Officials: Pipeline at risk if Russia further invades Ukraine

Sylvie Corbet, Aamer Madhani and Vladimir Isachenkov
The Associated Press

MOSCOW — In a flurry of diplomacy across two continents, President Joe Biden emerged from a meeting with Germany’s new leader Monday vowing the crucial Nord Stream 2 Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline would be blocked if Russia further invades Ukraine. Russia’s Vladimir Putin said the U.S. and its allies were the only ones talking about invasion.

Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron met for hours in Moscow at the same time Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke at the White House in efforts to defuse the crisis before armed conflict breaks out. Russia has massed thousands of troops at the Ukraine border, adding military might almost daily.

The White House has expressed increasing alarm about the prospects of a war, and Biden has been looking to solidify support among European allies for economy-jarring sanctions against Russia if it moves further with an invasion.

“We are jointly ready, and all of NATO is ready,” Biden said, referring to the powerful Western alliance, though Ukraine is not a member.

Sanctions: While Biden reiterated with certitude that the pipeline would not move forward, Scholz stressed the need to keep some ambiguity about sanctions in order to press Russia to de-escalate the crisis.

“It’s necessary for Russia to understand that a lot more could happen than they’ve perhaps calculated with themselves,” Scholz said.

The buildup of over 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western worries of a possible offensive. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned Sunday that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day,” triggering a conflict that would come at an “enormous human cost.”

Putin described his lengthy talks with Macron at the Kremlin as businesslike. He noted that the U.S. and its NATO allies have ignored Moscow’s demands for security guarantees.

He said that NATO’s expansion eastward to Russia’s border has violated the security principles of international agreements and scoffed at Western assurances that it is a defensive alliance that doesn’t threaten Russia.

“People of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have learned it from their own experience,” the Russian leader said in a sarcastic reference to the U.S. allies’ involvement in military campaigns in those countries. He also referenced NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia.

He derided the Western criticism of the Russian military buildup near Ukraine, saying that “NATO members consider it possible to lecture us about our troops movements on our own territory and cast them as a threat of Russian invasion in Ukraine.”

Russia has denied any plans to attack its neighbor but demands that the U.S. and its allies bar Ukraine and other former Soviet nations from joining NATO, halt weapons deployments there and roll back NATO forces from Eastern Europe. Washington and NATO reject those demands.

Unswayed, Biden on Monday said “it would be wise” for Americans other than essential diplomats to leave Ukraine amid the Russian military threat.

On a positive note, Putin said without elaboration that some of Macron’s proposals could serve as a basis for a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, adding that they agreed to have a call after Macron’s visit to Kyiv Tuesday.

Likewise, Biden said when asked if there remained an “offramp” for Russia in the standoff: “The answer is yes.”

Macron said after his “substantial, deep” meeting with Putin: “The upcoming days will be crucial and deep discussions together will be needed … to build new guarantees for peace and security” for the European continent.

Macron, who heads Tuesday to Ukraine, spoke by phone Sunday with Biden. Before the Putin meeting, Macron said: “I don’t believe in spontaneous miracles.”

‘Not alarmism’: At a news conference in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the U.S. and Europe defended the increasingly dire Western warnings that a Russian invasion may be imminent.

“This is not alarmism. This is simply the facts,” Blinken said. “And the facts are that we’ve seen over the last few months a massive amassing of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders.”

Borrell noted that “140,000 troops massed on the border is not to go to have tea.”