EU Plans To Send Weapons To Ukraine After Putin Escalates Nuclear Threat
Volunteers are preparing to join the fight against the Russian invasion, but have called for further weapons and aid
The European Union has announced it will begin shipping weapons to Ukraine after President Putin ordered nuclear forces to increase readinesss.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the decision was a "watershed moment" and marked the first time they had provided weapons to a country under attack.
The statement follows Russian President Putin's claim that he had taken the step to put the country's nuclear deterrent forces on "special combat duty" because of the economic sanctions and "aggressive statement" by leaders of Nato countries.
"As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension – illegitimate sanctions that everyone knows about, – but also the highest-ranking officials of leading Nato countries are allowing themselves to make aggressive statements in relation to our country," Putin said in a statement on Russian TV.
"For this reason I order the minister of defence and the chief of general staff to put deterrent forces on special combat duty."
Following Putin's statement on Sunday, von der Leyen said the EU "steps up once more its support for Ukraine", including sanctions against Putin, and by sending arms to Ukraine.
"For the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack," she said.
Putin's comments have provoked a wave of criticism from Western leaders, with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nation's saying it was a further escalation by the Russian leader.
"President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable," she said. "And we have to continue to condemn his actions in the most strong, strongest possible way."
Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg said the threat was "dangerous rhetoric".
"Of course, if you combine this rhetoric with what they're doing on the ground in Ukraine, waging war against the independent sovereign nation, conducting full fledged invasion of Ukraine, this adds to the seriousness of the situation," he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the threat was a "pattern" which they were going to "stand up to".
"We've seen him do this time and time again. At no point has Russia been under threat from Nato, has Russia been under threat from Ukraine," she said.
"This is all a pattern from President Putin and we're going to stand up to it.
"We have the ability to defend ourselves, but we also need to call out what we're seeing here from President Putin."
Putin had already made veiled threats around the use of nuclear weapons if western countries "interfered" with the invasion.
"To anyone who would consider interfering from outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history," he said. "All the relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me."
Russia and Ukraine have agreed to take part in negotiations on the Belarusian border, despite both sides expressing doubt that they will reach any agreement to end hostilities.
Ukrainian forces had initially rejected the prospect of talks near Belarus, from where Russia have amassed troops used in the invasion of Ukraine.
But in a statement released by the office of the Ukranian President, they said envoys would meet Russian diplomats "without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River".
Russia is facing further economic consequences as a wave of sanctions are set to come into force and companies cut links with Putin's regime.
On Sunday oil giant BP announced it would exit its 20% stake in the Russian oil firm Rosneft. BP's chief executive Bernard Looney would resign from the Russian firm's board with immediate effect.
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