US to extend sanctions against Russia in case of invasion, accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and provide $1 billion in aid


BRUSSELS — The United States will expand sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, targeting members of the country’s parliament and central bank gold reserves, the White House announced Thursday.

At the same time, Washington will increase its humanitarian assistance by taking in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing an additional $1 billion in food, medicine, water and other supplies.

The White House announced the initiatives as US President Joe Biden and world leaders gathered in Brussels for a trio of summits in response to the Russian invasion, seeking new ways to limit the economic and security fallout from the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the first meeting of the day, an emergency NATO summit, where he called for “unlimited military assistance”. He argued for anti-aircraft and anti-ship weapons, asking “is it possible to survive in such a war without it?”

“It feels like we’re in a gray area, between the West and Russia, defending our common values,” Zelenskyy said during the video address. “It’s the scariest thing in a war – not having clear answers to requests for help!”

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Western nations were discussing the possibility of providing anti-ship weapons amid fears Russia would launch amphibious assaults along the coast of the black Sea.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg opened the summit behind closed doors with a sober warning that the alliance must strengthen its defenses and “respond to a new security reality in Europe”.

“We are meeting at a critical time for our security,” he said, addressing the leaders seated around a large round table. “We are united in condemning the Kremlin’s unprovoked aggression and in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Stoltenberg said the alliance is “committed to continuing to impose costs on Russia to end this brutal war.”

Besides the NATO summit, Brussels also hosts separate summits of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and the European Union. Biden attends all three meetings and will then hold a press conference.

While the West was largely unified in the face of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, it is widely believed that unity will be tested as the costs of war weigh on the global economy.

The buildup of forces along NATO’s eastern flank, almost certainly for at least the next five to ten years if Russia is to be effectively deterred, will also put pressure on national budgets.

“We need to do more, and therefore we need to invest more. There is a new sense of urgency and I expect leaders to agree to accelerate investment in defense,” Stoltenberg said ahead of the summit.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the United States wanted to hear “that the resolve and unity we’ve seen over the past month will last as long as it takes.”

The war-exacerbated energy crisis will be a particularly hot topic at the European Council summit, where leaders from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are hoping for an urgent and coordinated bloc-wide response. EU officials have said they will seek US help on a plan to complete natural gas storage facilities for next winter, and they also want the bloc to jointly buy gas.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected calls for a boycott of Russian energy supplies, saying it would cause significant damage to his country’s economy. Scholz is facing pressure from environmental activists to quickly wean Germany off Russian energy, but he said the process will have to be gradual.

“To do so overnight would be tantamount to plunging our country and all of Europe into recession,” Scholz said on Wednesday.

Poland and other NATO nations on the eastern flank will also be looking at how the United States and other European nations can help address their growing concerns about Russian aggression as well as a refugee crisis in spiral. More than 3.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine in recent weeks, including more than 2 million to Poland.

Biden is due to visit Poland on Friday, where the two issues are expected to be the focus of discussions with President Andrzej Duda. Another big moment could come shortly before Biden returns to Washington on Saturday. The White House said he planned to “deliver remarks on the united efforts of the free world to support the people of Ukraine, hold Russia accountable for its brutal war, and defend a future rooted in democratic principles.”

Sullivan said Biden and his fellow leaders will aim to “establish a longer-term game plan” for the forces and capabilities that will be needed for countries on the eastern flank of the alliance.

Four new NATO battlegroups, usually numbering between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers, are being set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

All the while, national security officials from Washington to Warsaw are increasingly concerned that Putin is deploying chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons. Sullivan said the allies would consult on how to respond to such “potential contingencies.”

Biden said this week that the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons was a “real threat.”

Stoltenberg declined Thursday to discuss whether such a strike is a red line that would drag the alliance into war with Russia. “I will not speculate beyond the fact that NATO is always ready to defend, protect and react to any type of attack against a NATO ally country,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in an interview with CNN this week said Russia might consider using its nuclear weapons if it felt there was “an existential threat to our country.”

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the executive branch of the European Union, said ahead of Biden’s visit that she wanted to discuss the possibility of obtaining additional deliveries of liquefied natural gas from the United States for the block of 27 nations “for the next two winters”.

The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying nearly 40% of the EU’s gas and a quarter of its oil. The bloc is looking for ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying its suppliers.

Sullivan said the United States was looking for ways to “increase” LNG supplies to Europe to help.

A new sanctions option being considered by Biden is to target members of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. The new sanctions would be rolled out in coordination with Western allies.

Biden arrived in Brussels as Americans increasingly accepted the need for the United States to help stop Putin, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

But even as Americans’ concern has grown and support for a major US role in the conflict has strengthened over the past month, Biden’s negative approval rating has not budged, according to the AP-NORC survey. Few are convinced he can handle a crisis, and a majority think he lacks tenacity in the face of Russia.

Biden has promised voters he has the experience to navigate a complicated international emergency like the one unfolding in Europe and his trip will be the final test of that proposition.

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Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Hannah Fingerhut and Darlene Superville in Washington, Daria Litvinova in Lviv, Ukraine, and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.



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