US pushes for Ukraine unity ahead of major meetings with Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) – In a show of unity, the Biden administration and its European allies are starting a series of meetings aimed at showing Russia that an invasion of Ukraine would meet with a forceful response.

Using virtually identical language, the United States and its European allies have repeatedly over the past month issued joint and individual messages informing Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country will face “massive consequences” and ” high costs ”if he proceeded with a new military intervention. in Ukraine.

Yet the severity of the response largely depends on Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a diplomatic heavyweight within the 27-country European Union. Potential actions – whether economic, diplomatic or political – will top the agenda in talks in Washington on Wednesday between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

The Blinken-Baerbock meeting will follow a phone call last week between President Joe Biden and Putin, a conversation Sunday between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a panel discussion Tuesday between Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and its counterparts from the five Nordic countries. .

It will precede a series of meetings involving NATO foreign ministers, senior US and Russian officials, the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe scheduled for next week.

Baerbock, the highest diplomat in Germany’s first government in 16 years not led by Angela Merkel, set Russia a harsher tone than his predecessor. She warned that Moscow would pay a “high political and economic price” if it takes militarist measures against Ukraine.

Before her trip to Washington, Ms. Baerbock underlined the importance of the transatlantic alliance and its foundation in common values ​​and respect for international law. She said Germany was “determined to act together to defend peaceful order in Europe”, with particular attention to Russia.

“As far as Russia is concerned, the common message of the European and American governments is clear. Russian stocks have a clear price (and) the only way out of the crisis is through dialogue, ”she said.

“We have made this very clear time and time again to the Russian government over the past few days and weeks,” she said. “We are now entering a decisive phase, during which there will be important discussions at different levels. And although the formats of the talks vary, our message as transatlantic partners to the Moscow government is always the same. “

Western officials have hinted at a number of economically crippling sanctions that could be imposed if Russia acts. These include an almost total cut-off from the international financial system and steps towards further NATO integration with non-allied European countries.

As the Biden administration struggles to build an international consensus around a set of possible punitive measures, Germany is clearly the linchpin. Ensuring its support will be the key to both messaging and implementing whatever is decided.

Germany’s trade relations with Russia could be a lever, but they could also be an obstacle to the formation of a united front towards Moscow. Despite strong criticism from the United States, the center-left government of new Chancellor Olaf Scholz has shown no willingness to block the start of natural gas deliveries via a new pipeline connecting Russia and Germany – a move that would harm both countries.

Germany has taken a less confrontational stance towards Russia compared to many other European countries. Under Merkel, he persuaded the Biden administration last year not to impose sanctions on the company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which many say will leave Europe beholden to Russia for energy and Ukraine. more vulnerable.

Nord Stream 2 is a major concern in Washington, and Congress is expected to pass two bills related to it and other sanctions imposed on Russia next week, as meetings are taking place in Europe. A GOP bill would automatically impose sanctions on Nord Stream, while a Democratic version would impose a wider range of sanctions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington criticized Nord Stream 2 for increasing Russia’s influence over Germany and limiting what Berlin would be willing to do in response to another invasion. Germany, like much of the European Union, is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas.

“For the sanctions to be effective, they must be effective for the dollar and the euro,” said Representative Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida who visited Ukraine in December with other US lawmakers.

The new pipeline “gives Putin a checkmate on Western Europe” and limits Germany’s commitment to sanctions and other preventative measures desired by lawmakers on both sides, Waltz said.

“I don’t see how they are trading their energy security for a tough stand for Ukraine, and that puts Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans, our allies and NATO for that matter in a very precarious position,” he said. he declared.

Representative Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts who also joined lawmakers’ trip to Ukraine, said he believed the United States might be able to supply energy to Germany if it was cut importation of Russian gas.

“I feel like Germany is realizing this,” Moulton said. “They are starting to realize how serious this threat is and how much influence Putin potentially has over them and other countries in Western Europe.”


Jordans reported from Berlin. Nomaan Merchant in Washington contributed to this report.

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