The Irish Times view on the West’s response to Ukraine: keeping up the pressure

Western leaders sent a clear signal to Vladimir Putin that Nato military intervention is not ruled out in all circumstances

The message of the three Brussels summits – of Nato, the G7 and the EU – this week was of solidarity with Ukraine and a shared determination to make Russia pay heavily for its invasion.

The disagreements, notably on how to ratchet up energy sanctions, were not about objectives but how best to increase the pressure. Germany and other states were concerned that oil and gas embargos could do as much damage to their economies as to Russia. Berlin has nevertheless made impressive commitments to reducing its reliance and yesterday pledged to cut oil imports from Russia in half by mid-year. Russian coal should not play a role in its energy mix at all anymore by the autumn, while its dependence on Russian gas will be cut entirely by 2024.

Sanctions are having an effect. Russia is already hurting: supply shortages have seen panic-hoarding and dramatic price hikes for many staples, many jobs are threatened, and there are massive queues. The stock market and the rouble have fallen sharply. To date more than 13,000 people have been arrested in anti-war protests.

More can and will be done. Other measures were agreed by leaders, including stepped up sanctions against individuals and business, squeezing exports, more humanitarian assistance, and an increase in the flow of weapons. They gave a commitment to create a “Ukraine Solidarity Trust Fund” for the reconstruction of a democratic Ukraine.

The strong appeal by Ukraine's president Volodimyr Zelenskiy in his speech to the EU summit for a more explicit commitment to EU membership was met, however, by a more ambiguous response. He name-checked supporters among the member states, with Ireland specifically cited as a "well, almost". Ireland had been one of the early supporters of membership but is understood to be reluctant to give carte blanche to a fast track membership that would dispense with the traditional lengthy alignment process between applicants and the union.

EU membership, and the political and military guarantees that will go with it, is almost certain to feature in eventual peace negotiations. The union must be unambiguous about its willingness to take Ukraine in.

The Nato leaders also made clear again their unwillingness to go beyond the supply of military hardware and the impossibility of imposing a no-fly zone without escalating the war. But a number of leaders gave historically unprecedented, deliberately ambiguous pledges that, as Joe Biden put it, a chemical or battlefield nuclear attack on Ukraine would be met "in kind". That does not mean with chemical or nuclear weapons, but is a clear signal to Putin that he should take seriously that Nato military intervention is not ruled out.