Biden threatens: No gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine
WASHINGTON DC: In a flurry of diplomacy across two continents, President Joe Biden met with Germany’s new leader on Monday and promised that the crucial Nord Stream 2 Russia-Germany gas pipeline would be blocked if Russia invades Ukraine further. Russian Vladimir Putin countered that the United States and its allies are the only ones talking about an invasion.
Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron met for more than five hours in Moscow at the same time Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke at the White House in a bid to defuse the crisis before armed conflict erupts . Russia has massed thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, adding military power almost daily.
The White House has expressed growing concern about the prospects for war, and Biden has sought to bolster European allies’ support for economic sanctions against Russia in the event of an attack.
“If Russia invades, that means tanks and troops are crossing the Ukrainian border again, then there will be no more Nord Stream 2,” Biden said. “We will end it.”
This would harm Russia economically, but also cause supply problems for Germany. Construction of the pipeline is complete, but it is not yet operational.
“We are jointly ready and all of NATO is ready,” Biden said, referring to the powerful Western alliance, although Ukraine is not a member.
While Biden reiterated with certainty that the pipeline would not move forward, Scholz stressed the need to keep some ambiguity on sanctions in order to pressure Russia to defuse the crisis.
“It is necessary for Russia to understand that much more could happen than it may have calculated with itself.” Scholz said.
The buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western concerns about a possible offensive. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned on Sunday that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day”, sparking a conflict that would have “enormous human cost”.
At the same time, Biden and his NATO allies have made it clear that there are no plans to send troops to fight Russia on Ukraine’s behalf.
Macron and Putin, during their long meeting – with a dinner offering the choice of sturgeon or reindeer – recorded their disagreements but also stressed the need for more talks.
Putin noted that the United States and NATO have ignored Moscow’s demands that the alliance will guarantee that it will keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out, refrain from placing weapons in Ukraine and will push back the forces of the Eastern European alliance.
“We are categorically opposed to any further eastward expansion of NATO, as it poses a threat to us,” Putin said. “It is not us who are advancing towards NATO, it is NATO who are coming towards us and therefore it is illogical to talk about the aggressive behavior of Russia.”
He mocked Western descriptions of NATO as a defensive alliance, saying sarcastically that “the people of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have learned this from their own experience”. And he threatened a wider war if Ukraine joined the alliance and possibly tried to reclaim Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
“European countries will automatically be drawn into a military conflict with Russia,” Putin said. “You will be drawn into this conflict beyond your control. There will be no winners.”
Macron called the talks “substantial, deep” emphasizing conditions that could help de-escalation.
“We tried to build convergent elements,” he said. “The coming days will be crucial and in-depth discussions together will be necessary.”
Putin signaled his readiness to continue negotiations and again denied that Russia intends to invade Ukraine.
In the meantime, Biden warned “it would be wise” for Americans other than essential diplomats to leave Ukraine.
On a positive note, Putin said without giving further details that some of Macron’s proposals could serve as the basis for a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, adding that they had agreed to have a call after the Macron’s visit to Kiev on Tuesday.
Similarly, Biden said when asked if there was still an “exit ramp” for stalled Russia, “the answer is yes.”
Before meeting Biden, Scholz told German media that “there will be a very high price if Ukraine is attacked militarily. And we have been preparing for it very precisely and talking about the details for a long time.” Scholz will travel to Kyiv and Moscow on February 14-15.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said her country would add up to 350 troops within days to the roughly 500 already in a NATO battlegroup in Lithuania. “With this, we are strengthening our contribution to the forces on NATO’s eastern flank and sending a very clear signal of unity to our allies,” she said.
Biden has already deployed additional US troops to Poland, Romania and Germany, and a few dozen elite US troops and equipment landed in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine on Sunday, with hundreds more infantry from the 82nd Airborne Division expected to arrive.
Britain said the UK was sending 350 troops to Poland to bolster NATO forces, joining 100 Royal Engineers already there.
At a press conference in Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell defended increasingly serious Western warnings that a Russian invasion could be imminent.
“It’s not scaremongering. It’s just the facts,” Blinken said. “And the facts are that we have seen over the past few months a massive build-up of Russian forces on the borders of Ukraine.”
Borrell noted that “140,000 soldiers massed on the border must not go to tea”.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was planning a more permanent military presence in southeastern Europe in response to Russia’s “massive military deployment” near Ukraine.
“We are looking at longer-term adjustments to our posture, our presence in the eastern part of the alliance,” Stoltenberg said after talks in Brussels with Polish President Andrzej Duda. “If Russia really wants less NATO near the borders, it gets the opposite.”
Stoltenberg gave no details and said no final decision has been made, but that decision may reflect NATO’s long-term military presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, where about 5,000 soldiers are stationed. He would see a similar force based in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
The objective would be solely to strengthen the defenses of NATO allies in the region. Troops would not cross into Ukraine if Russia invaded.
Biden and Scholz also discussed contingency plans for gas supplies to Europe if Russia were to cut off supplies. Europe is already facing liquefied natural gas supplies squeezed by a cold winter last year, a summer with little renewable energy production and Russia supplying less than usual.
Biden claimed the United States and other countries could make up a “significant chunk” of lost supplies if Russia decides to cut off Europe.
But energy experts say replacing Russian gas would be complicated and cannot be done overnight. Export terminals cost billions of dollars to build and are operating at full capacity in the United States