President Joe Biden has largely rallied European allies to pledge tough action against Russia if it sends troops to Ukraine. But when it comes to what exactly the United States and Europe are prepared to do, the allies haven’t seemed so united.
Militarily, for example, the United States, Turkey and Britain have distinguished themselves by supplying or agreeing to supply anti-tank missiles, armed drones, naval warships and other weapons, as well as only money to help Ukraine build its defences. A British military flight delivering weapons to Ukraine on Monday flew over German airspace instead of taking the most direct route through it. German officials suggested on Wednesday that the problem was their paperwork requirement for such overflights rather than any Allied dispute over arming Ukraine.
Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of economic consequences “unlike he has ever seen” if Russia invades Ukraine. But some major European allies have shown less enthusiasm for huge economic sanctions, which could hurt some European economies or jeopardize Russian natural gas that Europeans need to stay warm this winter.
During weeks of intense diplomacy, Russian leaders rejected the allies’ promise of a united stand against Russia. In reality, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted, it is the United States that decides.
If the show of unity and promises of repercussions got Putin thinking, he doesn’t show it.
Russia has sent some 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border and US officials said on Tuesday they believed Russia was capable of launching an attack. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv on Wednesday, urging Ukraine and Europe to stay united.
Still, French President Emmanuel Macron gave one of the first public signals of a potential split. In a speech in Strasbourg, Macron called for a radical “European proposal” that would establish a new security order on the continent to deal with Russia.
“We will ensure that Europe’s voice is heard,” Macron said. France had been an early skeptic of US warnings about Russian moves into Ukraine, and it was unclear whether Macron’s call would rally other allies.
Senior officials believe Putin tried to divide the 27-nation bloc, the United States and NATO – which also has 21 EU members – with his security demands.
“The United States has not played its game,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last week. “Russia wanted to divide us. They missed.”
At least in words, Europeans’ alignment behind American leadership marked a foreign policy success for the Biden administration after it led global allies in a pullout from Afghanistan with damaging results.
U.S. work to secure European commitments against Russia in the event of an invasion will continue, said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who traveled with other senators to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian leaders on Last weekend.
“Right now, there seems to be slightly more interest from the United States in implementing tough multilateral sanctions than from Europe,” Murphy told reporters on Monday. This is “somewhat surprising to me, given that the territorial integrity of Europe, and not the United States, is at stake”.
In October and November, France, Germany and some other EU countries questioned US warnings that Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine could signal an imminent invasion. France and Germany initially opposed the activation of NATO’s crisis response planning system. They relented and it was activated on November 30.
US allies now seem determined to prove they are on board with Biden. Publicly, there is virtually no disagreement with the promises of firm action.
A Russian invasion of Ukraine would likely trigger the immediate strengthening of the defenses of NATO members close to Russia’s borders, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. NATO already has about 5,000 troops and equipment deployed in these countries. The presence of NATO members along Russia’s borders is already one of Putin’s main complaints against the West.
Southeastern European countries – Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, in particular – are also being probed about their willingness to potentially host a NATO battlegroup of around 1,000 troops and equipment in the Black Sea region.
“There are a number of nations that are then interested in hosting these forces,” Admiral Rob Bauer, head of NATO’s military committee, said last week.
Because it is not a member of NATO, Ukraine cannot expect any military aid from the alliance as an organization if Russia invades.
Within the European Union and individual European governments, the rhetoric matches that of the White House and the Americans: Russia would incur enormous economic and political costs if Putin sent his forces across the border. with Ukraine.
No leader publicly discusses the precise nature of possible sanctions, saying it would be a mistake to show up. The EU has a history of imposing sanctions on Russia in unison with the US, UK, Canada and other allies.
The most discussed actions include banning Russia from the SWIFT banking system that manages money flows around the world and imposing sanctions on Putin’s family, his military and political circles and Russian banks.
The British government has aligned itself firmly behind the hard line of the United States on Ukraine. Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week to back “far-reaching economic sanctions” in the event of an invasion from Russia, Johnson’s office said.
But there are questions about the economic pain Britain is prepared to inflict on London’s financial district and property market, which are hubs for Russian money. Britain’s banks and financial authorities have long been accused of turning a blind eye to ill-gotten gains.
After France emerged as one of the early skeptics of US warnings about Russian troop build-ups, government minister for European affairs Clément Beaune recently said France was ready to back sanctions against the Russia if necessary. He did not specify.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, wields one of the biggest economic levers over Russia – a newly built pipeline, Nord Stream 2, which would deliver Russian natural gas directly to Germany and beyond.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday that her country “will do everything to ensure Ukraine’s security”.
“Any further escalation would come at a high price for the Russian regime – economic, political and strategic,” she said. “And we are very serious about it.”
But the German government has given mixed signals, and no definitive public word, about whether it will keep the pipeline offline if Russia sends troops to Ukraine. That left Blinken giving assurances for Germany, saying “it would be hard to see” the gas flowing if Russia invaded.
Cook reported from Brussels. Associated Press writers Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.