Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. File/Reuters
Gulf Today Report
With fears of a new Russian military assault high after its invasion of Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged his compatriots on Tuesday to stay calm and said work was underway to bring about a meeting between him and the leaders of Russia, Germany and France.
"There are no rose-coloured glasses, no childish illusions, everything is not simple. ... But there is hope," Zelenskiy said in a televised address. "Protect your body from viruses, your brain from lies, your heart from panic."
US President Joe Biden (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin
His comments come even as US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine, as Western leaders stepped up military preparations and made plans to shield Europe from a potential energy supply shock.
The rare sanctions threat came as NATO places forces on standby and reinforces eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to Russia's troop build-up near its border with Ukraine.
Russia denies planning an attack and says NATO and US actions are driving the crisis. It is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine. Moscow sees the former Soviet republic as a buffer between Russia and NATO countries.
NATO reinforces eastern Europe near its border with Ukraine.
Following multiple rounds of US-Russia talks over Ukraine that failed to reach a breakthrough, Biden, who has long warned Moscow of economic consequences, upped the ante on Tuesday by saying Putin could personally face sanctions.
Biden told reporters that if Russia were to move into Ukraine with the estimated 100,000 soldiers it has massed near the border, it would be the "largest invasion since World War Two" and would "change the world."
Asked if he would see himself imposing sanctions on Putin directly if Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden responded: "Yes. I would see that."
Direct US sanctions on foreign leaders are rare but not unprecedented. Others who have faced sanctions include Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, Syria's Bashar Al Assad and Libya's Muammer Qadhafi.
A US Air Force personnel inspects cargo netting on palletised ammunition bound for Ukraine on Monday. AP
On Tuesday, a US plane carrying military equipment and munitions landed in Kyiv, the third instalment of a $200 million package to shore up Ukraine's defences.
The Pentagon has readied about 8,500 US troops to be deployed to NATO's eastern flank. Biden said on Tuesday he may move the troops in the nearer term but ruled out sending unilateral US forces to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
So far, NATO has about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, backed by tanks, air defences and intelligence and surveillance units.
As Western leaders appeal for unity, differences have emerged among European nations over how best to respond. Putin is due to meet on Wednesday with the heads of some of the biggest companies in Italy, Russia's fifth biggest trading partner, despite the rising tensions.
Emmanuel Macron (left) and Olaf Scholz attend a media conference head of their meeting in Berlin. AP
"It is absolutely vital that... the West is united now, because it is our unity now that will be much more effective in deterring any Russian aggression," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, adding Britain was discussing with the United States the possibility of banning Russia from the SWIFT global payments system.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he would seek clarification over Russia's intentions in a phone call with Putin set for Friday. Political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France are due to meet in Paris on Wednesday.
In Washington, senior Biden administration officials said the United States was in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.
The EU depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies. Any interruptions to its Russian imports would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by shortages.
"We've been working to identify additional volumes of non- Russian natural gas from various areas of the world - from North Africa and the Middle East to Asia and the United States," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The officials did not name specific countries or companies they were in talks with but said it included a broad range of suppliers, including sellers of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
An escalated conflict between Russia and Ukraine would likely further increase energy costs for many countries, keeping headline inflation rates elevated for longer, said Gita Gopinath, first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
More than 94,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine's borders, Ukrainian authorities have said, citing intelligence reports suggesting Moscow may be planning a large-scale military offensive for the end of January.
US President Biden's comments sparked the biggest crisis between Russia and the United States in years, with Moscow recalling its ambassador for consultations and warning that ties were on the brink of outright "collapse".
The treaty limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia to 1,550 each as well as the number of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.
Macron on Wednesday criticized the legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, during a luncheon with US lawmakers and again during a speech at the French embassy.
The awards were held to coincide with the 20th MEADFA conference which was held in Bahrain for the first time and brought together 440 delegates.
Weeks before the invasion, Xi and Russian leader Vladimir Putin affirmed their "no limits" relationship, and Beijing has stepped up oil purchases from Russia while their air forces held joint drills this week.