US officials identify 3 areas where US may soon take action against Ukraine

The ongoing urgent talks between top aides to President Joe Biden and between the United States’ European allies came as efforts to evacuate civilians from Ukrainian cities were thwarted by Russian bombing and the Ukrainian president pleaded with the West to do more.

Senior US national security officials have said they are rushing to find ways to further punish Putin while providing support for Ukraine’s underarmed military.

The White House and other Western officials have made it clear in recent days that they expect the next part of the war to be the bloodiest as Putin grows increasingly frustrated with slower-than-expected progress. of Russia and is looking for ways to move forward.

“I think we have to be prepared for it to last a while,” Blinken said. “But simply winning a battle is not winning the war.”

Vice President Kamala Harris separately made brief comments in support of the Ukrainian people in remarks from Selma, Alabama on Sunday afternoon, where she marked the 57th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Harris told the audience, “Today the eyes of the world are on Ukraine and the brave people who are fighting to protect their country and their democracy.”

She told those gathered at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge that the “bravery” of the Ukrainian people resisting the Russian invasion “is a reminder that freedom and democracy can never be taken for granted by any of us.” .

Russian oil import ban

Biden, who is spending the weekend at his home in Delaware, convened a phone call with senior members of his administration on Saturday to discuss a possible ban on Russian oil imports, Blinken said, a step the House is considering. White since last Last week.

“We are now talking with our European partners and allies to look in a coordinated manner at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil, while ensuring that there is always an adequate supply of oil on world markets,” he said. Blinken said. “It’s a very active discussion as we speak.”

Biden has come under pressure from Democrats and Republicans to impose tougher restrictions on Russia’s energy sector, which could prove far more destructive than the economic sanctions applied by the West to date.

Russian oil imports into the United States represent a relatively small percentage of the country’s overall supply, and they have fallen sharply in recent weeks. There is no doubt that Russia would be able to sell these supplies to other countries, including China, if the United States stopped buying them.

Still, the step would be important, especially since any sanctions applied to the Russian energy sector were once seen as virtually irrelevant given the potential repercussions on the global oil market. So far, the United States and Europe have mostly avoided major steps that could impact Russian energy, although the United States has banned the import into Russia of equipment needed for the extraction of oil and gas.

“It makes no sense to keep buying oil from Russia which they are using to fund this war and this murderous campaign they have undertaken,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told Tapper on CNN Sunday morning. .

Top Democrats, including Senate Democrat No. 2 Dick Durbin of Illinois and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have also voiced support for an oil import ban, and a bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress that would mandate such a measure.

White House officials are now seriously considering what a ban might do to domestic gas prices, which have soared to new heights as the war in Ukraine drives up oil prices.

In one series of tweets sunday late afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that despite efforts to increase domestic energy production, “Russia’s actions still leave our consumers vulnerable.”

Psaki described a series of efforts by the Biden administration to increase natural gas and oil production, but acknowledged that “domestic production has not insulated us from the volatility of fossil fuel prices or the whims of those who control them, like President Putin. Americans know that.”

“The only way to protect the United States over the long term is to become energy independent,” she said, reiterating an administration priority. “That’s why the president is so focused on deploying clean energy technologies that don’t require fossil fuels being bought and sold on the global market, which will always be vulnerable to bad actors.”

Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecilia Rouse told reporters at a press briefing on Friday: “We are looking at what options we can take right now, if we were to reduce US consumption of Russian energy – but this what’s really most important is that we maintain a steady supply of global energy.”

White House officials have said Biden is unlikely to take action targeting Russia’s energy sector without explicit support from Europe, which is much more dependent on Russian oil and gas than the United States. Speaking earlier on Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said work was underway to reduce that dependency.

“It’s very clear that for us now there is a solid strategy to say that we have to get rid of Russia’s fossil fuel dependency,” she told Tapper on CNN. “Therefore, we are just discussing in the European Union a strategic approach, a plan, how to accelerate investment in renewable energies, how to diversify our energy supply.”

Possible war crimes

As officials consider a possible ban on Russian oil, parallel efforts are underway to assess whether the ongoing targeting of civilians in Ukraine would constitute a war crime.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday morning that the United States was “working with our partners to collect and provide information” about possible war crimes.

“Any attack on civilians is a war crime,” she said on ABC News. Earlier this week, Biden refrained from calling Russia’s actions in Ukraine a war crime, although he said he thought it was “clear” that Russia was targeting civilians.

Reports from the ground in Ukraine, including by CNN reporters, found civilian areas that were shelled. Ukraine has claimed that thousands of civilians have been killed, although other estimates – including those of the UN – are lower.

Ailing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described what is happening in his country as war crimes and called for an international tribunal to investigate. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made similar accusations. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened an investigation into possible war crimes.
Last week, the US Embassy in Kyiv said in a Tweeter it would be a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant after Russia had done so. But in a subsequent scramble, the State Department told other embassies not to amplify the message, a signal that the administration has yet to decide whether to call what is happening in Russia a war crime. .

“We’ve seen very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians, which would constitute a war crime. We’ve seen very credible reports of the use of certain weapons,” Blinken said on CNN on Sunday. “And what we’re doing right now is documenting all of that, putting it all together, reviewing it, and making sure that as people and the appropriate organizations and institutions investigate whether war crimes have been or are being committed, that we can support whatever they do.”

Polish fighter aircraft

Addressing U.S. lawmakers virtually on Saturday, Zelensky made an impassioned plea for the United States to step up aid, including through tougher economic sanctions.
He made another request to the United States and NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which was flatly rejected due to its potential to directly pit the United States against the Russia.

Apart from that, Zelensky asked for American support to facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era fighter jets from Eastern European countries to Ukraine, where pilots have been trained to fly them and could use them to control the sky.

On Saturday evening, American and Polish officials were discussing a potential deal to supply the country with American F-16 fighter jets in return for Poland sending its Russian-made planes to Ukraine.

“We are working with Poland as we speak to see if we can replace whatever they are supplying to Ukrainians,” Blinken said on Sunday. “But we also want to see if we can be helpful in making sure that whatever they provide to the Ukrainians, something comes back to them to fill any gaps in Poland’s security that may result.”

Thomas-Greenfield also clarified that the United States had “in no way objected to the Polish government supplying these jets to Ukraine”.

This story has been updated with comments from Vice President Kamala Harris and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.

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