As Biden promises ‘united’ response to Russia, Putin says talks with Ukraine will continue
WASHINGTON — After meeting with the German leader, President Biden said Monday that a lucrative gas pipeline project linking Russia and Germany would not go ahead if Moscow were to invade Ukraine.
Mr Biden has promised that Germany and the United States will take a ‘united’ approach to rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, despite concerns that Germany has not been a partner enough powerful to face Russia.
“If Russia makes the choice to invade Ukraine further, we are jointly ready,” Biden said, alongside Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House, “and all of NATO is ready.”
Their meeting, the first since Mr. Scholz took office in December, was aimed at publicly strengthening a key bond in the Western alliance as it faces one of its most serious challenges since the Cold War: Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders.
Among the main concerns ahead of the meeting, Mr. Biden’s advisers said, was Mr. Scholz’s reluctance to sign punitive economic sanctions in the event of an invasion, or to cancel the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
On Monday, Mr Biden, who has refrained from publicly criticizing Mr Scholz, said the Germans support a “strong package” of sanctions but did not specify what they would be. In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has threatened tough economic sanctions against Russia’s financial sector and members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle. On Nord Stream 2, Mr Biden said the project would not go ahead if Russia invaded.
Mr Biden defined the invasion in the most traditional terms possible – troops and tanks – without addressing a number of other ways his aides fear Mr Putin could bring the country to its knees, including by staging a coup. state or by launching crippling cyberattacks.
“If Russia invades, that means tanks and troops are crossing the Ukrainian border again, then there will be no more Nord Stream 2,” Biden said. “We will end it.”
When asked exactly how, Mr Biden replied: “I promise you we will be able to do it.” Mr. Scholz, asked the same question, did not answer with as much force. He was vague about whether he would agree to halt the pipeline project, but on Monday he repeated what he has often said: “We are absolutely united.”
The first few months on the job were eventful for Mr. Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel, who had worked with four US presidents. Berlin’s reluctance to join in describing the consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine has strained relations to the point that last week the German ambassador in Washington sent a warning home that many United States considers Germany an “unreliable partner”.
Mr. Biden forcefully brushed aside this notion.
“There is no need to regain trust,” Mr Biden said. “He has the full confidence of the United States.”
The situation represents a diplomatic pivot for Mr. Biden, who touted his relationship with Ms. Merkel during a meeting at the White House in July: “Good friends can disagree” on issues such as how each led its relations with Russia, he said at the time. . More than six months later, Mr. Biden is determined to present a united NATO front in the Ukraine crisis; Administration officials say the Russian military has already mustered 70% of the forces it would need to mount a full-scale invasion.
In a call with reporters on Sunday, administration officials said Mr Biden would seek to discuss a ‘swift and tough’ package of sanctions against Russia if Mr Putin decides to invade Ukraine. ; the Kremlin insists that no such action is being considered.
“I don’t know if he knows what he’s going to do,” Mr Biden said. He added: “I was very direct and frank with President Putin, both on the phone and in person: we will impose the toughest sanctions ever imposed.
Given the risk of war, Mr Biden advised American civilians in Ukraine to leave the country, adding that he would “hate to see them get caught in the crossfire”.
By comparison, Mr. Scholz’s relatively vague position has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats: “The Germans are currently missing,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, who visited Ukraine in January. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, has publicly criticized Germany for not allowing flights carrying military aid for Ukraine to pass through German airspace.
Nord Stream 2, an $11 billion natural gas pipeline being built between Germany and Russia, has been attacked by Mr Biden and his advisers as a coercive tool against Ukraine and other allies, even though the president agreed last year to waive sanctions related to the project.
The pipeline is on hold while European Commission officials investigate whether the project complies with European energy policy.
Next week, Mr. Scholz will travel to Kyiv and Moscow, following a visit to the two cities by Emmanuel Macron, the President of France.
Germany has refused to sell arms or ammunition to Ukraine, citing a long-standing policy of not contributing to ongoing conflicts. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he intended to raise the issue with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.