The White House has warned that Moscow will face "swift and severe" consequences if it launches a new attack on Ukraine, as US and Russian diplomats at the United Nations crossed swords on the growing security crisis in eastern Europe.
Russia insists it is not threatening its neighbour despite moving 100,000 troops and heavy weapons towards its borders in recent weeks, and vowing to take "military-technical" action if the US and Nato rejects its sweeping security demands – the main elements of which have been dismissed by Washington as "non-starters".
"If Russia is sincere about addressing our respective security concerns through dialogue, the United States and our allies and partners will continue to engage in good faith," US president Joe Biden said on Monday.
“If instead Russia chooses to walk away from diplomacy and attack Ukraine, Russia will bear the responsibility, and it will face swift and severe consequences.”
As diplomacy intensified – and a day before the top US and Russian diplomats intend to talk, British prime minister Boris Johnson is expected in Kyiv, and Hungarian premier Viktor Orban is due to visit the Kremlin – the UN Security Council discussed tension around Ukraine.
“We do not want confrontation, but we will be decisive, swift and united should Russia further invade Ukraine,” said US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
“We continue to believe there is a diplomatic path out of the crisis caused by Russia’s unprovoked military build-up . . . but we also know that diplomacy will not succeed in an atmosphere of threat and military escalation.”
Russia, with support from China, narrowly failed to secure enough votes to keep the meeting behind closed doors – with Ireland among the nations voting successfully for a public session.
Vasily Nebenzya, Moscow’s envoy to the UN, accused Washington of “whipping up hysteria” around Ukraine, where in 2014 Russia annexed Crimea and started a war in the eastern Donbas region.
“The discussion about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself . . . You are almost calling for this . . . as if you want to make your words become a reality,” he said.
Western states have vowed to impose severe sanctions on Russia’s economy if it attacks Ukraine again, and the US and Britain have outlined new measures that would allow them to target firms and individuals with close ties to the Kremlin.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss said new sanctions legislation would ensure that “those who share responsibility for the Kremlin’s aggressive and destabilising action will share in bearing a heavy cost.
“Their assets in the UK will be frozen. No UK business or individual would be able to transact with them. And should they seek to enter the UK, they would be turned back . . . Those in and around the Kremlin will have nowhere to hide.”
The Kremlin called the British move “very disturbing”.
“It’s not often you see or hear such direct threats to attack business,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “An attack by a given country on Russian business implies retaliatory measures, and these measures will be formulated based on our interests, if necessary.”