President Joe Biden on Monday vowed that the US would “bring an end” to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany should President Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine.
Mr Biden did not provide specifics as to how the US would force Germany to abandon the multibillion-dollar pipeline, although Republicans in Congress have pushed for sanctions on Nord Stream 2 — unsuccessfully so far.
“If Russia invades — that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again — then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2,” Mr Biden said at a White House press conference alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “We will bring an end to it.”
When asked how the US could guarantee the closure of a pipeline in a different country, Mr Biden said: “I promise you, we will be able to do that.”
For his part, Mr Scholz repeatedly dodged questions on the pipeline and would not verbally commit to shuttering the project, going so far as to avoid mentioning it by name.
Germany, which uses Russian gas to cover half its needs, has delayed approval of the pipeline until at least the second half of 2022, but has refused to cancel the nearly completed project.
Instead, Mr Scholz stressed that Nato remains united, as evidenced by the massive sanctions package that the US has threatened to introduce in co-ordination with its European allies should Russia proceed with an invasion.
“We have intensively prepared everything to be ready with the necessary sanctions if there is a military aggression against Ukraine,” said Mr Scholz.
“It is necessary that we do this in advance so that Russia can clearly understand that these are far-reaching severe measures.
“It is part of this process that we do not spell out everything in public because Russia could understand that there might be even more to come.”
Before meeting Mr Biden on Monday, Mr Scholz said that the US and Europe would act swiftly, decisively and in unity if Russia invades Ukraine, amid warnings Moscow could push forward in days or weeks.
Mr Scholz, under fire at home and abroad for what is seen as insufficient leadership in the crisis, told reporters that Russia would pay a very high price if it invaded Ukraine.
“The point is to act quickly, swiftly and decisively, and above all, in a unified manner,” Mr Scholz said.
“There will be a very high price to pay if Ukraine is attacked militarily.”
Russia has moved more than 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine, but denies it is planning an invasion. US officials say an attack could occur within days or weeks, though stress they don't know if Mr Putin has made a final decision.
Mr Biden said he thought “it would be wise” for any US citizens in Ukraine, excluding diplomats, to leave the country. A State Department advisory last month gave similar advice.
“I'd I hate to see them get caught in the crossfire if in fact they did invade,” he said. “There's no need for that.”
Germany announced on Monday it would send 350 troops to Lithuania, reinforcing a German-led Nato unit to deter a Russian attack.
The German Federal Ministry of Defence said the additional troops will start deploying from February 14 — news hailed by Lithuania's defence minister as “an important signal".
“On behalf of Nato, we are the country in continental Europe that is making the largest contribution — financial means and also military power — and we are the country that contributes a great share,” Mr Scholz said at the press conference.
Mr Scholz said Germany was working closely with the US and its allies to finalise their sanctions plans, but said efforts to resolve the dispute diplomatically were also starting to resonate.
Mr Biden said he believes Russia still has a diplomatic off-ramp from the crisis.
The Biden-Scholz relationship could be pivotal at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron has yet to declare if he will run in an election in three months, and while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is engulfed in a domestic crisis.
Mr Biden played down differences with Germany, which relies on Russia for natural gas.
Mr Scholz “has a complete trust of the United States. Germany is our one of our most important allies in the world,” Mr Biden said.
“There is no doubt about Germany's partnership in the United States. None.”
Earlier, US officials said, as Mr Scholz has in the past, that Germany was the second largest donor of non-military assistance to Kiev after the US, and that Germany's support in bringing US forces to Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine, was critical.
Officials said the two countries were in “absolute agreement” on the need for additional measures, the details of which are being finalised. Banning Russia from the Swift financial transaction system remains an option, a second US official said.
Members of Mr Biden's Cabinet briefed US senators last week about a potential Russian “false flag” operation in Ukraine as Congress continued to negotiate over a sanctions bill.
Agencies contributed to this report