Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a new justification Friday for a campaign of bombing strikes on Ukrainian power lines and other civilian infrastructure that threatens to leave the country without power or heat as the winter comes on: Ukraine started it.
In an at times contentious, nearly hourlong phone conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz Friday, the Russian leader rejected what he said were unacceptable Western conditions for peace talks to begin and blamed the West’s “destructive” policies for the missile and drone strikes that have targeted Ukrainian cities in recent weeks.
The Kremlin readout of the call said Mr. Putin decried what he said were “provocative” attacks by Kyiv on Russian assets, including the prized bridge linking Russian-annexed Crimea to the rest of the country and the still-mysterious attacks on the Russian-owned Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.
Moscow “had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Scholz, according to the official Russian characterization of the conversation.
“But now such measures have become a forced and inevitable response to Kyiv’s provocative attacks on Russia’s civilian infrastructure,” he added.
German officials said Mr. Scholz echoed a call Thursday by President Biden urging the Russian leader to pull his troops out of eastern and southern Ukraine to allow peace talks to begin.
But both Mr. Putin and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that was an unacceptable condition to put on any direct talks.
“What did President Biden say, in fact?” Mr. Peskov asked reporters at a Friday briefing in Moscow. “He said that negotiations are possible only after Putin leaves Ukraine,” adding Moscow was “certainly” not ready to accept those conditions.
“The special military operation continues,” he added, according to an account by the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Mr. Scholz‘s office said the German leader condemned the Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and said Berlin and its Western allies would continue to support Kyiv’s ability to defend itself.