Europe, U.S. work to appear united as they face off with Russia over Ukraine

The US has refused to say exactly what it would do to Russia beyond financial penalties beyond anything previously imposed and providing additional defense aid to Ukraine.

Current and former government officials have previously said the measures could potentially include the separation of Russia from the international SWIFT payments system – an unprecedented move that would effectively isolate it from the world’s banks.

Putin has denied planning an invasion but said the West is “the ball with them” in responding to a list of Kremlin demands issued last month that would fundamentally change Europe’s security landscape.

NATO rejected the ultimatum, which included withdrawing troops from Eastern European countries that had joined the Alliance in 1997 and preventing Ukraine from joining.

Putin has repeatedly suggested that Ukraine is not a fully independent country forever bound by culture, history and a common myth to its former Soviet allies in Moscow. Instead of being the aggressor, he has accused NATO of continuing to move towards Russia’s borders.

Washington sought to show unity with European allies and partners, with all parties issuing lockstep statements punishing an invasion with severe financial penalties.

But there were indications of division.

This week, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s head of foreign affairs, appeared to be expressing displeasure with the EU’s absence from the talks, saying it could “not be a neutral bystander at the negotiations”.

The reality is that the EU – a heterogeneous group of 27 countries – is not united on Russia.

Some, like Russia’s former Soviet Baltic neighbors, want a tough approach, including strengthening NATO’s troop presence. Others, namely the great beasts of the continent France and Germany, traditionally push for compromises.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a “reset” in relations with Russia. And the then German head of state Angela Merkel resisted the demands to scrap the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Both countries have deep trade ties with Russia and would suffer from any sanctions. Like most of Europe, they also depend on Russia for much of their natural gas.

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The fear expressed by some on the continent by Borrell is that talks will result in two Cold War superpowers trying to redraw the continent’s security map.

“We are no longer in Yalta times,” he said on a visit to Ukraine on Wednesday, referring to the 1945 conference when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin Took steps that contributed to the division of Europe into two hostile countries until the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

Borrell said the days of “two great powers’ spheres of influence” should be over and “there are not just two actors in this dialogue, not just the US and Russia”.

At next week’s talks, “the Kremlin will do everything in its power to put pressure on all of these potential rifts,” said Hodges.

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