The White House vowed Tuesday that Europe will not freeze this winter if Russia cuts off its natural gas or crude oil exports as retaliation for economic sanctions promised by the US and its allies if Moscow invades Ukraine.
Senior administration officials revealed Tuesday that they have been working to identify natural gas sources around the world — “from North Africa and the Middle East to Asia and the United States,” as one official put it — for Europe to tap into should Russia restrict its supply.
The US is also holding discussions with major gas producers around the globe to determine whether they are able to deliver extra energy to the continent through the remainder of this winter and into spring.
Tuesday evening, the White House announced that President Biden will host the emir of Qatar in Washington next week. The two leaders are expected to discuss ways to respond to a possible Russian cutoff of natural gas to Western Europe.
Russia supplies approximately 40 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe each year through Ukraine. According to the US Energy Information Administration, more than 89 percent of Moscow’s natural gas exports went to European or Eurasian countries in 2020, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
“We don’t need to replace all of that for the remainder of the winter because there’s still gas and storage,” one official said Tuesday of the supply that goes through Ukraine, “but only the portion that is necessary to get through the winter and the spring.”
The Kremlin has warned of “grave consequences” if the US moves forward with implementing promised “severe” economic sanctions against Russia. Congress is debating a White House-backed bill that would implement sanctions – largely focused on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 Pipeline – after an invasion.
On Tuesday, a senior White House official insisted the administration was “prepared to implement sanctions with massive consequences that were not considered in 2014,” when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
The official warned that any move by Russia to restrict its supply would do more harm to Moscow than good.
“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,” they said, later adding: “This is not an asymmetric advantage for Putin; it’s an interdependency.”
Fears of Russian military action have deepened in recent days as Moscow has steadily increased its military buildup along the border with Ukraine. Some estimate that there are 100,000 troops or more along the border. As recently as last week, Russian forces were seen moving military equipment into Belarus — stoking fears of an invasion from the north.
This week, several NATO members have vowed to amp up their military presence in Eastern Europe as the US placed up to 8,500 troops on “heightened alert” in the event of an invasion.
While there are no plans for deployment yet, the troops would be sent to assist NATO’s 40,000-strong Response Force, the Pentagon announced Monday.
Russia has repeatedly denied any intentions to invade Ukraine, likening the concerns to “hysteria.”Ukraine‘s government has also pushed a message of calm, saying there is “no need to panic.”