The prospect of cutting Russia off from the international banking system is on the table as well as blocking its supply of crucial electrical components in a bid to force Moscow to change course.
A group of EU member states that border Russia have called for Nato to convene to consider a collective response, warning that Russia’s actions are a threat to them.
Some EU national leaders had wavered about imposing such sanctions for fear of the price that EU economies would also pay, and concerns over the continent’s reliance on imports of Russian gas at a time when costs are already high and supplies short.
But the strikes on targets in across the country including Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and advance of Russian troops over the borders is said to have hardened EU resolve and forged unity among the 27 as their ambassadors convened in Brussels to prepare a response early on Thursday.
“These are among the darkest hours for Europe since the end of World War Two. A major nuclear power has attacked a neighbour country, and is threatening reprisals on any other states that may come to its rescue,” the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said in a hastily-convened address.
“This is not only the greatest violation of international law, it’s a violation of the basic principles of human coexistence. It’s costing many lives, with unknown consequences ahead of us.
He vowed that the EU would “respond in the strongest possible terms” with “the strongest package, the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented”, and that Russia’s leadership would face “unprecedented isolation”.
“This is not a question of diplomatic power games, it’s a matter of life and death. It’s about the future of our global community and we will stand united,” he continued.
Beyond sanctions, some EU member states that are members of Nato have called talks to consider a military response.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, which all border Russia, were once ruled by Moscow and fall within the area to which Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country has a historical claim.
All agreed to hold talks under Nato’s Article 4 on Thursday, according to a statement from the Estonian government. Article 4 provides for joint Nato consultations and potentially a response if any of its members feel “the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened”. It has been used six times since 1949.
“Russia’s widespread aggression is a threat to the entire world and to all Nat0 countries,” Estonia’s prime minister Kaja Kallas said in a statement.
‘Bloodshed and destruction’
Boris Johnson has promised to respond decisively to what he described as Vladimir Putin’s choice of “a path of bloodshed and destruction” in Ukraine. Mr Johnson, who was woken up shortly after 4am with news of the Russian invasion, chaired an emergency Cobra meeting in Downing Street at 7.30am.
“I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskiy to discuss next steps. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The UK and our allies will respond decisively,” he said.
The British prime minister, who faced criticism for the weakness of sanctions he announced earlier this week, will unveil tougher measures later on Thursday. Labour leader Keir Starmer said Britain and Nato must respond decisively to Mr Putin’s actions, which he said would have “horrendous and tragic” consequences.
“There can be no space for equivocation when faced with the evil that Putin has unleashed. His actions pose a grave threat to the international order on which we all depend. There will be dark days ahead. But Putin will learn the same lesson as Europe’s tyrants of the last century: that the resolve of the world is harder than he imagines and the desire for liberty burns stronger than ever. The light will prevail,” he said.
“We must now match our rhetoric with action. We must urgently reinforce our Nato allies. The hardest possible sanctions must be taken against all those linked to Putin. The influence of Russian money must be extricated from the UK. And those who have for too long turned a blind eye to Russia’s actions must reckon with their own consciences.”
Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said that Britain and its allies should not be squeamish about imposing sanctions on Russia that will come at an economic cost to themselves. He said the cost of living crisis in western countries would get worse if Mr Putin is allowed to go unpunished for his action in Ukraine.
“The decisions made around Europe are absolutely going to shape the way Vladimir Putin sees this,” he told the BBC.
“The reality is that if we leave this to stand, if we let this pass, you can forget about petrol at £1.70 a litre, which is where it’s heading now. It will be significantly higher. 10 per cent of the world’s wheat is grown in Ukraine and the idea that this year’s going to be a good crop, I’m afraid, is for the birds. This is absolutely one of those moments where we’re going to see the cost-of-living crisis driven by war.”
“ France firmly condemns the Russian decision to invade Ukraine,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted. “Russia must put an end to its military operations immediately. France stands in solidarity with Ukraine. She is beside the Ukrainians and acts with her partners and allies for the war to end.”
Mr Macron will participate in a G7 videoconference on Thursday afternoon and then go to Brussels for the summit of EU leaders to decide on “massive” sanctions against Moscow. The ambassadors of all 30 Nato members are to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels this morning.