If Russian President Vladimir Putin launches military action against Ukraine’s citizens, the U.S. and its European Allies will discuss possible solutions. These could include additional sanctions on Moscow or security assistance to Kyiv.
According to those familiar with the discussion, top U.S. officials discussed the idea of creating a set of actions in talks with European counterparts.
The U.S. is only at the beginning of the plan and will need to have more conversations before trying to get the support other countries. It comes as U.S. officials raise the concern that Russia might be considering an invasion of Ukraine. This is despite tensions between Moscow and Europe over all things, from migration to energy supply. This is denied by the Kremlin.
Two people confirmed that the effort is intended to steer Putin from any further aggression against Ukraine. It will also make it clear that there would be strong, coordinated responses. While they did not specify exactly what could be included, the two people said that there were already heavy sanctions on Russian economic sectors such as its defense, finance, and banking. This leaves one potential target: energy. The White House declined to comment.
Russian troops near the Ukraine border
Putin previously parked large quantities of troops close to the Ukraine border, and earlier in this year when more than 100,000 soldiers were sent, along with tanks and warships to Crimea and other regions. After resisting for several weeks, Kyiv and other western countries called upon him to deescalate, he pulled troops back in April.
This is a wider backdrop to the latest frictions. Not only are troops massing again (Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last week that Moscow was “concentrating nearly 100,000 soldiers” near the border), but record-high gas prices leave Europe vulnerable to Russian largess on supplies. EU member countries, including Poland, have accused Russia of inciting a refugee crisis while its ally Belarus sends migrants towards the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Putin he defends Ukraine’s sovereignty in a phone call Monday that also addressed the migrant crisis. But Putin blasted the government in Kyiv in the call for its recent use of a drone against Russian-backed separatists and denounced recent U.S. and allied naval exercises in the Black Sea as “provocative,” the Kremlin said.
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The tensions were discussed by Angela Merkel, German Chancellor of Germany. She called Putin twice last week. Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Ursula von der Leyen (head of the European Commission) to discuss Ukraine.
“We see an unusual concentration of troops and we know Russia has been willing to use these types of military capabilities before to conduct aggressive actions against Ukraine,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Monday. “This military build-up also reduces any warning time between a decision in Russia before they’re able to conduct a military aggressive action.”
Russia dismisses Ukraine invasion fears
The Kremlin Friday dismissed talk of a potential invasion as “unfounded,” saying troop movements on its own territory were a domestic matter. People close to the Kremlin have said Putin aims to send a clear message to the West that Moscow won’t tolerate any further expansion of NATO military ties with Ukraine, but isn’t seeking a wider war.
After Biden called Putin, the spring border crisis was eased and a summit took place. But Ukrainian officials say the Kremlin didn’t pull back all of the forces it massed at that time.
“After the last military exercises in the border the Russian troops withdrew,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels Monday. But the Russian forces didn’t remove their equipment, he said, “so they can deploy quickly because the heavy material is already in place.”
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Two people said that the U.S. developed a similar set of countermeasures as the one currently under consideration in spring, but it was not put into practice. An EU official said the EU gave its foreign service options to create earlier in the year for any Russian moves, but they stalled.
This time, the U.S. is preparing to share with allies more of the information that’s triggered its worries, to build support for a joint response, according to two of the people.
Moscow fears invasion.
After a meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart in Brussels Monday, the foreign ministers of France and Germany warned in a joint statement that “any new attempt to undermine Ukraine’s territorial integrity would have serious consequences.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “We agreed that certain communication will be conducted with Russia to demotivate it from any aggressive moves.”
To express concern over the increase in tensions, the U.S. sent Director Bill Burns from Central Intelligence Agency to Moscow early November. He called Putin, but there were no signs of any change from the Kremlin.
When Russia annexed Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and supported a rebel rebellion in its east, tensions began to flare between Ukraine and Russia. This prompted sweeping U.S. sanctions and European sanctions. However, the conflict continues, with more than 13,000 deaths in eastern Ukraine.
—Kitty Donaldson and Daryna Kresnolutska with assistance of John Follain