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Biden not intending to speak to Putin until conditions for talks exist

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U.S. President Joe Biden said he has no immediate plans to contact Vladimir Putin but is prepared to speak with the Russian president if he shows an interest in ending the war in Ukraine, and only in consultation with NATO allies. Tamara Lindstrom produced this report.

U.S. President Joe Biden is not intending to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin right now, the White House said on Friday, a day after Biden said he was willing to talk if Putin were looking for a way to end the war.

Speaking after a meeting on Thursday at the White House with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden said he was ready to talk to Putin “if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war”, adding the Russian leader “hasn’t done that yet”.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, asked about Biden’s comments, told reporters the conditions for such discussions were not there.

“We’re just not at a point now where talks seem to be a fruitful avenue to approach right now,” he said.

Earlier, the Kremlin responded to Biden’s apparent overture, saying the West must recognise what Moscow calls Russia’s “new territories” before any talks with Putin.

“The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Kirby said only Ukraine could determine if and when there could be a negotiated settlement. Kyiv says peace talks are only possible if Russia stops attacking and withdraws.

Russia has previously said it is open to peace talks. Ukraine and allies fear any ceasefire without a total withdrawal would allow Russian forces to regroup in preparation for further attacks.

Peskov said Russia will not pull out of Ukraine.

He added that the search for ways to end the war was hindered by the U.S. refusal to recognise territory in Ukraine that Russia has annexed. Putin has proclaimed the southern region of Kherson and three other partly occupied regions of Ukraine to be part of Russia, in a move condemned as illegal by most countries.

Biden has not spoken directly with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. In March, he branded Putin a “butcher” who “cannot stay in power”. However, he has signalled in recent weeks that Washington would like to entice Putin onto a diplomatic off ramp, after months of battlefield losses and stalled gains for Moscow.

Despite more than nine months of war, some contacts have been sustained between the sides, often through third parties including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. A deal that partially lifted a Russian naval blockade of Black Sea ports has allowed some grains shipments out of Ukraine, and another agreement on Russian fertilizers is in the works. Several large prisoner of war swaps have occurred.

But the fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people is unabated.

With winter tightening its grip, Western countries are trying to boost aid to help Ukraine withstand Russian missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure that have left millions without heat, electricity and water.

Ukraine has driven Russian troops from swathes of occupied territory in recent weeks, including areas Russia claims to have annexed.

In the east, the town of Bakhmut is now the main target of Moscow’s artillery attacks, while Russian forces in Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia region remain on the defensive, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its latest battlefield update.

In a bid to reduce the money available for Moscow’s war effort, the European Union has tentatively agreed to a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian seaborne oil, diplomats said. The measure will need to be approved formally by all EU governments over the weekend.

The chair of the Russian lower house’s foreign affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, told Tass news agency the EU was jeopardising its own energy security with the cap, and violating the laws of the market.

Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call that the Western line on Ukraine was “destructive” and urged Berlin to rethink its approach, the Kremlin said.

In Berlin’s readout on the call, Scholz’s spokesperson said the chancellor had condemned Russian air strikes on civilian infrastructure and called for a diplomatic solution to the war “including a withdrawal of Russian troops”.

Putin has said he has no regrets about launching what he calls a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. He casts the war as a watershed moment when Russia finally stood up to an arrogant West after decades of humiliation following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they cast as an imperial-style war of occupation.

Three people were killed and seven wounded in Russian shelling of the Kherson region over the past 24 hours, the regional governor said on Friday.

The regional capital of Kherson – recaptured by Ukrainian forces in mid-November – and other parts of the region were bombarded 42 times in the same period, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Meanwhile, Russian-installed officials in Donetsk said three people died on Friday after Ukrainian forces shelled the eastern Ukrainian city.

Reuters could not independently confirm battlefield reports.

In a grisly development, several Ukrainian embassies abroad received packages containing animal eyes, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said on Friday, after a series of letter bombs were sent to sites in Spain including Kyiv’s embassy in Madrid.

Attacks on infrastructure are likely to increase the cost to keep Ukraine’s economy going next year by up to $1 billion a month, and aid to the country would need to be “front-loaded”, IMF head Kristalina Georgieva told the Reuters NEXT conference on Thursday.

Ukraine and the West say the strategy of knocking out power and heat deliberately intends to harm civilians, a war crime, something Moscow denies.

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