The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it was working with gas and crude oil suppliers from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia to bolster supplies to Europe in coming weeks, in an effort to blunt the threat that Russia could cut off fuel shipments in the escalating conflict over Ukraine.
European allies have been cautious in public about how far they would go in placing severe sanctions on Moscow if it invades Ukraine. Germany has been especially wary; it has shuttered many of its nuclear plants, increasing its dependence on natural gas imports to generate electricity.
Many European officials have said they suspect President Vladimir V. Putin instigated the current crisis in the depths of winter for a reason, calculating that his leverage is maximized if he can threaten to turn off Russian fuel sales to Europe.
Russia provides about one-third of the gas and crude oil imported by the European Union. Last year Russia provided about 128 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe, according to industry estimates, and about a third of that flowed through a pipeline that runs through Ukraine. Russia has reduced that flow this winter, and its effort to open the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, connecting Siberia to Germany, would route fuel around Ukraine, and increase European dependency on Russian supply.
The initiative to get fuel from alternative sources flowing to Europe now, before a true crisis erupts, was described by Biden administration officials as a key element in assuring allies that they will be able to weather any cutoff of supply by Russia.
The theory is that, once they are reassured about energy supplies, European allies will be far more willing to sever Russian financial institutions from the international banking system, and to join in new export controls that would bar Russian manufacturers from receiving semiconductors and other key parts that are based on American designs.
“We expect to be prepared to ensure alternative supplies covering a significant majority of the potential shortfall,’’ a senior administration official told reporters in a call on Tuesday morning.
“If Russia decides to weaponize its supply of natural gas or crude oil,’’ the official added, “it wouldn’t be without consequences to the Russian economy. Remember, this 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 declined to say which countries were cooperating in the effort, but some of the sources are obvious, including Saudi Arabia. But the official, who declined to be identified under briefing rules set by the administration, said the effort involves boosting “a few cargoes of different suppliers,’’ and could involve sending shipments of liquid natural gas from the United States and other producers.
In the briefing, officials declined to say how much of Europe’s needs could be met by diverting fuel from other sources. And some of the plans sounded preliminary, in what has turned into something of a contest of psychological warfare between Russia and the West, with the Kremlin warning European nations to stay out of the conflict over Ukraine.
President Biden met with a range of European leaders for 80 minutes on Monday, trying to keep the alliance together as it warns Mr. Putin of “massive consequences” if he invades.
At a news conference last week, the president talked about the divisions inside Europe on what actions to take against Russia, depending on the kind of action taken against Ukraine. After acknowledging that there are differences over how to react to what he termed a “minor incursion,’’ he and other administration officials have hardened the U.S. stance, warning that any aggressive action over Ukraine’s border would bring about a coordinated allied response.
With little sign of diplomatic progress, and rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War, Russia on Tuesday announced a flurry of military drills across its vast territory, spanning from the Pacific Ocean to its western flank around Ukraine.
The announcement, which followed a series of military moves made by the United States and NATO aimed at deterring a Russian incursion into Ukraine, demonstrated the vast reach of the Russian forces and were carried out by units positioned to the north, south and east of Ukraine.
They involved tanks and drones, troops from regular infantry and elite paratroopers. They took place both near Ukraine and far from the region, with three navy ships taking part in joint drills with the Chinese fleet in the Arabian Sea, the Russian defense ministry said. The Russians limited access to independent journalists, instead releasing photos and video of the drills.
In the west of Russia, crews boarded the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile systems, drove them to a training ground, and lifted their missiles up in their combat positions, according to a video released by the ministry.
Closer to Ukraine, Russian troops continued to disembark heavy-duty armored vehicles and other equipment from rail platforms in Belarus, ahead of joint drills with Belarusian forces.
Belarus shares a border with Ukraine, and NATO and U.S. officials have warned that the influx of Russian forces there could threaten the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, less than 50 miles from Belarusian territory.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, dismissed such fears on Tuesday, saying that tensions around Ukraine have been stirred up by the United States.
“We are observing such actions of the United States with profound concern,” Mr. Peskov said when asked about the American decision to put 8,500 troops on “high alert.”
On Monday, in more extensive comments, Mr. Peskov said the U.S. and NATO were orchestrating “information hysteria” around Ukraine by reporting “lies” and “fakes.”
“I would like to note that this is happening not because of what Russia is doing,” he said. “It is happening because of what NATO and the U.S. do, because of the information that they spread,” he said.
