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The head of NATO has said Europe needs to diversify its energy supplies, as the United Kingdom warned it was “highly likely” that Russia, the continent’s biggest natural gas supplier, was looking to invade Ukraine.
The European Union depends on Russia for about a third of its gas supplies and any interruption would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by a shortage.
“We are concerned about the energy situation in Europe because it demonstrates the vulnerability of being too dependent on one supplier of natural gas and that’s the reason why NATO allies agree that we need to work and focus on diversification of supplies,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.
Tensions have risen as Russia has amassed some 120,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border and demanded the Western defence alliance pull back troops and weapons from Eastern Europe and bar Ukraine, a former Soviet state, from ever joining NATO.
Stoltenberg said NATO had no plans to deploy combat troops to non-NATO member Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, adding “we are focusing on providing support”.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Russia to pull back its troops and continue dialogue with the West if it is “serious” about de-escalating tensions.
“Diplomacy is the only responsible way,” Kuleba tweeted.
If Russian officials are serious when they say they don’t want a new war, Russia must continue diplomatic engagement and pull back military forces it amassed along Ukraine’s borders and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Diplomacy is the only responsible way.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) January 30, 2022
‘We don’t want war’
Moscow denies any plan to invade but said on Sunday it would ask NATO to clarify whether it intends to implement key security commitments, after earlier saying the alliance’s response to its demands did not go far enough.
“If they do not intend to do so, then they should explain why,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on state television. “This will be a key question in determining our future proposals.”
The head of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, also rejected Western warnings about an invasion.
“At this time, they’re saying that Russia threatens Ukraine – that’s completely ridiculous,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency Tass. “We don’t want war and we don’t need it at all.”
However, that did not stop Canada from announcing it was temporarily withdrawing non-essential personnel from its embassy in Ukraine, but said the embassy would remain open.
US, UK ramp up sanctions threat
The United States, which has threatened Russia with serious new sanctions if it invades Ukraine, has said it is waiting to hear back from Moscow. It says NATO will not withdraw from Eastern Europe or bar Ukraine from joining NATO, but it is prepared to discuss topics such as arms control and confidence-building measures.
Two leading US senators working on a bill said they were very close to a deal on legislation to sanction Russia. The measures include targeting the significant Russian banks and sovereign debt as well as offering more lethal assistance to Ukraine.
Some of the sanctions in the bill could take effect before any invasion because of what Russia has already done, said US Senators Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and James Risch, the panel’s top Republican. Menendez pointed to cyberattacks on Ukraine, false flag operations and efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government internally.
On Saturday, a White House official said the Biden administration plans to spare common Russians from the brunt of US export controls if Russia invades Ukraine, and focus on targeting industrial sectors.
Washington has spent weeks trying to build agreement with European partners on a strong sanctions package, but the issue is divisive, with Germany urging “prudence”.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom said it will introduce new legislation this week to broaden the scope of sanctions it can apply this week to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. It also offered a major NATO deployment in a plan to strengthen Europe’s borders.
“We think it’s highly likely that [Putin] is looking to invade Ukraine. That is why we’re doing all we can through deterrence and diplomacy, to urge him to desist,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told BBC television.
Truss, who is due to visit Ukraine and Russia in the next two weeks, told Sky News the legislation would enable the UK to hit a much wider variety of targets “so there can be nobody who thinks that they will be immune to those sanctions”.
Asked if the new powers could include the ability to seize the properties of wealthy Russians in London, Truss said: “Nothing is off the table.”
Source: Al Jazeera