The United States and Germany reaffirmed their steadfast support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity on Wednesday, warning of “massive” and “severe consequences” if Russia invades neighboring Ukraine.
The renewed warning comes days ahead of scheduled U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva next week.
“Both Germany and the United States see Russia’s actions toward Ukraine as an immediate and urgent challenge to peace and stability in Europe,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a press conference with visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We condemn Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders as well as Moscow’s increasingly harsh rhetoric.”
Blinken later added: “If Russia nonetheless chooses to escalate, we will respond swiftly.”
During her first trip to Washington as Germany’s foreign minister, Baerbock warned further Russian actions against Ukraine would “come with a clear price tag.”
The top U.S. diplomat added that Europe can use Nord Stream 2, an undersea pipeline linking Russia and Germany, as leverage against Russia.
“If Russia renews its aggression toward Ukraine, it would certainly be difficult to see gas flowing through it in the future,” said Blinken.
The U.S. is putting pressure on Germany to block Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as part of potential sanctions that would be implemented if Russia invades Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has come under pressure from allies and members of his coalition government, including Baerbock, leader of the country’s Green Party, to withhold any formal approval for Russian natural gas to be transported through Nord Stream 2.
“We (will) take effective measures together with our European partners should Russia use energy as a weapon or should it continue its aggressive acts against Ukraine,” Baerbock said.
U.S. officials have said there is a strong consensus with European counterparts “on specific packages of severe consequences for Russia” if Moscow were to escalate against Ukraine.
Blinken waived Nord Stream 2 sanctions in May, a few months before the $11 billion pipeline was finished, on the grounds its completion was a “fait accompli.”
His decision drew criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, but Blinken sought to assuage congressional critics, saying the Biden administration would respond if the Kremlin sought to leverage gas exports as a political weapon.
Many fear the pipeline will deepen Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, allowing Russia to bypass Ukraine when it supplies energy to Western European markets, depriving Kyiv of much-needed transit fees.
Western allies fear that Moscow, which has amassed 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern flank, is preparing to invade the onetime Soviet republic. Russia is seeking assurances that NATO won’t accede to Ukraine’s request for membership in the West’s military alliance and will pull back its military involvement in Central and Eastern Europe.
Russian officials said President Vladimir Putin warned Biden during a phone call last week that any tough new sanctions imposed on Russia “would be a colossal mistake that would entail grave consequences,” the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. has been dispatching small arms and ammunition to Ukraine, along with Javelin anti-tank missiles that it says should be used only in defense.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO but has petitioned to join the alliance for more than a decade, a stance that has long angered Russia.