On the other side of Ukraine, in Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, Russian tanks launched planned shooting exercises. The Russian contingent in Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova, on Ukraine’s southwest, was put on combat alert as part of a planned exercise, the ministry said.
Other exercises were also reported in the North Caucasus, near Moscow, in the Baltic Sea. In the Ivanovo region near Moscow, the Yars mobile missile launcher vehicles, used for intercontinental missiles, began patrolling the area.
KYIV, Ukraine — Despite Russia’s military buildup at the Ukrainian border, NATO forces on alert and the U.S. warning that an attack could come imminently, Ukraine’s leadership is playing down the Russian threat.
That has left analysts guessing about the leadership’s motivation. Some say it is to keep the Ukrainian markets stable, prevent panic and avoid provoking Moscow, while others attribute it to the country’s uneasy acceptance that conflict with Russia is part of Ukraine’s daily existence.
Already this week, Ukraine’s defense minister asserted that there had been no change in the Russian forces compared with a buildup in the spring; the head of the national security council accused some Western countries and news media outlets of overstating the danger for geopolitical purposes; and a Foreign Ministry spokesman took a swipe at the United States and Britain for pulling families of diplomats from embassies in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
This week’s proclamations came after an address to the nation last week by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he asked, “What’s new? Isn’t this the reality for eight years?”
How to interpret the threat from Russian troops and equipment massed at Ukraine’s border is a subject of intense debate. Ukraine’s own military intelligence service now says there are at least 127,000 troops on the border, significantly more than were deployed by Russia in the spring buildup.
That does not yet include the troops arriving in neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, ahead of military exercises next month. The United States says those drills could be used as a pretext to place forces within striking distance of Kyiv.
Even so, in an interview on Monday with the Ukrainian television station ICTV, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, seemed to wonder what all the fuss was about.
“Today, at this very moment, not a single strike group of the Russian armed forces has been established, which attests to the fact that tomorrow they are not going to invade,” Mr. Reznikov said. “That is why I ask you to not spread panic.”
There are different reasons for the disconnect in messaging between Ukrainian officials and their American counterparts, analysts say. Mr. Zelensky must be deft in crafting a message that keeps Western aid flowing, does not provoke Russia and reassures the Ukrainian people.
And after eight years of war with Russia, experts say, Ukrainians simply calculate the threat differently than their Western allies.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain warned on Tuesday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could lead to perhaps the worst bloodshed in Europe since the end of World War II, and said that Western democracies were united in their determination to prevent such a tragedy.
“Ukrainians have every moral and legal right to defend their country, and I believe their resistance would be dogged and tenacious,” Mr. Johnson told Parliament. “No one would gain from such a catastrophe.”
“Russia would create a wasteland in a country which, as she constantly reminds us, is composed of fellow Slavs,” he warned. “And Russia would never be able to call it peace.”
After speaking with leaders from the United States and Europe on Monday night, he said there was agreement to “respond in unison to any Russian attack on Ukraine, in unison, by imposing coordinated and severe sanctions, heavier than anything we have done before against Russia.”
Mr. Johnson’s comments on Tuesday reflect his desire to position Britain as a player in world affairs, even as he wrestles with a political scandal at home that could force him from office.
Over the weekend, Britain accused President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia of plotting to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine, a dramatic announcement that roiled the already churning geopolitical waters surrounding Ukraine.
The accusation provided few details about how Russia might go about installing a new government in Ukraine, and the public communiqué did not say whether such plans were contingent on an invasion by Russian troops. British officials familiar with the situation said the intent was to head off any activation of such plans and to put Mr. Putin on notice that the plot had been exposed.
In Washington, officials said they believed the British intelligence was correct.
The British assertion was the second time in just over a week that a Western power had publicly accused Russia of secretly undermining Ukraine, part of a concerted effort to pressure Mr. Putin to de-escalate. On Jan. 14, the United States accused the Kremlin of sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to create a provocation that could serve as a pretext for invasion.
As fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have grown in recent weeks, Britain has sought to take an assertive role — a demonstration of its desire to be a key player in global affairs after leaving the European Union.
The government is preparing legislation that would enable it to impose sanctions if Mr. Putin carried out an invasion, and it also said on Tuesday that it would send Foreign Minister Liz Truss to Ukraine next week in a show of solidarity.
But British troops, Ms. Truss told Parliament on Tuesday, are unlikely to be deployed in combat roles in Ukraine. She said the government was working to ensure that Ukraine has the weapons and training it needs.
Amid military posturing on both sides, leaders of NATO nations sought to present a united front in the escalating crisis over Ukraine, while continuing to press for a diplomatic solution on Tuesday.
