CIA chief paid secret visit to Europe ahead of Blinken’s trip

BERLIN — The United States has dispatched the head of the Central Intelligence Agency to Berlin and Kiev, a week before an official trip by the secretary of state to the region, as part of its effort to convince European nations to join to a harsher response against Moscow. and in favor of Ukraine, an approach complicated by the countries’ closer economic ties with Russia.

Mr. Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia, briefed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the intelligence community on the Russian-Ukrainian issue and possible scenarios involving those countries. He said Berlin would have to shut down the recently completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia in the event of an invasion of Ukraine, officials said.

CIA director William Burns secretly visited Berlin and Kiev last week.


Photo:

Al Drago/Bloomberg News

Mr Blinken has promised a “massive” sanctions-led response against Russia in the event of an invasion, and US officials say Washington and its European partners have drawn up a plan to deploy financial sanctions that will harm sensitive sectors of the world. Russian economy.

The Secretary of State met in Berlin on Thursday with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and a British senior minister, James Cleverly.

“If Russian military forces cross the Ukrainian border and commit further acts of aggression against Ukraine, this will prompt a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies and partners,” Blinken said afterward. the meeting. .

Germany has played a leading role in rallying other European nations around successive moves to sanction Russia after its annexation of Crimea in 2014, but it has also been wary of provoking its eastern neighbour, mainly due to of the heavy dependence of the German economy on Russian gas.

Germany derives more than half of its gas imports from Russia, compared to only a third for the European Union, and uses the gas not only for heating but also for the production of electricity after the phase-out of nuclear power. A supply cut now would hit Germany hard, as its reserves are currently low.

Germany and Russia are linked by the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines. Nord Stream 2, which is awaiting certification before being commissioned in the second half of the year, would double the existing capacity of Nord Stream 1.

The gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea.


Photo:

Stefan Sauer/Zuma Press

The United States views the shutdown of Nord Stream 2 as a key aspect of a transatlantic response to Russian aggression, according to officials involved in the talks. The controversial pipeline was completed last year despite strong opposition from the US and EU.

Mr Burns was sent to Berlin after Mr Scholz refrained from announcing that Germany would freeze Nord Stream 2 in the event of a Russian invasion, according to a US official familiar with the trip. The Chancellor and his aides have made such assurances privately, according to US diplomats, but have yet to announce it publicly. Mr. Scholz has avoided answering reporters’ questions about the pipeline sanctions in recent days.

If Russia invades, the EU, UK, US and other allies would likely impose their own sanctions, with officials in Washington saying they would hit Russia with financial measures designed to inflict hardship economic benefits to key industries such as energy.

The United States and its allies are unlikely to push to pull Russia out of the Belgium-based Swift banking payment system after the Europeans pushed back on the idea, according to people following the debate.

President Biden said on Wednesday that the United States was ready to unleash sanctions on Russia if President Vladimir Putin made a move against Ukraine. Biden also presented a possible diplomatic resolution. Photo: Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on Wednesday that “every day we see progress in the negotiations between the United States and the European Union, and they are making progress in bringing all these sanctions together in one package.” .

US officials say significant Russian interference in Ukraine that does not amount to an invasion would not generate a massive set of sanctions, but would lead Washington and its European partners to impose less severe measures.

Some analysts say the Kremlin may be calibrating its aggression in Ukraine to prevent severe sanctions. Less overt interference in Ukraine could lead to a debate in Brussels between supporters of a strong response and countries historically closer to Russia over the need for a response.

President Biden told reporters on Wednesday that a minor form of aggression against Ukraine could lead the allies to a “fight over what to do and what not to do.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, appearing on NBC’s ‘Today’ program, said Mr Biden had been “very clear, and we as the United States are very clear: If Putin takes action aggressive, we are prepared to impose serious and severe costs. Period.”

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.


Photo:

Anastasia Vlasova for The Wall Street Journal

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that a military invasion of his country was not the likely course and that Russia would more likely seek , at least in the short term, to intensify a campaign of cyberattacks, provocations, disinformation and economic pressure.

On Wednesday, divisions within Europe surfaced when French President Emmanuel Macron marked his turn at the helm of the rotating EU presidency with a sweeping speech calling on Europe to chart its own course.

“The security of our continent requires a strategic rearmament of Europe as a power of peace and balance, in particular with regard to dialogue with Russia,” Macron told a parliament session. European Union in Strasbourg, France.

The French leader said the EU should spend the next few weeks working out a proposal to create “a new order of security and stability”, while consulting with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The Biden administration has not discouraged Europe from taking a leading role in its own security, but wants to ensure that Washington and NATO, dominated by the US military, consult closely on strategic issues affecting the continent.

Some former Soviet-aligned countries that are now part of the EU and NATO prefer that the military alliance – rather than EU officials in Brussels – take the lead in deterring Russia from potential advances in Eastern Europe.

The standoff with Russia comes as Moscow has placed around 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine, raising fears it is preparing for an invasion. Russian troops are also moving towards neighboring Belarus. The Kremlin has said it will consider unspecified military options if the United States does not agree to limit new memberships in NATO, which Ukraine seeks to join.

Mr. Blinken is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday in Geneva. US officials said the high-level meeting with Russia was an opportunity to take stock of diplomatic relations over the past week.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at [email protected] and William Mauldin at [email protected]

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