The war in Ukraine offered a tale of two stories this week — while the military situation on the ground remained stable, the larger diplomatic standoff between Russia and the West escalated a notch or two.
As the EU prepared a sixth round of sanctions, Russia followed through on its threat to cut energy supplies to Europe and stopped gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria.
The EU Commission condemned this move as “provocation” and “blackmail”.
“The latest aggressive move from Russia is another very stark reminder that we need to work with reliable partners and build our energy independence,” Ursula von der Leyen, EU Commission President said.
The decision by Russia’s state gas company Gazprom followed days of increasingly heated rhetoric.
After Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had mused about significant risks of nuclear exchanges, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a fresh warning to Ukraine’s western allies.
“If anyone sets out to intervene in the current events from the outside and creates unacceptable threats for us that are strategic in nature, they should know that our response will be lightning-fast,” Putin said.
Putin’s remarks reveal some frustration that the Russian invasion seems to be bogged down and accompanied by unexpectedly high losses.
On the other hand, the Biden administration has marshaled 40 global allies to furnish long-term military aid to Ukraine.
Among them was Germany, whose government produced another major policy shift and agreed to send tanks to Ukraine.
But Washington did more: while in Europe this week, defense secretary Lloyd Austin announced a shift in messaging:
“We would like to make sure, again, that they (Russia) don`t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we that we saw at the outset of this of this conflict,” Austin said.
Brussels also said this week that it is willing to launch legal action against EU countries that allow their energy companies to pay for Russian gas in roubles, violating EU sanctions.
“It’s a relatively complex setting,” European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis told Euronews on Thursday afternoon.
“So on the one hand, it’s member states which are monitoring the implementation of sanctions by concrete companies in their territory. But on the other hand, as European Commission, we are monitoring whether member states are actually enforcing sanctions,”
“If we see that this is not the case, there is also a possibility for the European Commission to start infringement procedures in this regard,” he warned.
The vice-president’s comments come a day after Russia’s state-controlled energy multinational Gazprom decided to cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria.