US military on high alert amid fears of Russian invasion of Ukraine
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Mr Biden is said to be mulling over disconnecting Russia from the international payment system used by banks around the world as another form of sanctioning as tension at the Ukraine-Russia border escalates. But while US officials are reported to view this as a deterrent, Russia’s control over European gas supplies apparently means that Mr Putin may hit back. It comes after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw replied to the news that the Biden administration was ready to use the “nuclear option”.
She wrote on Twitter: “Wouldn’t Russia just cut gas supply to the EU in response?”
Mr Putin’s hand in the European energy market has already been made evident after Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, reduced supplies in the hope to speed up the approval of the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline and avoid EU law applying to the system.
Russia supplies about 40 percent of the EU’s natural gas imports and the bloc is therefore heavily dependent on the country for its energy security.
Mr Putin’s gas squeeze saw energy prices in Europe skyrocket to record highs and has left the EU scrambling to resolve a crisis.
And we have already seen Russia plunge Moldova into a state of emergency back in October when Gazprom reportedly slashed its gas supplies to “only enough for 67 percent of Moldova’s needs”, according to Head of Ukrainian state gas transmission operator GTSOU, Sergiy Makogon.
But Mr Biden’s latest warning comes as the two leaders prepare to meet today in a highly anticipated video meeting regarding the escalating tension with Ukraine.
Russia has reportedly sent 100,000 troops to the Ukraine-Russia border, which the US has condemned.
Mr Biden told reporters last week that he will not “accept anybody’s red lines”.
And there have also been reports that US officials fear the Kremlin is planning a multi-front offensive as soon as early next year involving up to 175,000 troops.
But Moscow has denied aggressive intent and has accused the West of provocation.
The Kremlin said earlier on Monday that Moscow is not expecting “breakthroughs” from the meeting today.
But Mr Biden’s “nuclear option” if talks go sour is not a concept of his own making.
Back in April, a resolution was passed by the European Parliament said that would exclude Russia from the SWIFT international payment system should its troops invade Ukraine.
While this was not a legally binding agreement, the Kremlin’s Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a potential cut-off was a serious threat and that it should not be ruled out.
And these threats from the West have been coming in since 2014, back when the UK appealed to European leaders to consider this “nuclear option”.
Alexei Kudrin, Russia’s former finance minister, made a forecast at the time that this move could cause Russia’s GDP to shrink by five percent.
Then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at that time that cutting Russia off from SWIFT was considered to be a major escalation, or “a declaration of war.”
Maria Shagina, from the Carnegie Moscow Center, explained: “Since then, the likelihood of this nuclear option being implemented has remained low.
“Russia’s high level of interconnectedness with the West has worked as a shield.
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“The United States and Germany would stand to lose the most if Russia were disconnected, because U.S. and German banks are the most frequent SWIFT users to communicate with Russian banks.”
Back when Iranian banks were disconnected from SWIFT, the country lost almost half of its oil export revenues and 30 percent of foreign trade.
Ms Shagina said the impact of the “nuclear option” on Russia would be equally devastating.
But with Russia having such a tight grip on Europe’s energy market, Mr Putin’s retaliatory move could also deliver a damning blow.
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