A Ukrainian soldier enters a trench along the frontline in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine, December 7, 2021.
The European Union has warned Russia it would face consequences if it invaded Ukraine, as Germany and France called for talks to ease tensions amid growing concerns over Russia’s troop buildup near the border with its southwestern neighbor.
The comments from European leaders largely echoed those of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has warned Russia of "strong" punitive measures if it were to attack Ukraine while also showing an interest in reviving diplomacy over Kyiv’s seven-year war with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"Aggression needs to come with a price tag, which is why we will communicate these points ahead of time to Russia," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on December 10 at a joint news conference with Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz.
Von der Leyen said the bloc would not publicly state what "sanctions and other measures across economic and financial sectors" could be taken if Russia were to invade Ukraine.
But she appeared to leave open targeting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea.
"In general, it is important that energy should never be used as a means of exerting pressure and that the energy security of Europe and its neighbors must be guaranteed," the top EU official said.
“It’s very clear that Germany, the European Union, and many other countries would react if border violations occurred," Scholz said.
Earlier in the day during a visit to France, Scholz called for a revival of the so-called Normandy Format of talks in which Germany and France are mediating between Ukraine and Russia to try resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014. Russia asserts Kyiv is failing to meet its commitments under the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements aimed at putting an end to the war.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke to Ukraine’s leader this week, said he also wanted to further peace talks on the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on December 9, reaffirming that Washington and its allies would respond with "strong economic and other measures" in the event of a Russian attack.
But he also called for fresh diplomacy to revive the Minsk agreements.
"President Biden underscored the readiness of the United States to engage in support of confidence-building measures to advance the implementation of the Minsk agreements, in support of the Normandy Format," the White House said.
Biden also reiterated the United States and its allies were "committed to the principle of ‘no decisions or discussions about Ukraine without Ukraine.’"
Zelenskiy’s office said one of the key issues during his phone call with Biden was "the security situation around Ukraine and the prospects for intensifying a peace settlement."
The diplomacy followed Biden’s promise of meetings between envoys of Russia and major NATO allies to discuss Moscow’s concerns about Ukraine joining the alliance and the possibility of "bringing down the temperature along the eastern front."
Biden held a videoconference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 7 amid Western concerns about the presence of tens of thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border.
U.S. intelligence assesses that Russia has at least 70,000 troops near Ukraine and could be planning a multifront offensive early next year involving up to 175,000 troops.
Russia denies it is planning to attack, claiming instead that Ukraine and NATO are provoking tensions. Moscow is demanding security guarantees against NATO’s expansion to Ukraine or deploying alliance troops and weapons there. Ukraine is not a member of the alliance, but receives strong backing from members.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on December 10 that Moscow was proposing a series of steps to reduce tensions, including holding military exercises at agreed limits from Russia-NATO borders and setting safe distances between their opposing warships and planes, especially in the Baltic and Black Seas.
Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned the United States and its allies not to dismiss Russia’s demands for legally binding security guarantees.
"If they refuse, and try and torpedo this, they will inevitably get a further worsening of their own security situation," he said.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, AP, and Reuters.