WASHINGTON/KYIV — The United States is privately encouraging Ukraine to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia, the Washington Post reported, as the State Department said Moscow was escalating the war and did not seriously wish to engage in peace talks.
The newspaper cited unnamed sources as saying the request by American officials was not aimed at pushing Ukraine to the negotiating table, but a calculated attempt to ensure Kyiv maintains the support of other nations.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials acknowledged that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s ban on talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin had generated concern in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, where the war’s effects on costs of food and fuel are felt most sharply, the Post said.
“Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” it quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying.
Zelenskiy signed a decree on Oct. 4 formally declaring the prospect of any Ukrainian talks with Putin “impossible” but leaving the door open to talks with Russia.
The White House National Security Council had no immediate comment on the accuracy of the report.
A State Department spokesperson responded: “We’ve said it before and will say it again: Actions speak louder than words. If Russia is ready for negotiation, it should stop its bombs and missiles and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
“The Kremlin continues to escalate this war. The Kremlin has demonstrated its unwillingness to seriously engage in negotiations since even before it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
The spokesperson also noted remarks by Zelenskiy on Friday, in which he said: “We are ready for peace, for a fair and just peace, the formula of which we have voiced many times.”
On Sunday Zelenskiy said on Twitter he had spoken to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about macro-financial aid for Ukraine and further sanctions on Iran.
“Noted the importance of continuing the grain initiative for world food security. Discussed increasing sanctions & opposing actions of Iran, which supports aggression,” Zelenskiy wrote.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said during a visit to Kyiv on Friday that Washington’s support for Ukraine would remain “unwavering and unflinching” after Tuesday’s midterm congressional elections.
The United States announced $400 million worth of additional security assistance for Ukraine, including refurbishing T-72 tanks from the Czech Republic and missiles for HAWK air defenses that could be used against Russian drones and cruise missiles.
The new help brought the amount of U.S. military aid sent to Kyiv to more than $18.2 billion since the invasion.
Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter that Ukraine would “stand” despite Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure, adding that this would be done by using air defense, protecting infrastructure and optimizing consumption.
“Today, the situation with the supply of electricity to consumers in the capital is difficult,” the deputy head of the presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, wrote on Telegram, but assured Kyiv residents that the outages were still controlled.
Citing emergency services, Russian news agencies reported on Sunday that Ukraine’s vast Russian-held Nova Kakhovka dam was damaged in shelling by Ukrainian forces. The reports provided no evidence to support the allegation, which could not be immediately verified by Reuters.
Russian state-owned TASS quoted an emergency services representative as saying that a rocket launched by a U.S.-made HIMARS missile system had hit the dam’s lock and caused damaged. The official quoted said it was an “attempt to create the conditions for a humanitarian catastrophe” by breaching the dam.
The dam, which blocks the Dnipro river upstream of the southern city of Kherson where Ukrainian forces have been making advances, has taken on strategic significance in recent weeks.
Since October both Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each of planning to breach the dam using explosives, in a move that would flood much of the area downstream in what would likely cause destruction around Russian-held Kherson city.
In the latest sign of Russia’s retreat in one of the most bitterly contested areas, Putin publicly endorsed the evacuation of civilians from parts of the Kherson region on Friday.
Last week Russia said the evacuation zone would also include a 15-km (10-mile) buffer area on the east bank.
Kyiv says the measures have included forced deportations of civilians, a war crime, which Russia denies.
Putin’s comments came amid signs Russia could be preparing to abandon its military foothold on the west bank of the Dnipro, including Kherson city.
The regional capital is the only big city Russia has captured intact since its invasion in February. Its loss for Russian forces would be one of the severest blows of the war.
The Russian-installed administration in the Kherson region said a number of settlements, including Kherson city, had lost water and power supplies after what it said was a “terrorist attack” that damaged three power lines in the region.
It said that the attack had been organized by Ukraine, though it provided no evidence. Reuters was unable to immediately verify battlefield accounts from either side.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by William Mallard, William Maclean)