President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Tuesday that he would speak later this week by phone with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said his foreign minister, Liz Truss, would travel to Kyiv. The United States and its allies were unanimous in saying Russia would face serious consequences for a new military incursion into Ukraine.
But behind that solidarity was considerable uncertainty over the stance of Germany, which has the world’s fourth-biggest economy and would be essential to any plans to penalize Russia.
Germany has significant economic ties to Russia, including heavy dependence on Russian fuel imports, and it is unclear what measures Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government would be willing to take. The Biden administration’s plan, unveiled on Tuesday, to ensure adequate fuel supplies to Europe in the event of a Russian embargo, is aimed in part at assuaging German fears.
Mr. Scholz on Tuesday reiterated Germany’s opposition to sending arms to Ukraine, a measure the United States, Britain and others have taken, and noted that his country’s position had been the same under his predecessor, Angela Merkel.
“The government always decided against delivering lethal weapons in recent years,” he said at a news conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France, after they met Tuesday in Berlin, with Ukraine high on the agenda. “There are reasons for this.”
The leader of the conservative opposition in Germany warned against excluding Russian banks from international financial networks, an option being considered in Washington, because it would harm German interests.
Mr. Macron spoke more forcefully about Moscow, warning that the cost of any aggression “will be very high.”
“Very clearly, today one can only observe that Russia is becoming a disruptive power” in Eastern Europe, he said.
The French president, like President Biden and Mr. Johnson of Britain, glossed over differences among NATO nations. “We are collectively very vigilant,” Mr. Macron said. “We are following in real time the situation and its evolution, and we are preparing all sorts of reaction.”
Mr. Biden held a video conference call with European leaders on Monday evening. The leaders discussed “preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank,” according to a White House readout of the 80-minute call.
“I had a very, very, very good meeting — total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Mr. Biden told reporters afterward.
Mr. Johnson told Parliament on Tuesday that there was agreement among European leaders to “respond in unison to any attack on Ukraine.”
The crisis has prompted deep unease across Europe because of Moscow’s demands that NATO withdraw from much of Eastern Europe — essentially calling for a return to the Cold War order, before Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed in 1997 that former Soviet states and Warsaw bloc nations could choose whether to seek membership in NATO.
Since then, NATO has roughly doubled in size.
Katrin Bennholdreported from Berlin and Marc Santorafrom London. Aurelien Breedencontributed reporting from Paris.
WASHINGTON — Russian troops are massed near Ukraine on three sides. In Washington and Brussels, there are warnings of crushing sanctions if Vladimir V. Putin orders an invasion. Embassy families — both American and Russian — are being evacuated from Kyiv.
Yet there are still diplomatic options — “offramps” in the lingo of the negotiators — and in the next several days the Biden administration and NATO are expected to respond, in writing, to Mr. Putin’s far-reaching demands.
The question is whether there is real potential for compromise in three distinct areas: Russia’s demand for ironclad assurances that Ukraine won’t enter NATO; that NATO won’t further expand; and that Russia can somehow reassert its power in Eastern Europe to approximate the influence it had in the region to before the strategic map of Europe was redrawn in the mid-1990s.
As in all conflicts with roots in the Cold War and its aftermath, the subtext of any negotiation includes how the world’s two largest nuclear-armed states manage their arsenals — and use them for leverage.
And while there is still time to avoid the worst, even President Biden’s top aides say they have no idea if a diplomatic solution, rather than the conquest of Ukraine, is what Mr. Putin has in mind.
The Biden administration and NATO are increasingly wary that, in his pursuit of greater influence in Eastern Europe, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia may forgo an invasion of Ukraine in favor of far more disruptive options.
On the sidelines of negotiations in European capitals, Mr. Putin’s aides suggested that if he were frustrated in his aims of extending Russia’s sphere of influence and securing written commitments that NATO will never again enlarge, then he would pursue Russia’s security interests with results that would be felt acutely in Europe and the United States.
There were hints, never quite spelled out, that nuclear weapons could be shifted to places — perhaps not far from the United States coastline — that would reduce warning times after a launch to as little as five minutes, potentially igniting a confrontation with echoes of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Moving missiles, however, is obvious to the world. And that is why, if the conflict escalates further, American officials believe that Mr. Putin could be drawn to cyberattacks — easy to deny, superbly tailored for disruption and amenable to being ramped up or down, depending on the political temperature. Russian hackers have been blamed for a number of attacks in other countries, including one a week ago that disabled a number of Ukrainian government agencies.
