Blinken meets Ukraine official and warns Russia on natural gas supplies

Washington concerned by reports of 'unusual Russian military activity' near border with Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hold a press conference following US-Ukraine strategic dialogue in Washington. Reuters
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The US is watching for signs that Russia may be using energy as a political tool in Europe's energy crunch, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, and he added that Washington was committed to taking appropriate action if Moscow were to take that path.

Mr Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met at the State Department on Wednesday and signed a charter for a strategic partnership. Discussions focused on Ukraine's neighbour, Russia, which Mr Kuleba said was already using gas supplies as a weapon.

The US secretary of state said Washington was also concerned by reports of “unusual Russian military activity” near the border with Ukraine. He added that escalatory or aggressive action would be of concern to the US.

“Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine, we are committed, and Germany is committed, to taking appropriate action,” Mr Blinken said.

He also said that Washington was “watching very carefully for signs” that Russia was using energy as a weapon as it has in the past.

Russia has been accused of holding back energy supplies amid record-high gas prices, but President Vladimir Putin has blamed the EU's energy policy, saying Russia will be able to boost supplies to Europe once the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is approved.

“Russia could and should take steps to alleviate the energy crunch by increasing gas supplies,” said Mr Blinken.

Washington opposes the $11 billion pipeline, currently nearing completion, which runs under the Baltic Sea and will carry gas from Russia's Arctic region to Germany.

President Joe Biden's administration has waived sanctions on the pipeline's operator and reached an agreement with Germany in July on the pipeline.

Berlin has agreed to take action if Russia uses energy as a weapon in its relations with Ukraine, but the pact did not provide specific criteria for how that would be judged.

The US was looking to Germany to “make good on” its promise to make sure that Nord Stream 2 is not a substitute for transit deliveries of gas though Ukraine, Mr Blinken said.

“What we see is that Russia is already using gas as a weapon,” Mr Kuleba said, and he added that Ukraine wants Germany to use its “leverage” on Moscow.

“Russia should receive a very strong message not only from the United States and from other capitals, but also from Berlin, that this is not the game that will benefit Russia.”

In the charter signed on Wednesday, the US vowed to support Ukraine's efforts to counter armed aggression, economic and energy disruptions, and malicious cyber activity by Russia, including by maintaining sanctions on Russia and applying other relevant measures.

Washington remained committed to assisting Ukraine through continuing training exercises and reiterated its support for Kiev's efforts to maximise its status as a Nato Enhanced Opportunities Partner.

Mr Kuleba underscored the importance of support from the US and added that Ukraine would benefit from any potential defence co-operation that would strengthen its capabilities, including intelligence-sharing or air defence systems.

“We are in a situation where we cannot allow losing or wasting any time and we are looking forward to working with the United States in this field,” he said.

Updated: November 10, 2021, 9:59 PM