Biden vows to stop Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

President Biden vowed Monday that a major European energy pipeline would be abandoned if Russia sends forces into Ukraine, intensifying pressure on the Kremlin as Western leaders attempt to stave off a renewed assault on the continent’s eastern edge.

Biden issued the threat after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose recently formed government has pledged to take part in Western retaliation should Russia seize more Ukrainian territory, as it did in the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

But Germany has stopped short of explicitly promising to halt the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 project, which would bring Russian gas to energy-hungry European consumers. On Monday, Scholz said only that his country was “absolutely united” with the United States and other NATO allies, “and we will not be taking different steps.”

Biden, in contrast, told reporters at the White House that “if Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, there will be no longer Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”

Asked how he could be sure, since it would be officials in Berlin, not Washington, who would make the decision, Biden told a journalist: “I promise you, we’ll be able to do it.”

Biden’s meeting with Scholz came on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron concluded five hours of talks in Moscow, another in a flurry of high-level encounters that reflect the stakes of a showdown officials are calling the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.

Putin accused Western nations, rather than Russia, of aggression, saying the movement of U.S. and European troops and weaponry into Eastern Europe and the promise that former Soviet states such as Ukraine and Georgia can join the NATO military alliance poses a threat to Russian security.

“It’s not us moving toward NATO,” he said at a news conference. “It’s NATO moving toward us.”

Putin suggested there could be common ground between Russia and the West on security proposals that the United States and NATO hope could serve as an off-ramp to the current standoff. He also repeated Moscow’s commitment to its security core demands.

NATO leaders have ruled out any changes to the alliance’s “open-door” policy, which could allow Ukraine to join, or any reversal of its deployments in Eastern Europe. France, Great Britain, Germany, and the United States have all pledged to send additional troops.

If war breaks out between Russia and NATO, Putin warned, there would be “no winners.”

U.S. officials have made a grim assessment of the potential for up to 50,000 civilian casualties if Russia invades, raising the possibility of a fast seizure of the capital Kyiv. After a months-long buildup of Russian troops and weaponry, military analysts say that Moscow has moved units closer to Ukraine’s borders, and dispatched a flotilla of warships including six amphibious assault vessels to the Mediterranean Sea ahead of planned naval drills.

The continued maneuvers, and the lack of a diplomatic breakthrough, have fueled fears that the window for a peaceful resolution is narrowing.

Russian officials have dismissed recent U.S. intelligence reports that Putin has in place about 70 percent of the combat forces needed for a full-scale attack on the Ukrainian capital, calling the reports “madness and scaremongering.”

Even so, satellite imagery and other intelligence indicate Putin has massed more than 100,000 troops and equipment on the border with Ukraine — one Western security official put the troop strength at 130,000 — potentially positioning for what could become the largest land offensive in Europe since World War II.

U.S. Officials are concerned that the massive Russian-Belarusian joint military exercise set for Thursday could become part of an escalating invasion of Ukraine. As part of the exercise, Russian troops and equipment have traveled more than 6,000 miles to Belarus and Russia has deployed advanced missile systems, fighter planes and bombers. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been playing a key role in Russia’s saber-rattling against Ukraine.

The crisis has also revealed varying assessments of the threat that Russia may pose.

Echoing a more cautious Ukrainian message, Kuleba tweeted Sunday that people should not believe “apocalyptic predictions” but said the country was ready for any outcome. He stated that Ukraine today has an army strong, unrivalled international support, and Ukrainians’ trust in the country.

Former Ukraine defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said Sunday the situation looked “pretty dire,” with sufficient Russian forces in place to seize Kyiv or another Ukrainian city, although not enough to occupy the entire country.

“Russia could now seize any city in Ukraine,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “But we still don’t see the 200,000 troops needed for a full-scale invasion.”

British Deputy Foreign Secretary James Cleverly noted Monday that while the alliance was broadly united in its desire to deter a Russian invasion, there were some differences, which he said were understandable.

“We need to be realistic about the fact that different countries have different levels of exposure to or dependence on Russia economically,” he said. “The whole point of an alliance is you don’t just ignore or gloss over those differences.”

Pannett reported from Sydney. This report was contributed by Ellen Nakashima and Karen DeYoung in Washington, and David L. Stern (Kyiv).

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