retaliation for actions by Ukrainian forces.
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In an at times contentious, nearly hourlong phone conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz Friday, the Russian leader rejected what he said were unacceptable Western conditions for peace talks to begin and blamed the West’s “destructive” policies for the missile and drone strikes that have targeted Ukrainian cities in recent weeks.
A Kremlin readout of the call said Mr. Putin decried what he said were “provocative” attacks by Kyiv on Russian assets, including the prized bridge linking Russian-annexed Crimea to the rest of the country and the still-mysterious attacks on the Russian-owned Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.
Mr. Putin’s statements came a day after President Biden expressed a conditioned willingness to engage in diplomacy with Mr. Putin over Ukraine if the Russian leader were to indicate a clear desire to negotiate toward peace.
Mr. Biden said Thursday he would be willing to talk directly with Mr. Putin on the condition that Mr. Putin seeks “a way to end the war.”
Mr. Blinken emphasized that message Sunday.
“Unless and until Putin demonstrates that he’s actually interested in meaningful diplomacy, it’s unlikely to go anywhere,” the secretary of state said.