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U.S. will help repair decimated Ukraine electric grid; rumors of Russian mobilization in Kherson grow

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on Nov.29, 2022. See here for the latest updates. 

Temperatures are plummeting in Ukraine as each day passes. The capital Kyiv can expect temperatures below freezing this week, with even colder weather in the countryside. Meanwhile, Ukraine's energy infrastructure remains destroyed in places and severely damaged and compromised in many parts of the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $53 million in fresh assistance to help restore Ukraine’s power grid. Blinken arrived in Romania on Monday evening ahead of meetings with NATO allies and Group of Seven foreign ministers.

An employee of an energy company inspects an electrical transformer substation destroyed by Russian missile strikes on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Oct. 4, 2022.
Sergey Bobok | Afp | Getty Images

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told some NATO diplomats visiting Kyiv that transformers are the biggest element of the country's power infrastructure that needs to be restored.

Speculation is mounting that Russia could soon try to mobilize men in the occupied part of Kherson, in southern Ukraine.

The Center of National Resistance said Monday that "Russians are bringing riot police to carry out the mobilization of men in the southern temporarily occupied territories." It said this could take place in December. Ukraine called on residents in the region to leave the region immediately so they don't "become a resource for the enemy."

Russia says nuclear talks with U.S. delayed amid differences

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the 10th National Congress of Judges, in Moscow, Russia November 29, 2022. Sputnik/Valery Sharifulin/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Valery Sharifulin | Sputnik | Reuters

Moscow has postponed a round of nuclear arms control talks with the United States set for this week because of stark differences in approach and tensions over Ukraine, a senior Russian diplomat said Tuesday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the decision to put off the talks that were scheduled to start Tuesday in Cairo was made at the political level. The postponement marked another low point in badly strained U.S.-Russian relations and raised concerns about the future of the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between the two powers.

"We faced a situation when our U.S. colleagues not just demonstrated their reluctance to listen to our signals and reckon with our priorities, but also acted in the opposite way," Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow.

Ryabkov claimed the U.S. wanted to focus solely on resuming inspections under the New START treaty and stonewalled Moscow's request to also discuss specifics related to the weapons count under the strategic arms reduction pact.

This week's meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission established under the treaty would have been the first in more than a year. The timing of the talks was intended to show that Russia and the U.S. remain committed to arms control and keeping lines of communication open despite soaring tensions over Ukraine.

— Associated Press

Western governments struggle to agree on Russian oil price cap

This photograph taken on May 13, 2022 shows a view of Russian oil company Lukoil fuel storage tank in Brussels.
Kenzo Tribouillard | AFP | Getty Images

Western governments want to set a maximum purchase price for Russian oil on the world market to limit Moscow's ability to raise money for its war on Ukraine.

The plan is meant to punish Russia while at the same time keeping its vast petroleum exports flowing to energy-starved global markets to tamp down inflation.

But so far, the countries have failed to agree on what the price limit should be, reflecting divisions over how badly the scheme should seek to hurt Moscow.

If they can't reach a deal by Dec. 5, an outright ban on Russian imports into the European Union will take effect, crimping supplies heading into peak winter heating season.

— Reuters

Russian opposition figure Yashin goes on trial

Russian opposition figure and Moscow city councillor Ilya Yashin, charged with "discrediting" the Russian army fighting in Ukraine, gestures inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at the Tverskoy district court in Moscow on November 23, 2022.
Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images

A court in Moscow opened the trial of a prominent Russian opposition figure who faces charges stemming from his criticism of the Kremlin's action in Ukraine.

Ilya Yashin, one of the few Kremlin critics to have remained in the country amid an intensifying crackdown on dissent, has been in custody since his arrest in July.

He was charged with spreading false information about the military — a new offense added to the country's criminal law after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine. Yashin faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The charges against Yashin relate to a YouTube livestream video in which he talked about Ukrainians being killed in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. He rejects the charges as politically motivated.

Speaking Tuesday during his trial at Moscow's Meshchansky District Court, Yashin argued that his case has been fabricated and "has all the markings of illegal political persecution." He noted that in the video he cited Russian official sources along with Ukrainian statements to give his audience an objective view.

— Associated Press

Italy lawmakers call off vote on extending Ukraine arms supplies

President of the Italian party Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) Giorgia Meloni next to former Prime Minister and leader of Forza Italia (FI) party Silvio Berlusconi (L), addresses the media after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella for the first round of formal political consultations for new government at the Quirinale Palace in Rome on October 21, 2022.
Ettore Ferrari | AFP | Getty Images

ROME — Italy's ruling rightist parties withdrew an amendment that would have allowed the government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine throughout 2023, a parliamentary source said, after the opposition called for a separate decree on the issue.

