US President Joe Biden predicted that Russia would “infiltrate” Ukraine and warned that the invasion would be a “disaster” for Vladimir Putin, as he called on the West to remain united in calling Moscow “responsible” for any aggression.
Speaking at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, Biden said Russia would “pay a high price, immediately, in the short, medium and long term” in the event of an invasion of Ukraine.
But he acknowledged that there are still “differences” among Western allies over the punishment for Moscow. “It is very important that we keep everyone on the same side in NATO. That’s what I spend a lot of time on. And there are differences. . . in NATO about what countries are ready to do, ”he said.
Biden’s comments came when French President Emmanuel Macron called on the EU to draw up its own plan for “security and stability” with Russia, in a move that risks undermining Western solidarity in the face of Kremlin aggression towards Ukraine.
In a speech to the European Parliament, Macron called on EU states to “conduct their own dialogue” with Russia instead of supporting US-NATO-led diplomatic efforts, in stark contrast to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s request for “unity”.
Macron said that despite joint EU-US diplomacy, Europeans must offer Russia a solution to de-escalate tensions with Moscow in the “coming weeks”.
“We should build as Europeans working with other Europeans and with NATO, and then propose that for negotiations with Russia,” he told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday. “It is good that Europeans and the United States are coordinating, but Europeans need to have their own dialogue.”
Macron’s intervention is the first example of public disagreement among NATO members since the United States first warned of a potential Russian attack on Ukraine more than two months ago.
It also breaks a united front between the EU and the US on Russia, backed by what officials described as an unprecedented level of US diplomatic reach to involve Brussels in dialogue with Moscow.
Speaking during a visit to Kiev on Wednesday, Blinken stressed the need for a unified approach on the eve of his planned meeting with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in Geneva on Friday.
“The strength of our diplomacy, our deterrence and any response to Moscow’s aggression requires unity among allies and partners, as well as within Ukraine,” he said.
Russia has long sought to leave the EU behind in favor of negotiations with individual countries. Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, has rejected wider multinational talks, saying Moscow would prefer to deal primarily with the United States.
“We would rather find understanding and reach an agreement with the Americans first and foremost. “Introducing too many countries into these processes seems counterproductive to us,” he said.
The EU is struggling with that reach an agreement about what level of Russian aggression towards Ukraine should trigger sanctions, amid varying levels of enthusiasm among its members.
Biden also suggested that the scale of the Western response could depend on the scale of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, saying a “minor incursion” could bring a different kind of retaliation from the U.S. and its allies than a comprehensive invasion.
Russia has gathered about 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and threatened an indefinite “military-technical response” if NATO does not withdraw its forces and promises that it will never accept Ukraine.
Blinken, who met with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, said Russia could “in the short term” double its forces of more than 100,000 people at various locations near its border with Ukraine.
“It simply came to our notice then [Vladimir] “Putin also has the ability to take further aggressive action against Ukraine in a very short time,” Blinken said. “I strongly hope we can keep this on a diplomatic and peaceful path, but ultimately this is President Putin’s decision.”
Blinken reiterated warnings that Russia would face heavy sanctions if it continues to invade Ukraine, after it annexed Crimea in 2014 and has since sparked war in the eastern Donbas region.
Ryabkov on Wednesday described the security situation in Europe as “critical”, but said Russia “will not attack, strike, attack, quote-decite anything, Ukraine”.
Blinken will travel to Berlin on Thursday before meeting Lavrov. The Geneva meeting followed talks last week between Russia, the United States and NATO, which Moscow described as a “dead end” after its security demands were rejected, including a rejection of Ukraine’s NATO bid.