US defense official confused on laws of war as Russia and Ukraine exchange hits at energy sector

A high-ranking defense official in the Biden administration appears to stutter over Ukraine’s right to strike Russian oil and gas industries during Congress questioning.

Celeste Ann Wallander, the US assistant secretary of defense, seems to believe that Russia’s strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure are legitimate but doesn’t feel the same way about Ukraine’s mirror response.

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing this week, the defense official was unable to explain to Republican Representative Austin Scott of Georgia why Ukrainians were wrong to bomb Russian oil refineries and depots while Russian missile hits on Ukrainian power stations were different.

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The congressman asked: “When Ukrainians hit Russia’s oil and gas infrastructure, the Biden administration came out and condemned the Ukrainians for hitting Russia’s oil and gas infrastructure, and suggested that they should not do it again. Can you tell me why, while Russia is attacking Ukrainians’ oil and gas and energy sector, why shouldn’t the Ukrainians attack the Russian oil and gas and energy sector?”

Wallender, who in 2017-2022 had served as president and CEO of the US-Russia Foundation, a US investment lobby for Russia, said the following: “The issue on attacking critical infrastructure is when those are civilian targets.

We have concerns because Ukraine holds itself the highest standards of observing the laws of armed conflicts, and that’s one of the elements of being a European democracy.”

The dialogue continued:

- But the Russians are attacking the oil and gas infrastructure in Ukraine, correct?

- Absolutely.

- And if you are going to win a war, you can’t seat back and take punches and not deliver punches? So why shouldn’t the Ukrainians attack the oil and gas infrastructure in Russia?

- Congressman, we have concerns about striking at civilian targets, when we support countries. Again, this is Ukraine’s sovereign decision, but we express those concerns.

She nonetheless confirmed that those refineries and depots in Russia belonged to people close to the regime of Vladimir Putin and the resources were used in the war, which in essence means they are eligible for destruction.

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The administration of President Joe Biden has repeatedly called on Ukraine to stop bombing the Russian oil and gas sector, citing fears over possible skyrocketing energy prices for across the world.

Yet, the United States has imposed heavy sanctions on the Russian gas and oil industries including the owners of energy companies as well as the transporters involved in shipping those resources.

“The United States must continue funding to Ukraine to provide the armed forces with the systems, ammunition and training needed to defeat Russian aggression. This has implications well beyond Ukraine,” the assistant secretary was quoted as saying in a Pentagon press release on 10 April.

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