In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, former Prime Minister Mario Draghi's administration introduced measures that made it possible to send weapons to Kyiv without seeking parliamentary authorization for each shipment.

This arrangement expires at the end of the year and the coalition backing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni initially tried to extend it until Dec. 31, 2023, by amending a government decree currently going through parliament.

However the main opposition group — the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) — complained that the decree in question was not specifically related to Ukraine and accused the government of bending parliamentary rules.

— Reuters

Torture allegations mount in aftermath of Kherson occupation

Editors note: This post includes graphic descriptions of torture in Ukraine.

Igor shows the remains of marks on his back after allegedly being tortured by Russian forces in Kherson. The 22-year-old, accused of providing Ukrainians with Russia's military positions, was stung with a taser along his back for two and half hours and then forced to stay awake, seated in a chair all night. He was freed after two days but not before writing a letter providing details about a relative of his uncle's who the Russians wanted information on.
Bernat Armangue | AP

When a dozen Russian soldiers stormed into Dmytro Bilyi's home in August, the 24-year-old police officer said they gave him a chilling choice: Hand in his pistol or his mother and brother would disappear.

Bilyi turned his gun over to the soldiers, who carried machine guns and had their faces concealed. But it didn't matter. They dragged him from his house in Ukraine's southern village of Chornobaivka to a prison in the nearby regional capital of Kherson, where he said he was locked in a cell and tortured for days, his genitals and ears shocked with electricity.

"It was like hell all over my body," Bilyi recalled. "It burns so bad it's like the blood is boiling ... I just wanted it to stop," he said.

More than two weeks after Russians retreated from the city, accounts such as his are helping to uncover sites where torture allegedly took place in Kherson, which Kremlin forces occupied for eight months. Five such rooms have been found in the city, along with at least four more in the wider Kherson region, where people allege that they were confined, beaten, shocked, interrogated and threatened with death, police said.

Human rights experts warn that the accusations made so far are likely only the beginning.

— Associated Press

Uneasy calm grips Ukraine as West prepares winter aid

People use their mobile phone lamps to look at items at a sporting goods store during a power outage, after critical civil infrastructure was hit by a Russian missile attacks in Ukraine, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, November 26, 2022.
Gleb Garanich | Reuters

An uneasy calm hung over Kyiv as residents of the Ukrainian capital did what they could to prepare for anticipated Russian missile attacks aiming to take out more energy infrastructure as winter sets in.

To ease that burden, NATO allies made plans to boost provisions of blankets, generators and other basic necessities to ensure Ukraine's 43 million people can maintain their resolve in the 10th month of fighting against Russia's invasion.

Ukraine's first lady implored the West to show the same kind of steadfastness that Ukrainians had shown against Russian President Vladimir Putin's military campaign.

"Ukrainians are very tired of this war, but we have no choice in the matter," Olena Zelenska, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a BBC interview during a visit to Britain.

"We do hope that the approaching season of Christmas doesn't make you forget about our tragedy and get used to our suffering," she said.

A two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, was likely to see the 30-nation alliance make fresh pledges of nonlethal support to Ukraine: fuel, generators, medical supplies and winter equipment, on top of new military support.

— Associated Press

Paul Whelan's family sounds the alarm after days without contact

Paul Whelan
Source: Marines | DoD

American diplomats in Moscow are trying to locate and ascertain the condition of American detainee Paul Whelan, a former Marine who is currently imprisoned in Russia.

The embassy staff has been working "to understand Paul's condition and why his family has not heard from him," a senior administration official told NBC News.

In a statement, Whelan's brother David Whelan said they began to worry after Paul missed a longstanding appointment to speak to his family by phone, without explanation.

When the Whelans alerted the U.S. Embassy, they learned that Paul had missed a second scheduled call, this one on Thanksgiving Day, also without explanation.

"It's incredibly unusual for Paul to miss trying to call home on a holiday like Thanksgiving," said David.

Whelan was convicted of espionage in a Russian court in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. The White House says it has offered to swap prisoners with Russia, but talks stalled earlier this year.

— Christina Wilkie

U.S. announces additional $53 million in electricity grid assistance to Ukraine

Electrical wires damaged after the Ukrainian army regained control from Russian forces in Lyman, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on Nov. 27, 2022.
Metin Aktas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new $53 million assistance package from the United States to help repair Ukraine's electrical grid, which has been decimated by Russian shelling.

The package will include distribution transformers, circuit breakers, surge arresters, disconnectors, vehicles and other key equipment, according to a State Department fact sheet.

The announcement comes as millions of Ukrainians remain without power, and many without water, as a result of Russia's coordinated bombing campaign.

