US president Joe Biden has insisted there was “total” unity among western powers after crisis talks with European leaders on how to deter Russia from an attack against Ukraine, as Downing Street warned of “unprecedented sanctions” against Moscow should an invasion take place. .
“I had a very, very, very good meeting – total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters shortly after finishing a one hour and 20 minute video conference on Monday with allied leaders from Europe and Nato.
The US has put 8,500 troops on high alert to deploy to Europe as Nato reinforced its eastern borders amid growing tensions over Ukraine.
In London, prime minister Boris Johnson’s office also said “the leaders agreed on the importance of international unity in the face of growing Russian hostility.”
Downing Street said the group stressed that diplomatic discussions with Russia remain the first priority, but said the nation would be hit with “swift retributive responses” if a “further Russian incursion into Ukraine” takes place.
“The leaders agreed that, should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen, allies must enact swift retributive responses including an unprecedented package of sanctions,” Downing Street said following the discussions lasting over an hour.
Washington is trying to maintain transatlantic and Nato unity against Russia, which supplies about 40% of the European Union’s natural gas.
The meeting came days after Biden revealed behind-the-scenes divisions among the Nato allies on how severe the response would be and as Germany faces criticism from Kyiv over its refusal to send defensive weapons to Ukraine.
Under efforts to deter Russian “aggression”, Biden said the leaders discussed preparations to “impose severe economic costs” against Moscow while seeking to “reinforce security on the eastern flank”.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “it is up to Russia to undertake visible de-escalation,” while Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warned of “severe costs” if there is “any further aggression” by Moscow against Ukraine.
Also on the call were the leaders of France, Italy, Poland and the European Union.
The French government has announced that Russian and Ukrainian officials would meet, along with French and German counterparts, in Paris on Wednesday to try to find a way out of the impasse.
Despite insisting he has no intention of attacking, president Vladimir Putin has deployed more than 100,000 troops close to Ukraine, where Russia already seized Crimea in 2014 and backs a separatist army in the east.
Moscow is demanding a guarantee that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, never be allowed to join Nato, as well as other concessions by the United States in return for a decrease in tension.
The United States and Nato have rejected the Russian demands and told Putin to withdraw from Ukraine’s borders, warning that a Russian attack will trigger damaging economic sanctions, as well as a beefed-up Nato presence in eastern Europe.
On Monday the US placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert to deploy to Europe as Nato reinforced its eastern borders with warships and fighter jets, amid growing fears of a possible “lightning” attack by Russia to seize the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
Source: The Guardian