WASHINGTON/ MOSCOW: Western leaders have stepped up preparations for any Russian military action in Ukraine, with the United States focusing on how to protect energy supplies and US President Joe Biden saying he would consider imposing direct sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Tensions remained high after NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to a Russian troop build-up near its border with Ukraine.
Russia, which has denied planning an attack, said it was watching with “great concern”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow’s line that the crisis is being driven by US and NATO actions, not the Russian troop build-up.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a televised video address on Tuesday evening, urged his compatriots to stay calm and said work was under way to bring about a meeting between him and the leaders of Russia, Germany and France.
“There are no rose-colored glasses, no childish illusions, everything is not simple…but there is hope,” he said.
The US and the European Union have threatened economic sanctions if Russia were to launch an invasion and Western leaders have said unity is paramount, though differences have emerged among European nations about how best to respond.
Biden repeated on Tuesday that there were no plans to send US troops to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, but said he would consider imposing direct sanctions on Putin and that there would be “enormous consequences” if Russia were to invade.
Reporters asked Biden if he would see himself personally sanctioning Putin if he invaded Ukraine.
“Yes,” he said. “I would see that.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged European allies to be ready to deploy sanctions as soon as there was an incursion.
“It is absolutely vital that … the West is united now, because it is our unity now that will be much more effective in deterring any Russian aggression,” he told parliament on Tuesday.
He said the UK was discussing the possibility of banning Russia from the Swift global payments system with the United States, one of many potential measures to punish Moscow if it launches an offensive.
In Washington, senior Biden administration officials said the US was in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world about a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters on a call, the officials did not name the countries or companies involved in discussions to protect supplies to Europe but said they included a broad range of suppliers, including sellers of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“We’ve been working to identify additional volumes of non-Russian natural gas from various areas of the world; from North Africa and the Middle East to Asia and the United States,” a senior administration official said, on condition of anonymity. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)