‘Time to learn a lesson!’ Verhofstadt turns on EU for stalling with Russia’s Putin

The United States is in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine, senior Biden administration officials said on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on a call, the officials did not name the specific countries or companies they were in talks with to ensure an uninterrupted energy flow into Europe for the remainder of the winter, but said they included a broad range of suppliers, including sellers of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“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 move has sparked the fury of Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt who called on the EU to step up its efforts and solve its own energy crisis.

He blasted: “A crisis and the US is left to try to solve Europe’s energy problems.

“Our dependence on fossil fuel imports from regimes like Russia is coming home to roost!

“Time to learn the lessons and implement a strategic EU energy Union.”

The European Union depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies. Any interruptions to Russia’s gas supply to Europe would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by a shortage.

Record power prices have driven up consumer energy bills as well as business costs and sparked protests in some countries.

Russia normally supplies 40 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per year to Europe through Ukraine, the senior administration official said, adding that it has already cut those supplies through this route by half.

READ MORE: Joe Biden issues fresh warning about Vladimir Putin over Ukraine

“To ensure Europe is able to make it through the winter and spring, we expect to be prepared to ensure alternative supplies covering a significant majority of the potential shortfall,” the official said.

The key to ensuring supplies was also about identifying the locations where the shortfall would be, the official said.

“The story of Europe is making sure that you have the access to the right locations in Europe that would be most affected by Russian cut-off of supplies and where storage is lower than other places in Europe.”

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.

The United States has committed more than $650 million of security assistance to Ukraine in the past year and more than $2.7 billion in total since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

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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.

Russia, which denies planning an attack, said it was watching with “great concern”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow’s line that the crisis was being driven by US and NATO actions, not the Russian troop build-up.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a televised address on Tuesday evening, urged his compatriots 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-colored glasses, no childish illusions, everything is not simple. … But there is hope,” Zelenskiy said.

“Protect your body from viruses, your brain from lies, your heart from panic.”

President Biden repeated that there were no plans to send U.S. 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” worldwide if Russia invaded.

If Russia were to move into Ukraine with all its forces, it would be the “largest invasion since World War 2” and would “change the world,” Mr Biden said.

Reporters asked Mr Biden if he would see himself imposing sanctions on Putin if the Russian president invaded Ukraine.

“Yes,” Mr Biden responded. “I would see that.”