The Biden Administration announced on Tuesday that it was working with gas and crude oil suppliers from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia to bolster supplies to Europe in coming weeks, in an effort to blunt the threat that Russia could cut off fuel shipments in the escalating conflict over Ukraine.
European allies have been cautious in public about how far they would go in placing severe sanctions on Moscow if it invades Ukraine. Germany has been especially wary; it has shuttered many of its nuclear plants, increasing its dependence on natural gas imports to generate electricity.
Many European officials have said they suspect President Vladimir V. Putin instigated the current crisis in the depths of winter for a reason, calculating that his leverage is maximized if he can threaten to turn off Russian fuel sales to Europe.
Russia provides about one-third of the gas and crude oil imported by the European Union. Last year Russia provided about 128 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe, according to industry estimates, and about a third of that flowed through a pipeline that runs through Ukraine. Russia has reduced that flow this winter, and its effort to open the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, connecting Siberia to Germany, would route fuel around Ukraine, and increase European dependency on Russian supply.
The initiative to get fuel from alternative sources flowing to Europe now, before a true crisis erupts, was described by Biden administration officials as a key element in assuring allies that they will be able to weather any cutoff of supply by Russia.
The theory is that, once they are reassured about energy supplies, European allies will be far more willing to sever Russian financial institutions from the international banking system, and to join in new export controls that would bar Russian manufacturers from receiving semiconductors and other key parts that are based on American designs.
“We expect to be prepared to ensure alternative supplies covering a significant majority of the potential shortfall,’’ a senior administration official told reporters in a call on Tuesday morning.
“If Russia decides to weaponize its supply of natural gas or crude oil,’’ the official added, “it wouldn’t be without consequences to the Russian economy. Remember, this is a one-dimensional economy, and that means it needs oil and gas revenues at least as much as Europe needs its energy supply.”
The official declined to say which countries were cooperating in the effort, but some of the sources are obvious, including Saudi Arabia. But the official, who declined to be identified under briefing rules set by the administration, said the effort involves boosting “a few cargoes of different suppliers,’’ and could involve sending shipments of liquid natural gas from the United States and other producers.
In the briefing, officials declined to say how much of Europe’s needs could be met by diverting fuel from other sources. And some of the plans sounded preliminary, in what has turned into something of a contest of psychological warfare between Russia and the West, with the Kremlin warning European nations to stay out of the conflict over Ukraine.
President Biden met with a range of European leaders for 80 minutes on Monday, trying to keep the alliance together as it warns Mr. Putin of “massive consequences” if he invades.
At a news conference last week, the president talked about the divisions inside Europe on what actions to take against Russia, depending on the kind of action taken against Ukraine. After acknowledging that there are differences over how to react to what he termed a “minor incursion,’’ he and other administration officials have hardened the U.S. stance, warning that any aggressive action over Ukraine’s border would bring about a coordinated allied response.