Russia Says Fresh Sanctions Over Ukraine Would End Relations With West

Economic sanctions on Western-controlled companies and projects in Russia—including the halting of the opening of a key pipeline that would send gas to Western Europe—over a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be "tantamount to breaking off relations" with the West, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned.

Lavrov gave an interview with four major Russian radio stations on Friday morning, a day after the U.S. threaten to halt the opening of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline if Russia was to launch an incursion into Ukraine.

Asked about how Russia would respond to Western sanctions, Lavrov said: "The Americans were told ... that the package of sanction that was just mentioned, which is accompanied by a complete shutdown of those financial and economic systems that are controlled by the West, it will be tantamount to breaking off relations."

Russia has sent nearly 100,000 troops at the eastern border of Ukraine, and Western powers fear an invasion could be imminent.

Moscow has consistently denied it is planning an attack.

However, the White House has told Americans in Ukraine to leave the country in case a war erupts. On Sunday, the State Department ordered family members of Kyiv embassy employees to depart and permitted non-emergency diplomatic employees to leave.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have warned Putin against making significant military moves, threatening serious consequences that would spell "disaster" for Russia.

Europe appears to be taking a united front on the crisis, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying the European Union will every diplomatic tool in its toolbox to avoid conflict.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday that the sanctions prepared by the 27-nation bloc include blocking Nord Stream 2. The German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock echoed his statement, saying her government was "working on a strong package of sanctions" with European allies that would include the pipeline.

When asked whether war was likely, Lavrov said on Thursday: "If it's up to Russia, there will be no war; Moscow does not want war, but will not allow the West to grossly ignore its interests."

Lavrov said the talks on security guarantees with NATO and the U.S. are still ongoing, adding that if the Western parties do not change their stance on Russia's security proposals, Moscow will not change its stance too.

"I can't say that the negotiations are over, because now ... well, the Americans and NATO, as you know, have been studying the extremely simple proposals concluded in the draft treaty with Washington and the agreement with the North Atlantic Alliance for more than a month," Lavrov said.

"We received answers only the day before yesterday, which, in such a Western style, cast a shadow on negotiations in many ways, but there is some rationality, as I already said on secondary issues."

In a phone call on Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky that there is a "district possibility" Russian might invade Ukraine next month.

During the call, Biden "reaffirmed the readiness of the United States along with its allies and partners to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine," a White House statement said.

If there is a conflict, it won't be the first time the Russia and Ukraine have been at war.

In 2014, Russia seized control of Crimea, following protests in Ukraine that toppled the country's pro-Russian president. Since then, Ukraine's military has been fighting a bloody conflict with Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas region in the east of the country. An estimated 14,000 have been killed since the fighting began.

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to speak with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Friday.

Sergie Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looks on as he gives an annual press conference on Russian diplomacy in 2021, in Moscow on January 14, 2022. Lavrov said Friday that Russia was not looking to go to war with Ukraine, but would not bow down to Western demands. Dimitar Dilkoff/Getty