U.S.'s Blinken says Putin's attacks on Ukraine energy grid will not divide Kyiv's allies

BUCHAREST, Nov 30 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Vladimir Putin had focused "his ire and his fire" on Ukraine's civilian population and warned that Russia's recent strategy of targeting vital infrastructure would fail to divide Ukraine's supporters.

"Heat, water, electricity ... these are President Putin's new targets. He's hitting them hard. This brutalisation of Ukraine's people is barbaric," Blinken told a news conference in Bucharest following a two-day NATO summit.

Blinken accused Putin of trying to divide the Western coalition and to force it to abandon Ukraine by freezing and starving Ukrainians and driving up energy costs not across Europe but around the world.

"This strategy has not, and will not, work. We will continue to prove him wrong. That's what I heard loudly and clearly from every country here in Bucharest," Blinken added.

Russia has been carrying out huge attacks on Ukraine's electricity transmission and heating infrastructure roughly weekly since October, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians and a war crime.

A woman with a dog waits for a bus in a street without electricity after critical civil infrastructure was hit by Russian missile attacks, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine November 23, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

The United States and Western allies have concentrated their attention on providing Ukraine with cash as well as relevant equipment to boost Kyiv's energy resilience. Russia's recent attacks have left millions of people in the dark and without heating amid sub-zero temperatures.

The United States on Tuesday announced $53 million to support the purchase of power grid equipment to Ukraine and get it delivered to the country urgently, after Ukraine said it needed transformers and generators as well as air defense systems.

U.S. military planners were working to ensure that equipment provided to restore Ukraine's damaged energy infrastructure was not simply destroyed again by Russian attacks, Blinken said.

"We're also trying to be very deliberate ... in trying to establish the best possible defense for critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine so that we don't have a process that keeps repeating itself," he said.

Blinken said the main message out of this week's NATO summit was that the Western alliance's support for Ukraine will continue and that it was "clear-eyed" about the difficult winter ahead.

"Our collective result to support Ukraine is and will continue to be ironclad. Now, throughout the winter, and for as long as it takes for Ukraine to succeed," he said.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Simon Lewis; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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