 The new U.S. assistance is on top of $55 million that has already been committed to emergency energy sector support.

-- Christina Wilkie

Ukraine is ready to repel new Russian missile attack, air force says

Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade of Ukraine unload munitions from a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher near the frontlines in Donbas, Ukraine.
Laurel Chor | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Ukraine's Air Force said it's ready to repel a new missile attack by Russian forces, adding to a warning from the country's president yesterday that civilians should prepare for a new wave of bombing.

"Ukrainians are ready to repel another air attack," the spokesperson for Ukraine's Air Force Command, Yurii Ihnat, said on Telegram Tuesday.

"Ukrainians experienced the worst in February-March, when hundreds of rockets flew at our heads every day, Russian aircraft flew in many regions, and active air battles took place. Is it possible to scare us with something else?," the statement said.

Ihnat said that Russia did not have "so many high-precision long-range missiles left" while the commander of Ukraine's Air Force had "assured us that we are ready, our missiles are loaded, and we will fight back no matter how many missiles" Russia launched.

Ihnat did not give any details as to the evidence of a forthcoming Russian attack, or as to how many missiles it had left with analysts agreeing that it's difficult to gauge what weapons Moscow has left in its arsenal.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Monday that Russia was preparing new missile attacks that could be even more destructive than those experienced by the country last week that left around 6 million people without power.

"We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Sunday. "And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down."

— Holly Ellyatt

Anxiety is rising in Moscow over the war and how it could end, analysts note

Russian President Vladimir Putin grimaces during the SCTO Summit on November 23, 2022 in Yerevan, Armenia.
Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Political analysts from Russia say anxiety is rising in Moscow as the country's forces face what's likely to be months more fighting and military losses, and even starts to consider it may be defeated.

That would be catastrophic for Putin and the Kremlin, who have banked Russia's global capital on winning the war against Ukraine, analysts said, noting that anxiety was rising in Moscow over how the war was progressing.

"Since September, I see a lot of changes [in Russia] and a lot of fears," Tatiana Stanovaya, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founder and head of political analysis firm R.Politik, told CNBC.

"For the first time since the war started people are beginning to consider the worst case scenario, that Russia can lose, and they don't see and don't understand how Russia can get out from this conflict without being destroyed. People are very anxious, they believe that what is going on is a disaster," she said Monday.

Read the whole story here: 'Losing is not an option': Russia analysts fear a 'desperate' Putin as Ukraine war drags on

NATO will ramp up aid for Kyiv, says Putin uses winter as 'weapon of war'

NATO allies will ramp up aid for Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin is using winter as a weapon of war because his forces are failing on the battlefield, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

"I think we all have seen these pictures taken from satellites where you see Europe in light and then you see Ukraine dark...so there is a huge task to rebuild all of this," Stoltenberg said.

"President Putin is trying to use winter as a weapon of war," he told reporters as NATO foreign ministers gathered in Bucharest for a two-day meeting which he said would serve as a platform to mobilise more support for Ukraine.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during the plenary session of the third day of the 68th Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly in the Auditorium Ground Floor Room at the Hotel Melia Castilla, Nov. 21, 2022, in Madrid, Spain.
Alberta Ortego | Europa Press | Getty Images

NATO foreign ministers will focus on increasing military assistance for Ukraine such as air defence systems and ammunition, even as diplomats acknowledge supply and capacity issues, but also discuss non-lethal aid.

Part of this non-lethal aid - goods such as fuel, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone jammers - has been delivered through a NATO assistance package that allies can contribute to and which Stoltenberg aims to increase.

Stoltenberg's comments were echoed by several ministers from the 30-member alliance, who were also be joined by Finland and Sweden, as they look to secure full membership pending Turkish and Hungarian ratifications.

— Reuters

Russia seems to have abandoned a major part of its 'military doctrine,' UK says

A convoy of pro-Russian troops in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 16, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Over the last three months, Russian forces in Ukraine have likely largely stopped deploying as Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), according to the latest military intelligence update from Britain's Ministry of Defence.

It said that "the BTG concept has played a major part in Russian military doctrine for the last ten years, and saw battalions integrated with a full range of supporting sub-units, including armour, reconnaissance and (in a departure from usual Western practice) artillery."

However, it noted that several intrinsic weaknesses of the BTG concept have been exposed in the high intensity, large-scale combat of the Ukraine war so far.

"BTGs' relatively small allocation of combat infantry has often proved insufficient" and the "decentralised distribution of artillery has not allowed Russia to fully leverage its advantage in numbers of guns."

In addition, few BTG commanders have been empowered to flexibly exploit opportunities in the way the BTG model was designed to promote, the ministry noted.

— Holly Ellyatt