Europe relies heavily on natural gas from Russia, and analysts note that Moscow can retaliate by manipulating supplies and prices.
“Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, fast and tough,” Mr. Putin said last April, referring to the kinds of unconventional action that Russia could take if adversaries threatened “our fundamental security interests.”
President Biden acknowledged as much on Thursday when he told reporters that the United States and allies had to prepare for multiple scenarios. “Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression,” he said.
KYIV, Ukraine — The large buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border is as clear a sign as any that Moscow is considering using military force to achieve its aims if diplomacy fails. But how exactly hostilities might begin has been something of a guessing game, military analysts say.
One possibility came into sharper focus this week when the second-largest political party in Russia’s Parliament, the Communist Party, proposed that Russia recognize two self-declared separatist states in eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.
The Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian government for eight years but without formal recognition from Moscow. If Russia recognized the states, that could create an immediate rationale for Russian military intervention.
The proposal took a twisted path on Friday, however. First, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of Parliament said it was a “serious and responsible” one that ought to be considered. But soon afterward, the Kremlin signaled disapproval for such a move, saying that it was important to avoid any provocative steps at a moment that was “so tense and so sensitive.”
The two separatist states claim far more Ukrainian territory than they now occupy, asserting their borders to be not today’s de facto front line but the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
So if Russia recognized them, they might invite Russia to base troops in their territory to assist in advancing to their claimed borders. This could cloak a Russian invasion as assistance for new allies.
The Communist Party proposal regarding the states suggested that Russia create “legal, interstate relations governing all aspects of cooperation and mutual assistance, including in questions of security.” It added that recognition of the separatist area would be justified to “support guaranteed security and defense for their people from foreign threats.”
Western diplomats say that Moscow has been striving to settle the eastern Ukraine war in exchange for political concessions from Kyiv, including a rejection of future NATO membership and a role for Russian-aligned political parties and politicians in the national government.
Analysts say that helps explain why Russia has long been reluctant to recognize the states; doing so would take away the leverage it has over Kyiv to accomplish these goals that the more ambiguous conflict has provided.
Moves by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to mass about 100,000 troops near the borders with Ukraine have prompted urgent diplomacy aimed at staving off a potential new war in Europe. President Biden has said that he expected the Russian leader to send troops over the border, but added: “I think he will pay a serious and dear price for it.”
Here are some key questions surrounding the crisis:
Why is Putin threatening war with Ukraine?
Most diplomats and experts aren’t entirely sure. Even Mr. Putin’s top advisers may not know how seriously he is considering an invasion, a murkiness that allows the Russian leader to declare the confrontation a success in multiple scenarios.
“The expert opinion that I can authoritatively declare is: Who the heck knows?” Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian foreign-policy analyst who advises the Kremlin, said recently.
Why is the U.S. so alarmed?
A successful invasion would establish Russia as a dominant, expansionist power in Eastern Europe. It would make other democracies (like Taiwan) worry that they could be vulnerable to takeover by nearby authoritarian countries (like China).
What does Putin say his rationale is?
In the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was arguably the most painful loss for Moscow. It was the most populous former Soviet republic to form its own country apart from Russia. The two now share a 1,200-mile border, and Putin often cites their deep cultural ties.
But Ukraine has drifted toward the West in recent years. The United States and its allies have increased military aid to Ukraine and also said — albeit vaguely — that Ukraine will one day join NATO.
Russia has demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine and to pull back its troops in Eastern Europe (effectively to where they were in the late 1990s). President Biden said this week that Ukraine was unlikely to join NATO “in the near term,” but ruled out the idea of removing NATO troops from Eastern Europe.
What isn’t Putin saying?
Some observers believe that the troop buildup is a mixture of bluff and distraction, arguing that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine could be bloody and expensive, potentially damaging Russia’s economy and Putin’s political standing.
So far, Putin does not appear to be preparing Russians to go to war. Russia’s deputy foreign minister continued this pattern, saying on Wednesday, “We will not attack, strike, invade, quote unquote, whatever, Ukraine.”
But by making an invasion seem possible, experts argue that Putin can try to win other concessions, such as a freer hand in Eastern Europe.
So the risk of war is low?
Not necessarily. Even skeptics acknowledge that it is possible, given the lack of transparency about Mr. Putin’s thinking.
A few analysts, like Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council, believe that war is likely: Putin has lost patience with Ukraine, she has written, and believes the United States would not go to war over it. President Biden said this week that a “minor incursion” would not necessarily pull the United States into the fight.