Western leaders have stepped up preparations for any Russian military action in Ukraine, with the US focusing on how to protect energy supplies and US President Joe Biden saying he would consider imposing direct sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Tensions remained high after NATO said on Monday it was putting its forces on standby and bolstering Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to a Russian troop buildup near its border with Ukraine.
Russia, which denied planning an attack, said it was watching with “great concern”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow’s line that the crisis is caused by US and NATO actions, not Russian troop buildups.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a televised address on Tuesday evening, urged his compatriots to remain 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-colored glasses, no childish illusions, not everything is easy… But there is hope,” he said.
The United States and the European Union have threatened economic sanctions if Russia were to launch an invasion and Western leaders have said unity is paramount, although differences have emerged between European nations over how best to react .
Biden repeated on Tuesday that there were no plans to send US troops to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, but said he would consider imposing direct sanctions on Putin and that there would be “enormous consequences” if Russia were to invade.
Journalists asked Biden if he would personally punish Putin if he invaded Ukraine.
“Yes,” he said. “I would see that.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged European allies to be ready to deploy sanctions as soon as there is an incursion.
“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,” he told parliament on Tuesday.
He said the UK was discussing the possibility of banning Russia from the Swift global payment system with the US, one of several potential moves to punish Moscow if it launched an offensive.
In Washington, senior Biden administration officials said the United States was in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world about a possible diversion of supplies to Europe if the Russia invaded Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters on a call, officials did not name the countries or companies involved in talks to protect supplies from Europe, but said they included a wide range of suppliers, including sellers of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“We have been working to identify additional volumes of non-Russian natural gas from various regions 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.
“As a result, we are…in talks with major natural gas producers around the world to understand their ability and willingness to temporarily increase natural gas production and allocate those volumes to European buyers.”
The EU depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies. Any disruption in gas supplies from Russia to Europe would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by shortages.
“To ensure Europe is able to weather the winter and spring, we expect to be ready to secure alternative supplies covering a large majority of the potential shortfall,” the official said.
Russia has tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine and demands security guarantees from the West, including a NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine. Moscow sees the former Soviet republic as a buffer between Russia and NATO countries.
Fearing an attack could occur soon, Canada said on Tuesday it was temporarily withdrawing the families of its diplomats from Ukraine and the Swedish Foreign Ministry said it advised against all non-essential travel to Ukraine and all travel to Crimea and two regions of eastern Ukraine.
The US State Department said it was ordering family members of diplomats to leave and the UK said it was removing some staff and dependents from its embassy in Kyiv.
The United States has committed more than $650 million in security assistance to Ukraine over the past year and more than $2.7 billion in total since 2014, when Russia annexed the peninsula. Crimean Ukrainian.
A US plane carrying military equipment and ammunition landed in Kiev on Tuesday, the third shipment of a $200 million security package to bolster Ukraine.
The US Department of Defense said on Monday that about 8,500 US troops had been placed on heightened alert and were awaiting orders to deploy to the region, should Russia invade Ukraine.
On Tuesday, the Russian military announced that it was carrying out new exercises involving 6,000 soldiers near Ukraine and in the Crimea region. The drills included gunnery drills with fighter jets, bombers, anti-aircraft systems and ships from the Black Sea and Caspian fleets, the defense ministry said.
Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent defense and military analyst based in Moscow, said the ongoing crisis is creating “fear” among many Russian citizens.
“A real confrontation with the West and a possible war with Ukraine is not what people really want,” Felgenhauer told Al Jazeera from the Russian capital.
“There is an effect of a kind of rallying around the flag in times of crisis, but there is a lot of fear, people are afraid of war… it is obvious, and many hope that this will not happen. is that some kind of… great power gamble, that it’s a tightrope and there won’t be a war.
So far, NATO has around 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, supported by tanks, air defenses and intelligence and surveillance units.