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White House seeks energy security plan for Europe amid Russia-Ukraine crisis

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin holds a news conference after the U.S.-Russia summit with U.S. President Joe Biden at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is looking at ways to secure energy for European allies in the event that Moscow slashes its oil and gas exports in retaliation for sanctions imposed for an invasion of Ukraine.

“We’re in discussions with major natural gas producers around the globe, to understand their capacity and willingness to temporarily surge natural gas supply and to allocate these volumes to European buyers,” a senior administration official said Tuesday on a call with reporters.

“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,” the official said, adding that European energy stockpiles are significantly lower due to reduced Russian supplies over the last few months.

The official, who declined to be named in order to share details of ongoing plans, said the administration was also coordinating with major buyers and suppliers of liquefied natural gas to ensure diversion to Europe if necessary.

“If Russia decides to weaponize its supply of natural gas or crude oil, it wouldn’t be without consequences to the Russian economy,” explained a second senior administration official on the call with reporters.

“This [Russia] is a one-dimensional economy and that means it needs oil and gas revenues at least as much as Europe needs its energy supply,” the official said, adding that oil and gas exports make up about half of Russia’s federal budget revenues.

“This is not an asymmetric advantage for Putin. It’s an interdependency,” the official said.

For months, the U.S. alongside European allies issued threats of swift and severe economic consequences if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an invasion of Ukraine.

“He’s [Putin] never seen sanctions like the ones I promised,” President Joe Biden said last week when asked about potential U.S. economic measures.

Biden said “a disaster” awaits Russia should Putin carry out an attack on Ukraine, a development that intelligence agencies warned last week could happen within a month.

The intelligence assessment follows an extraordinary deployment of more than 100,000 Russian forces and equipment along Ukraine’s border. In recent weeks, the Kremlin deployed additional Russian troops to Belarus.

“They have not only shown no signs of de-escalating. They are in fact adding more force capability,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday during a press briefing.

Russian military aircraft carrying Russian soldiers at the military base Ivanovo region (Ivanovo-Severny airfield), outside Moscow, Russia, on January 06, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The current buildup mimics Russian moves ahead of its 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which sparked an international uproar and triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow.

“This time we’ll start at the top of the escalation ladder and stay there. We’ve made efforts to signal this intention very clearly,” one of the officials said, referencing U.S. actions taken in 2014.

The Kremlin has previously defended the troop movement as a military exercise and denied that it was preparing for an attack against Ukraine. Moscow meanwhile has asked that Ukraine’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization be denied.

Since 2002, Ukraine has sought entry into NATO, where the group’s Article 5 clause states that an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all of them.

The Biden administration alongside NATO members maintain they cannot accommodate such a request from the Kremlin.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg delivers a statement as he meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels, Belgium, April 14, 2021.
Johanna Geron | Reuters

The Biden administration’s preview of potential economic countermeasures comes as the State Department issued an order Sunday evening for eligible family members of personnel at its embassy in Kyiv to leave the country due to the deteriorating security conditions.

The State Department also recommended on Sunday that all U.S. citizens in Ukraine depart the country immediately.

“Our recommendation to U.S. citizens currently in Ukraine is that they should consider departing now using commercial or privately available transportation options,” a senior State Department official said Sunday evening on a call with reporters.

“The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s border and in Russian-occupied Crimea and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice,” added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share details.

A second senior State Department official said they were not able to provide the exact number of U.S. citizens residing or currently traveling in Ukraine.

“U.S. citizens are not required to register their travel to a foreign country and we do not maintain a comprehensive list,” explained the official.

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