Three areas where the US can take action soon on Ukraine

(CNN) — US officials on Sunday identified three areas where the United States could take action soon in an attempt to address Russia’s escalating war in Ukraine: a ban on imports of Russian oil, a declaration of war crimes against Russia and aid. to facilitate delivery of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine.

The urgent discussions under way between top advisers to President Joe Biden and among America’s European allies came as efforts to evacuate civilians from Ukrainian cities were hampered by Russian bombing and as Ukraine’s president pleaded with West to do more.

Senior US national security officials said they are rushing to find ways to further punish Putin while providing support to the outgunned Ukrainian military.

The White House and other Western officials have made it clear in recent days that they expect the next leg of the war to be the bloodiest as Putin grows frustrated by Russia’s slower-than-expected progress and looks for ways to move forward. .

“Vladimir Putin has, unfortunately, the ability, with the power that he has in Ukraine and the superiority that he has, the ability to continue to tear things apart against incredibly resilient and brave Ukrainians,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Jake. CNN’s Tapper on “State of the Union” this Sunday.

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

Russian oil import ban

Biden, who spent the weekend at his home in Delaware, called a phone call Saturday with top members of his administration to discuss a possible ban on Russian oil imports, Blinken said, a step that has been under consideration in recent years. the White House since last week.

“We are now talking with our European partners and allies to consider in a coordinated way the possibility of banning the import of Russian oil, while ensuring that there is still an adequate supply of oil on world markets,” Blinken said. “That is a very active discussion as we speak.”

Biden has faced pressure from Democrats and Republicans alike to impose tighter 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 total supply and have fallen sharply in recent weeks. There is no doubt that Russia could sell those supplies to other countries, including China, if the United States stops buying them.

Still, the step would be significant, particularly as any sanctions applied to Russia’s energy sector were once considered virtually off the table given the potential ripples in the global oil market. Until now, the United States and Europe have mostly avoided major measures that could affect Russian energy, although the United States has banned the import of equipment needed for oil and gas extraction into Russia.

“It doesn’t make any sense to keep buying oil from Russia that they use to fund this war and this murderous campaign that they’re waging,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told Tapper on CNN on Sunday.

Top Democrats, including Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also voiced support for a ban on oil imports, and a bill was introduced. bipartisan in Congress that would order such a step.

Why would banning Russian oil be counterproductive? 1:32

White House officials are now seriously reviewing what a ban might do to domestic fuel prices, which have hit new highs as the war in Ukraine sends oil prices soaring.

“We’re looking at options that we can take right now, if we were to reduce American consumption of Russian energy, but more importantly, that we maintain a steady supply of global energy,” Council of Economic Advisers President Cecilia Rouse told reporters in a press conference this Friday.

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

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

Possible war crimes

As officials review a potential ban on Russian oil, a parallel effort is underway to assess whether attacks on civilians in Ukraine would constitute a war crime.

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

“Any attack on civilians is a war crime,” he said on ABC News. Earlier this week, Biden stopped short of calling Russia’s actions in Ukraine a war crime, though he said he believed it was “clear” that Russia was targeting civilians.

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

Ukraine’s embattled President Volodymyr Zelensky has described what is happening in his country as war crimes and called for an international tribunal to investigate. UK 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 Tweet that it would be a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant after Russia did just that. But in a subsequent fight, the State Department told other embassies not to amplify the message, a sign the administration has not yet decided whether to label what is now happening in Russia a war crime.

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

Polish fighter aircraft

Speaking before US lawmakers virtually on Saturday, Zelensky made an impassioned call for the United States to increase aid, including through tougher economic sanctions.

He made another request for the US and NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which has been roundly rejected due to its potential to pit the US directly against Russia.

Apart from that, Zelensky requested US 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 skies.

On Saturday night, US and Polish officials were in talks over a possible deal to supply the country with American F-16 fighter jets in exchange for Poland sending its Russian-made planes to Ukraine.

“We are working with Poland as we speak to see if we can fill in anything they provide to the Ukrainians,” Blinken said Sunday. “But we also want to see if we can be helpful in making sure that whatever they provide to the Ukrainians, they get something to make up for any gaps in Poland’s security that may result.”

Thomas-Greenfield also made it clear that the United States “has in no way objected to the Polish government providing these aircraft to Ukraine.”

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