MOSCOW – Russia’s foreign minister accused the West on Thursday of becoming directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine by supplying the country with weapons and training its soldiers.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said that Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities and other key infrastructure were intended to weaken Ukraine’s military potential and derail the shipments of Western weapons.
“You shouldn't say that the U.S. and NATO aren’t taking part in this war. You are directly participating in it,” Lavrov said in a video call with reporters. “And not just by providing weapons but also by training personnel. You are training their military on your territory, on the territories of Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries.”
He said the barrages of missiles, drones and artillery fire that have left millions of Ukrainians without power, heating and water was intended to “knock out energy facilities that allow you to keep pumping deadly weapons into Ukraine in order to kill the Russians.”
“The infrastructure that is targeted by those attacks is used to ensure the combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces and the nationalist battalions,” Lavrov said.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of targeting key civilian infrastructure in order to reduce morale, cause Ukraine's people to suffer during the winter and to force the government in Kyiv into peace talks on Moscow’s terms.
The southern city of Kherson, which Russia's forces seized in the opening days of the conflict and withdrew from last month, is among the places targeted. Russian shelling on Thursday cut off power in the recently liberated city just days after it was restored.
Weeks before the pullback allowed Ukrainian forces to reclaim Kherson, Russia declared the entire Kherson region part of its territory along with three other regions following hastily called "referendums" that Ukraine and the West rejected as shams.
Asked how the strikes on infrastructure in Kherson and other areas comply with Moscow's stated goal of protecting Ukraine's Russian-speaking population, Lavrov responded by drawing parallels with the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II.
“The city of Stalingrad also was part of our territory, and we beat the Germans to make them flee,” he said.
Lavrov insisted that Moscow remains open for talks on ending the conflict. “We never asked for talks but always said that we are ready to listen to those who are interested in a negotiated settlement,” he said.
The Kremlin has urged Ukraine to acknowledge Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as part of Russia and to recognize other land gains that Russia has made since sending its troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. It also has pushed for guarantees that Ukraine wouldn't join NATO, along with vaguely formulated “demilitarization” and “denazification” goals.
Asked if a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden was possible, Lavrov replied that “we don’t shun contacts” but added that “we haven’t yet heard any serious ideas yet.”
Lavrov said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has raised the issue of U.S. citizens imprisoned in Russia in a phone call, but he noted that Putin and Biden agreed to set up a separate channel of communication between special services to discuss the issue when they met in Geneva in June 2021.
“It’s working, and I hope that some results will be achieved,” he said.
The Biden administration has tried for months to negotiate the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American jailed in Russia, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, including through a possible prisoner swap with Moscow.
Commenting on Russia's decision to postpone a round of nuclear arms control talks with the United States that was scheduled for this week, Lavrov maintained "it’s impossible to discuss strategic stability nowadays while ignoring everything that is happening in Ukraine.”
“The goal has been announced to defeat Russia on the battlefield or even destroy Russia,” he said. “How can the goal of defeating Russia not bear significance for strategic stability, considering that they want to destroy a key strategic stability actor?”
During the online news conference that lasted for 2½ hours, Lavrov railed against the U.S. and its NATO allies, accusing them of trampling on international law while trying to isolate and destroy Russia.
He claimed the U.S. has tried to discourage other countries, including India, from maintaining close ties with Russia but said those attempts have failed.