Ukraine Latest: Putin Says He’s Ready to Talk; Pope Decries War – Energy News for the Canadian Oil & Gas Industry |

With Russia’s invasion now into its 11th month, President Vladimir Putin said the absence of talks to stop the war is not Moscow’s fault. “It’s not we who refuse negotiations, but they,” Putin said in a TV interview. Russia is prepared to discuss “acceptable outcomes,” he added.Air alerts sounded across Ukraine on Sunday morning after Russian fighter jets, including one capable of carrying hypersonic missiles, took off from two Belarusian air bases, a official with Ukraine’s air force said. The alarms were later cancelled as the jets landed back in Belarus without incident.

On Saturday, the 10-month mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kremlin troops killed ten and wounded dozens more in a Grad systems attack on the southern city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said. Images showed bodies strewn in a shopping area, along with damaged cars and buildings.

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On the Ground

Russia fired five missiles and conducted an airstrike on Saturday, according to Ukraine’s Military Staff. Kremlin troops carried out more attacks on civilian targets, including in Kherson, where ten people were killed and dozens injured. Russia is focusing its efforts on the offensive in the Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka regions in Donetsk. Ukraine said it hit four command posts and three areas with concentrated Russian manpower, and hit one Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. Russia’s naval grouping in the Black Sea has increased in the past few days and includes surface and underwater missile carriers equipped with Kalibr guided missiles.

(All times CET)

Lukashenko in Russia a Week After Putin’s Visit (1:30 p.m.)

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in St. Petersburg for the two-day summit of post-Soviet country leaders within the Commonwealth of Independent States that starts on Monday, according to his press service.

Lukashenko, who provided his country’s territory for Russia’s attack on Ukraine, received Vladimir Putin and other top officials in Minsk for talks last week.

The Belarusian strongman on Saturday visited the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow. Six female cosmonauts from Russia’s close ally are being considered for a Russian space mission.

Pope Makes Christmas Plea for End to Ukraine Fighting: AP (1:35 p.m.)

Pope Francis used his Christmas message Sunday to lament the “icy winds of war”and make an impassioned plea for an immediate end to the “senseless” fighting in Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

“Let us also see the faces of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes due to the devastation caused by 10 months of war,” the pontiff said.

Russia May Raise Crude Oil Exports if EU Ban Cuts Refining: Tass (1:05 p.m.)

Russia may increase its crude oil exports if the European Union ban on imports of the nation’s fuel results in lower refinery throughput, vice prime-minister Alexander Novak said in an interview to Tass.

“If there are problems with the sale of petroleum products, oil refining to some extent can be replaced by additional volumes of oil exports,” Novak said. There’s still a possibility that the EU ban won’t affect Russian oil refining at all, he said.

Putin Reiterates He’s Ready to Negotiate on ‘Acceptable Outcomes’ (11:01 a.m.)

Vladimir Putin said the absence of negotiations to end the war in Ukraine isn’t Russia’s fault but rather that of Kyiv and its Western allies, whom he said were trying to “tear [email protected] Russia. “We are ready to negotiate with all the participants in this process about some acceptable outcomes, but this is their business – it’s not we who refuse negotiations, but they,” Putin said in an interview with Rossiya-1 state TV, according to Tass.

Russia has been trying to resolve the situation in Ukraine peacefully since 2014, but was “forced to stand up for the people who live in these territories,” Putin said in reference to eastern Ukraine, reiterating his reasoning for the invasion launched on Feb. 24 that’s now into its 11th month.

When asked if he thinks that Russia is about to cross a dangerous line against its neighbor, Putin said he doesn’t see it as “that dangerous” and that Russia is merely defending its interests. He vowed that Moscow’s troops would destroy US Patriot missiles being sent to Ukraine.

McDonald’s Reopens in Bucha (11:30 a.m.)

The US fast food giant McDonald’s Corp reopened its branch in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on Saturday, Yulia Badritdinova, the company’s Ukraine CEO, said in press release.

“It is extremely important to restore the restaurant as soon as possible in order to support the local community,” she said.

Bucha became synonymous with alleged Russian war crimes by occupying troops in the first months of the Kremlin’s bid to take Ukraine’s capital by force. McDonald’s shut its restaurants in Russia in March.

Kyiv Power Supplies on the Rise (10:50 a.m.)

