EU prepares fresh sanctions on Russia as Moscow strengthens its forces in Ukraine

EU foreign ministers meet in New York to co-ordinate their response after Putin suggests his willingness to use nuclear weapons

The European Union is preparing fresh sanctions to increase economic pressure on Russia, following Moscow’s announcement that it would call up reservists to strengthen its forces in Ukraine.

In a statement to press, the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of “doubling down” on a “failing strategy”, and that it was a sign of “panic and desperation”.

“Putin’s threat to use ‘all weapon resources at our disposal’ – this was his sentence – implies the possibility of using weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. And such a threat is unacceptable,” Mr Borrell said.

“By the threat of using nuclear, he is trying to intimidate Ukraine and all countries that support Ukraine. But he will fail. He has failed and he will fail again.”

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The EU’s foreign ministers gathered for a snap meeting at the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly where they were gathered in New York to co-ordinate their response, after Mr Putin announced a “partial mobilisation” to call up more reservists and suggested he was willing to use nuclear weapons in his invasion of Ukraine.

The television address, which caused flash protests against mobilisation to break out in Russian cities, came after a shock Ukrainian counter-offensive drove Russian troops out of territory in the country’s north and east that had been seized in earlier months of the war.

“All he has left is scare tactics,” the Lithuanian foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, wrote in a tweet. “We must meet his threats with courage and resolve.”

In a joint statement, the EU declared: “The references to nuclear weapons do not shake our determination, resolve and unity to stand by Ukraine and our comprehensive support to Ukraine’s ability to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty as long as it takes.”

Mr Borrell said the EU would respond with “more” pressure on Russia, rather than backing down due to the threat.

“The recipe is more of the same... military support, economic and individual sanctions and diplomatic outreach to the rest of the world,” he said. “We must meet his threats with courage and resolve.”

In a statement following a meeting of the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the EU, the G7 group of major economies also issued a statement saying they were going to “pursue further targeted sanctions and are committed to sustained economic and political pressure on Russia”.

EU officials have already begun sounding out what potential new sanctions on Russia could win the agreement of all 27 member states.

Potential options for additional sanctions could include a cap on the price of Russian oil – a measure proposed by the G7 – sanctions on the luxury goods trade, such as diamonds, and additional sanctions on individuals.

However, any attempt to find consensus on further sanctions could run into the opposition of the Hungarian government.

Pro-government media in Hungary reported on Thursday that hardliner prime minister Viktor Orban had called for the scrapping of existing EU sanctions in a meeting with his Fidesz party, blaming the measures for the economic fallout of the war.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times