By Jeff Seldin
U.S. President Joe Biden travels Wednesday to Brussels where he will meet with NATO and European allies and is expected to announce a new round of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is due to virtually address Thursday’s NATO summit, and he said ahead of the meeting that he is expecting Western leaders to both add to their Russian sanctions and pledge more aid for Ukraine.
One key Russian industry that has been discussed for possible sanctions is the country’s lucrative oil and gas exports, but reliance on those supplies, particularly among European Union nations which get 40% of their gas from Europe, has raised concerns about the effects of such actions.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday that his country would “end this dependency as soon as possible,” but that doing so immediately “would mean to push our country and the rest of Europe into recession.”
On the humanitarian front, International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer traveled Wednesday to Moscow to speak with authorities about addressing those affected by the fighting in Ukraine.
“The devastation caused by the conflict in recent weeks, as well as eight years of conflict in Donbas, has been vast,” Maurer said in a statement. “There are practical steps guided by international humanitarian law that the parties must take to limit the suffering.”
France said it was sending health and emergency equipment along with a group of fire engines and rescue vehicles to the Romania-Ukraine border for Ukraine’s emergency service to use.
Those efforts came as shelling continued Wednesday in Kyiv, including attacks that injured four people in the Ukrainian capital. In the city of Chernihiv, Russian forces destroyed a bridge that had been used for evacuating civilians and delivering aid.
The United Nations says more than 3.6 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion one month ago. Another 6.5 million people have been displaced from their homes within the country.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that in some parts of the country, the momentum in the conflict appears to be shifting.
“We have seen indications that the Ukrainians are going a bit more on the offense now,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters late Tuesday.
“They have been defending very smartly, very nimbly, very creatively in places that they believe are the right places to defend,” he said. “And we have seen them now in places, particularly in the south near Kherson, they have tried to regain territory.”
Other U.S. officials were even more blunt about the state of Russian military operations.
“Russia has thus far manifestly failed,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters about the Kremlin’s plans for Ukraine.
“Whether Russia takes a city, takes a town or takes more territory, they are never going to be able to achieve the purpose they set out … which was to bring this country to heel,” he said. “The brave citizens of Ukraine are refusing to submit. They are fighting back.”
On its English-language Telegram feed, Russia’s Ministry of Defense portrayed a vastly different war effort, praising Russian forces as they advanced on parts of southeastern Ukraine while Ukrainian forces fled, and claiming success in taking out Ukrainian fuel depots and positions with “high-precision long-range” weapons.
A senior U.S. defense official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence, confirmed Russian ships in the Sea of Azov had begun shelling the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under heavy fire for days.
But the official said other intelligence suggests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a logistical nightmare, with Russian forces still struggling to overcome shortages of fuel, food and precision-guided munitions.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday those shortages could be part of the reason Russia has “at least in one instance” used an advanced hypersonic missile to take out a Ukrainian military storage facility, a move one official described as a “head-scratcher.”
Even basic supplies seem to be lacking.
“We picked up some indications that some of their soldiers are suffering from frostbite because they lack the appropriate cold weather gear,” the official said. “Troops have actually suffered and [have been] taken out of the fight.”
The United States, meanwhile, warned Russia is increasingly taking out on civilians its inability to achieve its objectives in Ukraine.
“Clearly, there are civilian casualties, and clearly, they’re mounting every day because of the indiscriminate attacks that the Russians are conducting … as they become more frustrated,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
“We believe we should call it like we see it, and we believe that there are war crimes being conducted by the Russian forces,” he added.
Russia has repeatedly rejected accusations of war crimes, even as the United States and other Western countries raise concerns that Russia may be preparing to use chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine, or even nuclear weapons.
“If it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the U.S.-based cable news network CNN Tuesday when asked whether Moscow might consider unleashing some of its nuclear arsenal.
“We have a concept of domestic security, and it’s public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, something officials at the White House and Pentagon continue to monitor.
“We are constantly monitoring for that potential contingency, and of course we take it as seriously as one could possibly take it,” Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, told reporters. “We will be consulting with allies and partners on that potential contingency … and discussing what our potential responses are.”
U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.