All districts in Ukraine’s capital should be getting “largely” enough power supplies on Sunday, SCM holding company spokeswoman Natalya Yemchenko said on Facebook.

“Energy workers have accomplished the absolutely impossible, effectively a miracle,” she wrote.

SCM is owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov and controls DTEK Energy, Ukraine’s largest private power company.

Air Alert Lifted as Russian Jets Return to Belarus (10 a.m.)

Air raid alerts that sounded across Ukraine early Sunday followed the launch of Russian fighter jets from two Belarusian airfields, said Yuri Ignat, spokesman for the air force branch of Ukraine’s armed forces. The alarms were lifted after almost two hours as the jets returned to base.

At least one MiG-31K, which can carry Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, took off from Machulishchi air base south of Minsk, along with an AWACS Il-76 A-50U “Sergey Atayants” early warning aircraft, according to the monitoring group Belarusian Hajun. At least one other fighter jet and an escort jet launched from the Baranovichi air base further to the southwest.

The jet activity by Russia in Belarus comes days after President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials visited Minsk for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko.

Russia May Seek ‘Tactical or Operational Pause’ in Bakhmut Area: ISW (9:47 a.m.)

Kremlin troops are likely to struggle to keep up the pace of their offensive operations in the Bakhmut area of Donetsk and may seek to initiate a tactical or operational pause, said US military analysts the Institute for the Study of War.

The Ukrainian Joint Forces Task Force released an interview Saturday with a Ukrainian service member detailing that Russian forces have been conducting an extremely high pace of assaults with little corresponding progress. Wagner Group’s mercenaries have reportedly suffered heavy losses in recent weeks, ISW said.

On Saturday, the UK defense ministry said Russia’s lengthy front line “requires a significant daily expenditure of shells and rockets,” and that Moscow is rationing long-range missile launches.

Zelenskiy Marks ‘Difficult’ Christmas (8 a.m.)

On Christmas Eve, Volodymyr Zelenskiy gave greetings to Western Rite Orthodox Christians in his address to the nation focused on Ukraine’s “difficult circumstances.”

“The main act of courage is endurance and completion of one’s work to the end, despite everything,” Ukraine’s president said. “Our truth is a struggle for freedom. Freedom comes at a high price. But slavery has an even higher price.”

Toll in Russian ‘Pleasure’ Attack on Kherson Now Ten (12:30 p.m.)

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called Saturday’s Russian rocket attack on residential areas of the recently-liberated city of Kherson “killing for the sake of intimidation and pleasure.”

Ten people were killed and dozens wounded, including 18 in critical condition, after Russian troops shelled Kherson with Grad (multiple rocket launcher) systems, local governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on TV. Eyewitnesses told AFP that a department store and a market were among the locations struck.

Saturday marks the 10-month mark in Russia’s invasion, which Moscow conceived as a “special military operation” that would depose the government in Kyiv within days or weeks.

Zelenskiy Says Ukraine Bracing for ‘Different Variants’ by Russia (8:30 a.m.)

Ukraine’s president said the country’s armed forces are preparing for “different variants of actions” by Russia, following a meeting with top military staff on Friday. The comments, in Zelenskiy’s nightly video address, came amid growing concerns that Kremlin may renew its offensive from the north, including another push toward Kyiv.

The US military has said it doesn’t see an indication of a coming offensive by Kremlin troops, thousands of whom are training in Belarus.  Even so, it’s a possibility that must be taken seriously, said analysts at the Institute for the Study of War.

“Moscow has been setting conditions for a new ‘most dangerous course of action,’ a renewed invasion of northern Ukraine possibly aimed at Kyiv,” since at least October,” the US-based analysts said. “This MDCOA could be a Russian info op or could reflect Putin’s real intentions.”

Pink Floyd Says Its Single Raised £500,000 for Ukraine (8:20 a.m.)

The British rock band said its single “Hey, Hey, Rise Up” had raised £500,000 ($602,650) “to help alleviate the suffering of the Ukrainian people,” including £50,000 kicked in by band members, since its release in April.

Featuring vocals by the Ukrainian singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk from the band Boombox, it was the first original music released by Pink Floyd as a group since 1994.

The funds will be donated to five Ukrainian charities including Hospitallers, a voluntary paramedic organization; and Livyj Bereh, which provides supplies and the reconstruction of houses and schools, the band said on Twitter.

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