Vladimir Putin’s plans to order a partial mobilisation of reserved army forces to bolster the war in Ukraine and organise “sham referenda” in the country’s occupied territories are grounds for a new round of EU sanctions, Ursula von der Leyen has said.
Western leaders fear Putin will use the referenda as an excuse to claim Ukraine’s eastern and southern fronts as integral parts of Russia, mirroring the 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea.
At the same time, the Russian leader intends to bring up to 300,000 reserved forces into the Russian army through a decree of partial mobilisation, a move that experts see as a reaction to the lightning counteroffensive recently launched by Ukraine.
“President Putin is showing his weakness now because what you see is that he plans to mobilise personnel that is less trained, less experienced, less motivated. And he wants to start sham referendum on Ukrainian sovereign soil,” the European Commission president told CNN during her visit to New York City, where she attended the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly.
“So, I think this calls for sanctions from our part, again.”
After the interview with CNN, a spokesperson for von der Leyen shared a statement explaining the new penalties will focus on “individuals and entities” that support the invasion of Ukraine and on “additional export controls on civilian technology as Russia moves to a full war economy.”
The Commission has yet to provide further details.
Since 24 February, the EU has imposed six rounds of sanctions against Russia, together with complementary measures to increase their efficiency and a long list of blacklisted high-profile people and companies.
The sanctions include an embargo on oil and coal imports, an export ban on cutting-edge technology, severe restrictions on road and maritime transport, the expulsion of key Russian banks from the SWIFT system and the suspension of state-owned media outlets accused of spreading disinformation and pro-war propaganda.
But despite the radical measures, the war in Ukraine continues with no end in sight.
“The sanctions have been very successful,” von der Leyen said.
“If you look at the Russian economy, the industry is in tatters. We see that they have a really hard time to replenish their armed forces because the military complex has big difficulties, for example, with semiconductors [that] we’re not delivering anymore. The aerial float is basically grounded. So all these signs show that sanctions are really biting.”
Also in New York City was Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who on Wednesday convened an unscheduled meeting of the bloc’s foreign affairs ministers to discuss the latest developments.
Borrell denounced the “illegal referenda” and Putin’s veiled threats of using weapons of mass destruction while echoing von der Leyen’s call for fresh sanctions.
“It is clear that Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine. He is trying to destroy the whole country by different means since he is failing militarily,” Borrell said after the meeting.
“We found that it is quite cynical and shocking to hear such threats during the week in which here, at the United Nations, the world community works together in order to build peace and progress. And, specifically on the World Peace Day – this is the day chosen by Putin to announce this decision.”