Russia issues new warnings, U.S. steps up support for allies in Ukraine standoff

Russia warned it would take “retaliatory measures” if its demands are not met and dismissed new Western threats of sanctions on Wednesday as the Kremlin showed no signs of backing down in the standoff over Ukraine.

While Moscow deployed more forces to its neighbor’s frontier and held new military drills, the United States stepped up efforts to support European allies and counter the Russian threats.

President Joe Biden said he would consider personal sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Washington worked to help shield Europe from a potential energy crisis, and a U.S. plane carrying military equipment and munitions landed in Kyiv Tuesday.

Russia has repeatedly denied planning to invade Ukraine and has blamed the West for stoking tensions. On Wednesday the Kremlin maintained its tough line and said it was waiting impatiently for a promised written response to its security demands from the Biden administration.

Biden said Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on Putin if Russia invades, a sign of the drastic measures being considered by the U.S. and its allies in an effort to ward off a potentially devastating new conflict in Europe.

Such a move would would not hurt Putin but would be “politically destructive,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said Wednesday after Britain signaled it would also not rule the step out.

Russia has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops near its shared border with Ukraine and in Belarus, where it deployed fighter jets on Wednesday ahead of joint drills next month. The buildup of forces has sparked fears of an imminent invasion that could come from multiple fronts. 

This week Russia announced a flurry of military drills throughout its territory, ranging from the Pacific Ocean to its western borders. The country’s defense ministry announced new drills on Wednesday by its Northern fleet in the Arctic, and in the southern Rostov region, not far from the Ukrainian border. 

The fresh Russian activity, being watched warily across the West, came just days after NATO announced it would place forces on standby and reinforce eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets. 

Biden reiterated Tuesday that he had “no intention” of moving U.S. forces into Ukraine after Washington put 8,500 troops on heightened alert Monday to assist with the defense of NATO allies in case of Russian aggression against Ukraine. 

Amid the standoff with Ukraine, Russia launched a slew of military drills this week, including in the Yaroslavl region on Tuesday.AP

In a further effort to shore up the position of European countries if conflict breaks out, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the Biden administration was in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe.

The European Union is heavily dependent on Russia for its gas supplies, prompting fears Europe could be left facing an even greater energy crisis should Moscow decide to cut off supplies as leverage.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the tensions have so far failed to reach a breakthrough.

But the Kremlin is awaiting a written response from Washington this week about a string of security demands it made last month, including a permanent ban on Ukraine joining NATO and the rollback of the alliance’s military deployments in Eastern Europe. The demands have been largely dismissed by Washington and the Western alliance. 

In an address to the Russian Parliament on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would not allow its security proposals to be “wrapped up in endless discussions.”

“If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures,” he said.

Talks between advisers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France will resume Wednesday to stop a long-simmering war in eastern Ukraine. Alexei Alexandrov / AP

Against the backdrop of escalating tensions, political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France were due to meet in Paris Wednesday to revive stalled discussions around how to resolve the long-simmering conflict in Ukraine’s east between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists.

While the West continued to voice fears a Russian invasion could be imminent, Ukrainian officials sought to play down the threat.

In a video address to the nation on Tuesday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continued to urge the public to beware of disinformation about a possible attack and not to panic.

The decision by several countries including the U.S. to withdraw families of diplomatic staff from Kyiv “doesn’t necessarily signal an inevitable escalation,” Zelenskyy said. 

Reuters and Associated Press contributed.

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