Angry Putin is pursuing energy, nuclear threats to the West

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday cut off natural gas supplies to two major NATO nations, Poland and Bulgaria, and threatened a “lightning-fast” military response against anyone involved in Russia’s attack on Ukraine, pushing the fallout from the already devastating war. deeper into Europe and threatens to accelerate a global energy crisis.

The double action from the Kremlin comes as the Russian military offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region remains largely locked in the middle of continued logistical fighting and greater losses than expected, US officials said. The erroneous campaign has revealed underlying weaknesses inside Russia’s allegedly groundbreaking war machine, damaged Moscow’s military credibility around the world and promoted hopes in the West that Mr Putin’s Ukraine gambit will fail spectacularly.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed this hope over the weekend, telling journalists in Poland that the West wants to “see Russia weakened to such an extent” that it will not be able to launch another Ukraine-like invasion within a foreseeable future.

Sir. Putin, who is clearly angry at such comments, appears determined to escalate the crisis beyond Ukraine.

His decision to cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria – allegedly because the countries refused a demand to change the purchase contract and pay in rubles – confirms Western fears that the Kremlin is willing to use energy as a weapon of war. European leaders called the move “blackmail” and said it would only accelerate Europe’s movement away from a strong current dependence on Russian fuel.

But Mr Putin’s threats went far beyond energy. When the Russian leader spoke to lawmakers in St. Petersburg. Petersburg, the Russian leader seemed to suggest the use of nuclear weapons against any nation directly intervening in the war between Russia and Ukraine, and there is little doubt that such warnings were directed directly at Washington.

SEE ALSO: Russia cuts off gas supply to Poland, Bulgaria

“If anyone sets out to intervene in current events from the outside and poses unacceptable threats to us that are of a strategic nature, they should know that our response … will be lightning fast,” Mr Putin said in English. media translations of his remarks. “We have all the tools for this that no one else can boast of having. We will not brag about it. We use them if necessary. And I want everyone to know that. “

A number of Mr Putin’s advisers, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have issued the same widely worded threats in recent days, even as the United States and Allied weapons flood into Ukraine.

Mr. Putin also said that Russia “has already made all the decisions on this”, suggesting that the Kremlin has discussed how and under what circumstances the Russian military would react to Western enemies.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Europe was forced to contend with the growing likelihood that Mr Putin will choose to cut off energy supplies to any nation that helps Ukraine in any way, including those that supply weapons, vehicles and logistical support to the Ukrainian military. . Poland, for example, has been at the forefront of Western aid and has served as a central hub for the relocation of supplies and weapons across the border into Ukraine. It has also provided a sanctuary for more Ukrainian refugees than any other country since the February 24 invasion began.

Gas prices rose across Europe amid news of the gas outage. Russian officials seemed to warn that other nations will face the same fate if they refuse to pay for their fuel in rubles, the Russian currency that has taken a huge hit over the past many months amid NATO’s massive economic sanctions against Moscow.

Despite the short-term economic strain, European leaders stood firm.

SEE ALSO: Ukrainian lawmaker seeks help from US arms community to arm Ukrainian civilians

“We will not succumb to such a Bulgarian,” said Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the move was Russia’s attempt to use “fossil fuels to try to blackmail us”, but that such a strategy would fail.

“Today, the Kremlin failed once again in this attempt to sow division between member states. The era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe is coming to an end,” she said.

Changing landscape

On the battlefield, Russian forces captured several small towns in eastern Ukraine, but have failed to make significant breakthroughs since diverting most of their military power away from the Ukrainian capital Kiev and toward the divided Donbas region. Ukrainian forces in the devastated city of Mariupol still refused to surrender on Wednesday, depriving Russia of a crucial land bridge from the Donbas to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia forcibly annexed in 2014.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, fresh from a visit to Mr Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, was in Kiev on Wednesday to speak with the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Establishment of humanitarian “corridors” for Ukrainian civilians captured by the fighting in the south and east was a focus of the visit, UN officials said.

And two U.S. military veterans who volunteered to fight with Ukrainian forces against the Russian invaders were reportedly wounded by artillery fire near the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region. U.S. Army veterans Manus McCaffrey and Paul Gray had helped target Russian tanks when they were wounded, journalist Nolan Peterson reported on Twitter.

With the war now in its third month, both Russia and Ukraine are forced to deal with rapidly changing attitudes abroad to the conflict. For example, DJI Technology Co., the Chinese manufacturer that claims a massive share of the global commercial drone market, said on Wednesday that it is suspending sales to both Russia and Ukraine.

Many Chinese manufacturers and financial companies continue to do business in Russia, even though Western companies are withdrawing and announcing a boycott. But China’s two-way trade with Russia is overshadowed by the volume of trade with both the United States and the European Union.

A DJI spokesman told Reuters news agency that the decision to suspend sales to both countries was not intended as a political statement.

“DJI detests any use of our drones to cause harm and we are temporarily suspending sales in these countries to ensure no one uses our drones in combat,” the spokesman said.

International aid has been the key to the success of Ukrainian forces so far against the Russian invaders. Perhaps most important have been U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles that have proven remarkably effective in destroying Russian armored columns.

The White House announced Wednesday that President Biden will visit a Lockheed Martin Javelin anti-tank missile plant in Alabama next week, a symbolic move that comes as some lawmakers warn that the United States is too quickly depleting its own stockpile of Javelins.

U.S. supply has fallen about 33% since Russia invaded, and lawmakers have pressured Mr. Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase the production of Javelins.

While the United States has facilitated the relatively rapid relocation of spears to Ukraine, some Ukrainian officials say Washington and its allies are not moving fast enough to procure other desperately needed equipment.

Maryan Zablotsky, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, told the Washington Times on Wednesday that U.S. export laws have prevented the supply of body armor that can protect individuals from ammunition fired from high-caliber firearms such as the Kalashnikovs.

“Unfortunately, US legislation is very complex and it treats everything that has to do with the war effort as something deadly. So the problems we have had, even though some Ukrainians ordered the purchase of various bulletproof vests, they still require an export license,” he said. he and added that prior to obtaining the license, a special registration is also required.

“So the Ukrainians’ experience of buying bulletproof vests from the United States has been relatively bad,” he said, noting that many have told him that most of the vests have been stuck on the border.

– David R. Sands, Jeff Mordock, and Kerry Picket contributed to this article, which is based in part on wiring service reports.

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