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U.S. seeks to help Europe bolster oil, gas in case of Russian invasion of Ukraine

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U.S. seeks to help Europe bolster oil, gas in case of Russian invasion of Ukraine
Russian military vehicles gather at an undisclosed location in Russia on Monday on the way to Belarus to attend the Russia and Belarus joint military drill "Union resolve 2022." Photo courtesy of the Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. government is working to bolster oil and gas supplies to Europe to protect against a possible Russian embargo on the exports amid rising tensions with Ukraine, the Biden administration said Tuesday.

Certain NATO member states have been reluctant to threaten sanctions against Russia as they are heavily reliant on the country for energy supplies. According to the European Union, Russia provided about 34% of its imported natural and liquified natural gas, and 27% of its crude oil in 2019.

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The Biden administration said it's working with European partners to secure supplies of oil and gas from Middle Eastern sources in case Moscow halts its shipments of oil and gas to the European Union.

"We're in discussions with major natural gas producers around the globe, to understand their capacity and willingness to temporarily surge natural gas supply and to allocate these volumes to European buyers," a senior administration official told reporters.

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The official said the effort, along with financial sanctions, is meant to "deal [Russian President Vladimir] Putin a weak strategic hand" over Ukraine.

"If Russia decides to weaponize its supply of natural gas or crude oil, it wouldn't be without consequences to the Russian economy," the U.S. official said. "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."

Nikolay Zhuravlev, the speaker of Russia's Federation Council, the upper house of Parliament, threatened to cut off gas, oil and metal exports to Europe on Tuesday after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson floated the idea of disconnecting Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. Johnson said his government was discussing with the United States the possibility of cutting Russia off from the international payment system if it invades Ukraine.

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"SWIFT is a settlement system, it is a service," Zhuravlev said according to Russia's state-run Tass. "Therefore, if Russia is disconnected from SWIFT, then we will not receive [foreign] currency, but buyers, European countries in the first place, will not receive our goods -- oil, gas, metals and other important components of their imports. Do they need it? I am not sure."

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Johnson told Parliament that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could cause result in the worst violence seen since the end of World War II.

"Ukrainians have every moral and legal right to defend their country, and I believe their resistance would be dogged and tenacious. No one would gain from such a catastrophe," Johnson said.

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"Russia would create a wasteland in a country which, as she constantly reminds us, is composed of fellow Slavs. And Russia would never be able to call it peace."

Efforts to secure alternative oil and gas sources for Europe come months after Russia amassed some 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, stoking fears that Moscow will invade the former Soviet state. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, worsening a rift between Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists.

The Pentagon announced Monday that it's put up to 8,500 U.S. troops on heightened alert to deploy to Eastern Europe amid the rising tensions. Most of the troops on alert are earmarked for NATO's 40,000-member quick response force.

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Ukraine isn't a member of NATO, but the alliance recognizes it as an aspiring member country. Russia, which also isn't part of NATO, strongly opposes Ukraine's membership.

NATO said it's adding forces in the Baltic area as a show of force intended to dissuade Putin from any possible designs he has on crossing into Ukraine.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, though, there's currently no plan to send U.S. troops to Ukraine.

"Just to be clear: There is no intention or interest or desire by the president to send troops to Ukraine," she told reporters during a press briefing. "NATO is a forum to support our eastern flank partners and countries, and that's what the focus has been on."

Psaki also repeated the Biden administration's warning that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent, contradicting statements by the Ukrainian government.

Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI

"When we said it was imminent, it remains imminent," she said. "But again, we can't make a prediction of what decision President Putin will make. We're still engaged in diplomatic discussions and negotiations."

Biden, meanwhile, told reporters Tuesday that U.S. troop movements could come in the "nearer term."

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If Putin "were to move in with all those forces, it would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world," Biden said.

"I may be moving some of those troops in the nearer term, just because it takes time," not out of an effort to be "provocative," he added.

Biden also warned there would be "serious economic consequences."

Russia, meanwhile, posted videos of military drills along its border with Ukraine on Tuesday. The imagery includes tanks, Iskander short-range ballistic missile launchers, and solders throwing grenades and firing rifles.

Russia's Baltic Fleet also announced military drills, carrying artillery fire against aerial targets.

"During the Baltic Fleet's scheduled exercise at practice ranges in the Baltic Sea, the crews of the missile corvettes Mytishchi, Odintsovo and Zelyony Dol successfully conducted artillery firing against the targets simulating a notional enemy's air attack weapons,' the fleet's press office said.

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