Washington: The US administration under Joe Biden and its European allies are set to have a series of meetings to give a message of US-EU unity and possible strong steps against Russia, in the event of Russia invading Ukraine.
In more or less identical language, the US and its European allies have several times in the past month issued collective and separate messages cautioning Russian President Vladimir Putin of the 'massive consequences' that his country will face should if he go ahead with further military intervention in Ukraine.
When the two sides, represented by Antony Blinken for the US and new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on the EU side, meet in Washington on Wednesday, the key issue to be discussed will be the economic, diplomatic or political action in case of a Russian attack on Ukraine.
In the run up to the meeting, there was a telephone conversation between Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, and there was a another on Sunday between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a group discussion Tuesday among Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his counterparts from the five Nordic nations.
The issue will also be discussed at upcoming meetings among NATO foreign ministers, senior US and Russian officials, the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe set for next week.
Baerbock, the top diplomat in the first German government in 16 years not headed by Angela Merkel, has struck a tougher tone on Russia than her predecessor. She has warned that Moscow will pay a 'high political and economic price' if it makes any military moves against Ukraine.
She sounded a stern note that Germany is determined to act together to defend the peaceful order in Europe, with particular attention to Russia.
She said, "We have made this very clear time and again to the Russian government in recent days and weeks.""We're now going into a decisive phase, in which there will be important talks at various levels. And even though the formats of the talks vary, our message as trans-Atlantic partners to the government in Moscow is always the same."
Western officials have also indicated a possible use of sanctions in case of a Russian adventure. The sanctions could include near total cutoff from the international financial system and steps toward greater NATO integration with non-allied European nations.
Apart from the heavy US involvement in the posturing, Germany is seen as the key player on the European side in the line-up against Russian's Ukraine plans. Germany's business ties with Russia are seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage in the face-off: it can be a leverage, but also a deterrent.
However, in the past, Germany has adopted a less confrontational stance toward Russia compared with many other European nations. Under Merkel, it persuaded the Biden administration last year not to impose sanctions on the company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that many believe will leave Europe beholden to Russia for energy and Ukraine more vulnerable. That seems to have changed with the new regime in Berlin which is prepared for a less conciliatory stance toward Russia.
(With inputs from PTI)