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EU plans new sanctions after Putin’s nuclear escalation threat

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Europe is drawing up plans to hit Russia with new sanctions amid demands for a quick response after Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons in his war against Ukraine.

The Russian dictator announced a major escalation on Wednesday, including the mobilization of 300,000 Russian reservists and a warning that he will use “all resources” at his disposal to win. “This is not a bluff,” Putin said.

Condemnation among the Western Allies was immediate. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Putin’s plan a sign of “desperation”, while French President Emmanuel Macron said the Russian leader was making “a new mistake”. Speaking at the UN in New York, US President Joe Biden said Putin’s threats should “make his blood run cold”.

“Well, Putin is showing his weakness now, because what you see is that he plans to mobilize less trained, less experienced, less motivated personnel. And he wants to start a referendum on the sovereign soil of Ukraine, ”said the president of the European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen told CNN in an interview Wednesday. “I think this requires sanctions from our side again.”

Behind the scenes in Brussels, European Commission officials were already quietly working on proposals for a new sanctions package against Moscow. Putin’s intervention on Wednesday reinforced calls for further action.

“Putin wants us to be afraid, he wants us to fragment our unity as we think about nuclear power,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said. “The most important thing is to communicate by doing. We need to increase arms aid to Ukraine immediately. We need to increase sanctions immediately.”

Four diplomats said the European Commission was ready to share its sanctions plan with EU countries from Friday. Measures being considered include capping the price of Russian oil, as proposed by the G7, listing more people with ties to the Kremlin, and a new campaign against trade in luxury goods with Russia.

Putin’s war has been winding down in recent weeks after a Ukrainian counteroffensive proved surprisingly effective. Armed with precision weapons from Western allies, Ukrainian forces recaptured swaths of territory in the north of the country. That left Putin facing humiliation, and Western allies believe this is what prompted his decision to escalate Wednesday’s speech.

The response of Western military leaders was a show of collective calm. Biden’s national security council spokesman said there was no need to change the policy yet.

A Western European diplomat put it this way: “Mobilization is a sign of weakness. I don’t expect a qualitative change in the Western response; we will continue to support Ukraine.”

“This speech was designed to have an impact that it shouldn’t,” said Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks.

“Nothing must change in the Western response,” he told POLITICO in a phone interview, adding that support for Ukraine must continue.

Military analysts agreed: “I don’t think it will, and I don’t think it should change support for Ukraine,” said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a senior fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

No change

Officials noted that Russia’s messages do not necessarily reflect reality.

“So far we haven’t seen any change in nuclear posture, nuclear readiness,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters. Russia’s mobilization effort, according to the NATO chief, “will take time.”

However, it is unclear whether Putin’s speech will influence the types of weapons systems Western allies are willing to deliver to Ukraine.

“I still think there will be some reluctance, with the Ukrainian military doing as well as it is now, to scale,” said Seth G. Jones, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

There will likely be provision to continue providing weapons, training and intelligence “for the foreseeable future,” according to Jones.

But, he said, “it is not clear at this point to what extent NATO countries will be willing to provide more sophisticated types of weapons systems.”

Ryan Heath, Clea Caulcutt and Suzanne Lynch contributed reporting from New York. Leonie Kijewski and Stuart Lau contributed reporting from Brussels.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article was wrong when Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of Russia’s reservists. This happened on Wednesday.

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