The US and certain allies are in discussions to send thousands more troops to Ukraine’s neighbours as Russia appears poised to invade the country, it has been reported.
Romania, Bulgari and Hungary are among the Eastern European NATO countries considering accepting the deployment of some 1000 personnel per nation, CNN revealed.
However NATO allies remain at odds over how real the threat of war is and Russia has repeatedly rejected the “hysteria”.
Nearly eight years after Russia seized Crimea and backed separatist fighters in Donbass in eastern Ukraine, the former Soviet republic has become the flashpoint in potentially the most dangerous East-West confrontation since the Cold War.
Russia says the crisis is being driven by NATO and US actions, and is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine. Moscow sees Ukraine as a buffer between Russia and NATO countries.
As officials began four-nation talks in Paris, Russia held new military drills on land and sea and moved more paratroops and fighter jets to Belarus, north of Ukraine, for what it describes as joint exercises there next month.
Ukraine said Russia, which has gathered tens of thousands of troops near its border, was trying to sow panic.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow had not yet massed sufficient forces for a large-scale offensive, but that did not mean it could not do so later.
Western allies have threatened economic sanctions against Russia if it attacks Ukraine, and the United States has been talking to major energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.
The EU depends on Russia for about a third of its gas supplies. Any interruptions to its Russian imports would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by shortages.
Russia warned that imposing sanctions on President Vladimir Putin personally would not hurt him but would be “politically destructive” after US President Joe Biden said he would consider such a move if Russia invaded Ukraine.
Mr Biden said on Tuesday personal sanctions on Mr Putin, though a rare step, could be considered as part of a concerted drive by the United States and its allies to convince Moscow that any new aggression against Ukraine would bring swift and massive costs.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday said US Congressmen and senators discussing personal sanctions against Russia’s top leaders were ignorant of the fact they were legally barred from holding assets, property and bank accounts abroad.
Individual sanctions against Mr Putin would be “not painful (but) politically destructive”, said Mr Peskov, who has previously said they would amount to severing diplomatic relations.
In Paris, officials from France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine began talks on the simmering Donbass war in which some 15,000 people have been killed since 2014.
The four-way “Normandy format” talks, which have not been held for more than six months, are seen by the European powers as vital to remaining relevant in the broader dialogue with Moscow while the United States and NATO hold separate crisis negotiations.
A French presidential official said they would use the Paris talks to determine whether Russia was serious.