Macron and Scholz shamed as EU chiefs urged to stand up to Putin

Russia: Expert says Putin 'trying to trade options for himself'

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Ambassadors of European Union member states have been invited to a meeting of the bloc’s crisis response working group on Monday to discuss concerns about an escalation of the war in Ukraine. The talks will also touch upon the ongoing referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine aimed at annexing territory to Russia, and on how the EU aims to handle scores of Russian men trying to enter the bloc to escape a partial mobilisation ordered last week, EU officials have said.

The referendums in four eastern Ukrainian regions, which Kyiv and the West regard as a sham, entered a fourth day on Monday, after the United States warned of “catastrophic consequences” if Moscow used nuclear weapons to protect any annexed regions.

The warning followed Wednesday’s thinly veiled nuclear threat by President Putin, who said Moscow would use any weapons to defend its territory.

But despite the EU’s proactive attempt to react to Putin’s threats, two major European leaders are failing to step up against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to John R. Deni, research professor at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are “stalling” in the face of Putin’s escalation.

Writing in an op-ed for Politico, he said: “The Franco-German engine has powered the European Union for over 70 years. Today, however, that engine has stalled in the face of the greatest challenge confronting European security since the end of World War II.

“The Continent’s most powerful economy and its most powerful military are failing to meet the moment. And, unfortunately, odds that either will change course within the timeframe necessary to help Kyiv achieve its objectives are low.”

He added: “Since those early days [of the war], though, the actions of Europe’s political dynamic duo have failed to match their own rhetoric. Germany has been dragging its feet on sending the kinds of military equipment other allies have been providing Ukraine for months.

“After promising to deliver multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled howitzers and air defence systems, the glacial pace of delivery has cast doubt on Berlin’s commitment. Moreover, Germany’s sheer unwillingness to send heavy armoured forces — like tanks and infantry fighting vehicles — has prompted criticism from Ukrainian leaders, who accuse Berlin of backtracking.

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“Meanwhile, France has been wilfully curtailing its assistance in hopes of playing the role of neutral arbiter when the shooting stops. Macron irreparably damaged his claim to European leadership when he called on Ukraine to avoid humiliating Putin, and from an operational perspective, while the country has provided offensive weapons to Ukraine, it has reportedly sent less than even Germany, and trained an extraordinarily small number of Ukrainian troops compared to others like the United Kingdom.”

Responding to Putin’s threats, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he doesn’t think the Russian leader is bluffing when he says Moscow would be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.

“Look, maybe yesterday it was bluff. Now, it could be a reality,” Mr Zelensky, who had previously played down such warnings as nuclear blackmail, told CBS News on Sunday.

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He added: “I don’t think he’s bluffing.”

The Ukrainian president said Russian strikes on or near two Ukrainian nuclear plants could be considered “contemporary use of nuclear weapons or nuclear blackmail”.

Kyiv accuses Moscow of repeatedly shelling the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during the war in Ukraine, and more recently conducting a missile strike near the Pivdennoukrainska nuclear plant.

Moscow denies shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant, accusing Kyiv of being responsible. It did not comment on the Pivdennoukrainska strike.

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