Russia is set to annex nearly 15% of Ukraine within days as Vladimir Putin hardens his response to the recent advances made by the Ukrainian military. He has already ordered a military mobilization of 300,000 additional troops, threatened to defend Russia with nukes if necessary, and turned off the taps (and possibly sabotaged) the Nord Stream pipeline system that carries natural gas to Europe. Tallies from recent referendums held in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions supported joining Russia, according to the Kremlin, though Kyiv and the West have dismissed the results as coercive, rigged and illegal.
The fears: "As for the risk of Russia using these votes and subsequent annexation of those territories as a pretext for nuclear strikes - we are conscious of this risk, we understand that it is real," said Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
As a result, the EU is working on a fresh sanctions package that would set price caps on Russian oil - and ban the import of other products - costing Moscow a total of €7B per year. The bill would additionally bar the sale of key technologies that could benefit Russia's military, prohibit EU nationals from serving on the boards of Russian state-owned enterprises, and restrict the transfer of Russian wealth via crypto assets and services. Senior Russian ministry officials and individuals (involved with the latest referendums) would also be in the crosshairs of the package.
Go deeper: For the new EU sanctions to go into effect, the bloc's 27 members will need to overcome recent tensions to unanimously approve them, while the United States may also jump aboard. "We will continue to work with allies and partners to bring even more pressure on Russia and the individuals and entities that are helping support its attempted land grab," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.