Ukraine war: Biden will not talk to Putin; Russia to encircle Bakhmut; Estonia wants HIMARS

1. Biden rejects Putin talks as EU and G7 back crude oil price cap

US President Joe Biden does not intend to speak to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, about ending the Ukraine war as conditions for such discussions currently do not exist, the White House said on Friday.

“We’re just not at a point now where talks seem to be a fruitful avenue to approach right now,” national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

His comment underscored the chasm between Ukraine and its main backer and Russia on negotiations more than nine months into the war ignited by Putin’s invasion that has killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions and destroyed cities and towns.

As part of a multi-pronged international campaign to curb Russia’s ability to wage war, the Group of Seven (G7) nations and Australia on Friday said they had agreed a $60 (€56.9) per barrel price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil.

The G7 and Australia said in a statement the cap would take effect on 5 December or very soon thereafter. It aims to reduce Russia’s income from selling oil while preventing a spike in küresel prices.

EU governments, which have resolved their differences and agreed to the cap, will now need to formally approve it over the weekend.

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2. Putin calls Scholz, says Western approach to Ukraine war is ‘destructive’

Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call on Friday that the German and Western line on Ukraine was “destructive” and urged Berlin to rethink its approach, the Kremlin said.

Its readout of the call served to highlight the gulf between Russia and Western governments over Ukraine, even though Moscow and Washington have both said in the past 24 hours that they are open in principle to talks.

“Attention was drawn to the destructive line of Western states, including Germany, which are pumping the Kyiv regime with weapons and training the Ukrainian military,” the Kremlin said.

“All this, as well as comprehensive political and financial support for Ukraine, leads to the fact that Kyiv completely rejects the idea of ​​any negotiations.”

Kyiv says peace talks are possible only if Russia stops attacking Ukrainian territory and withdraws its troops from Ukrainian soil.

After Putin proclaimed the annexation of Ukrainian territory in September, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said talks would not be possible as long as Putin remains in power, although Ukraine has not emphasised that condition in recent weeks.

Putin “called on the German side to reconsider its approaches in the context of the Ukrainian events”, the Kremlin added.

It said Putin defended Russia’s missile strikes on targets in Ukraine as a forced response to Ukrainian attacks on Russian infrastructure, including a key bridge between Russia and Crimea.

He also said Russia should be allowed to participate in investigations into what it called the “terrorist” attacks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea.

3. Russia set to besiege Bakhmut, UK MoD says

Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defence ministry said on Saturday.

The capture of the town would have limited operational value, but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.

“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.

Russian forces kept up rocket attacks on infrastructure and airstrikes against Ukrainian troop positions along the contact line, the Ukrainian general staff said Friday, adding that Moscow’s military push has focused on a dozen towns, including Bakhmut and Avdiivka — key Russian targets in the embattled east.

Moscow troops have been bombarding Ukraine’s critical infrastructure since October, leaving millions without electricity amid cold winter weather. 

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4. Exiled Russian TV operating in Latvia investigated for helping Russian troops

Statements made by the independent Russian TV station Dozhd raised suspicions it was helping Moscow troops taking part in the Ukraine war and triggered a probe by Latvia’s state security service on Friday.

Dozhd, or TV Rain, is broadcasting from Latvia and elsewhere after Russian authorities forced the closure of its Moscow studio on the grounds it had deliberately spread false information about the actions of Russia’s troops in Ukraine.

The state security service said that on Thursday, a moderator on a Dozhd news broadcast had expressed hope the station had already helped provide many Russian soldiers with basic equipment and amenities.

It is unclear whether the statement meant the TV station helped improve their conditions through their reporting or if it took an active part in procuring said equipment.

“The statements … raise suspicion about the TV channel providing assistance to the soldiers of Russia’s occupying forces,” it said in a news release.

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5. Estonia to buy US-made HIMARS rocket system

NATO member and Russia’s neighbour Estonia is boosting its defence capabilities by acquiring an advanced US rocket artillery system in the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever, defence officials said Saturday.

A deal signed Friday for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is worth more than $200 million (€189,8m) and includes equipment such as ammunition and rockets as well as training.

The package includes HIMARS rockets with ranges of 70-300 kilometres, the Estonian Centre Defence Investment said in a statement. Lockheed Martin Corp. is expected to make the first deliveries in 2024.

“The HIMARS multiple rocket launchers are a new important step in the development of Estonia’s defense capabilities,” Lieutenant Colonel Kaarel Mäesalu, head of the capability development department at the Estonian Defence Forces. 

“This makes it possible to decisively influence the enemy even before coming into contact with our infantry units.”

Estonia’s Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania either have or are currently in the process of acquiring their own HIMARS.

Washington provided Ukraine with the rocket launchers during Russia’s invasion of the country. 

The Estonian Defence Ministry said the HIMARS systems “have helped to destroy Russian military ammunition warehouses, transport nodes, and command and control centres with pinpoint accuracy beyond the range of the howitzers Ukraine has been using.”

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