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.
NATO said on Monday that it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to the build-up of Russia near its border with Ukraine.
Russia, which has denied planning an attack, said it was watching with “great concern”. Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, 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, provided a glimmer of hope for a peaceful resolution on Tuesday evening, when he revealed plans for 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
“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,” PM Boris Johnson 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.
“Correspondingly, we’re … in discussions with major natural gas producers around the globe to understand their capacity and willingness to temporarily surge natural gas output and to allocate these volumes to European buyers.”
The EU depends on Russia for approximately a third of its gas supplies. Any interruptions to Russia’s gas supply to Europe would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by shortages.
Russia has tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine and is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine. Moscow sees the former Soviet republic as a buffer between Russia and NATO countries.