Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine, demanding wide-ranging guarantees from the West including a pledge its neighbour never be allowed to join NATO. Moscow has continued to deny any plans to attack Ukraine, but Western countries have been quick to threaten crippling economic sanctions if an invasion does take place. The US and Britain have started sending more arms to Ukraine, although Germany has come under attack for not following other Western countries in sending Kyiv lethal weapons to defend itself.
A number of sanctions from the West are on the table, including halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Europe, but that could trigger a gas supply crisis that has sent energy prices throughout the continent soaring.
Earlier this week, Germany said it will supply 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine to help defend against a possible Russian invasion – an offer Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko dismissed as “a joke” that left him “speechless”.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said Berlin was responding to a request for military equipment, specifically helmets.
Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron called on fellow EU member states to work together to draw up proposals for a new security deal with Russia involving a “frank dialogue” with Moscow.
Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy analyst and former aide to Margaret Thatcher, is furious at the reactions from Germany and France, warning Russian leader Mr Putin will now see them as “completely weak”.
He told Express.co.uk: “It strikes me that some NATO members, such as Germany, won’t lift a finger even to defend NATO territory.
“The Germans are in a terrible mode towards the Russians and won’t stand up to Putin.
“This makes the situation even more dangerous.
“Emmanuel Macron wants a security pact between the EU and Russia but this is horrifying to see all of this.
“This is exactly what Vladimir Putin wants to hear and he sees the Germans and French as completely weak and furious.”
Earlier this week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended his country’s record on supporting Ukraine, responding to anger of Berlin’s refusal to follow other Western countries in sending Kyiv lethal weapons to defend itself against a possible Russian invasion.
He told a joint news conference with Mr Macron: “We have done a great deal to actively support economic development and democratic development in Ukraine,” adding here were historical reasons for Germany’s refusal to send lethal weapons to war zones.
Mr Scholz insisted: “We feel responsible, for example, for ensuring that Ukraine remains a gas transit country.
“Ukraine knows it can rely on Germany.”
On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian insisted his country is working flat-out with its European partners and the US to find ways to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine
During a speech to the Senate, the upper chamber of France’s parliament, he said: “The Ukraine situation is very tense but we are taking all the necessary initiatives to trigger a de-escalation process.”
This came as officials from France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia met in Paris, before issuing a joint statement reaffirmed their commitment to uphold a ceasefire agreed in the so-called Minsk accords.
They said in a statement published on the website of the French presidency: “They support unconditional compliance with the ceasefire, regardless of differences on other issues related to the implementation of the Minsk agreements.”