By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union is preparing several responses to any further moves by Russia to destabilise Ukraine, but the bloc does not know exactly what Moscow plans to do, an EU official said on Monday.
The official said U.S. talks with Russia were “not yielding a lot” but that dialogue with President Vladimir Putin was still open through the leaders of Germany and France.
They also said the EU was looking at alternative sources of energy should Russia cut sales to Europe. The bloc was preparing for refugee arrivals should Russia invade Ukraine, the official added.
“Russia is trying to demonstrate that it is the policeman in the region,” said the official, who spoke under condition of anonymity but has held phone calls with Putin in the past.
“The criticism by Moscow against Ukraine is this idea that the people (in Ukraine) made a choice for liberal democracy, values, principles and freedoms.”
The official said they thought Putin had an “obsession” with Ukraine, including with what Moscow says were guarantees in the 1990s that NATO would not expand eastwards. NATO and the United States deny any such promise was made.
Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, as well as in other former Soviet republics, were attempts to “undermine and destabilise” countries that aspired to closer links with the West than with the Kremlin, the official said.
“This is the attempt by Russia to demonstrate that the West is not reliable and that the values are not strong.”
Speaking a day after Washington said Russia could invade Ukraine at any time on a surprise pretext, the official said the harsher the EU sanctions against Russia would be in case of a military intervention, the bigger the hit for the bloc should Moscow retaliate.
While some in the EU want to impose strong sanctions to discourage Russia from any attack, others say that would amount to an escalation of tensions, the official said.
EU sanctions require unanimity and the bloc has long been split between those advocating more political engagement and doing business with Russia against those seeking a more hawkish stance.
The official said 40% of EU gas came from Russia and that the bloc was in talks with Norway and Qatar, among others, about increased energy supplies if needed.
The source said the EU was expecting to decide on further macroeconomic support for Ukraine and that Kyiv was seeking more political support, including on strengthening its relationship with the EU.
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops around Ukrainian borders in recent months but denies plans to invade. It demands what it says are security guarantees from the West.
After street protests deposed a Russia-allied former Ukraine president, Moscow annexed Crimea from Kyiv in 2014. It has since sided with rebels fighting government troops in eastern Ukraine, a conflict Kyiv says killed 15,000 people to date.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Marine Strauss and Angus MacSwan)