June 18, 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during an event marking the 1160th anniversary of Russian statehood in the city of Veliky Novgorod, Russia, September 21, 2022. Sputnik/Ilya Pitalev/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The EU must take Vladimir Putin’s threats he could use nuclear weapons in the conflict in Ukraine seriously, the bloc’s foreign policy chief has said.

Josep Borrell told the BBC’s Lyse Doucet that the war had reached a “dangerous moment”.

His remarks come as Russia begins a partial mobilisation and moves to annex four regions of Ukraine.

Mr Putin has faced setbacks on the battlefield, with his forces pushed back by a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

“Certainly it’s a dangerous moment because the Russian army has been pushed into a corner, and Putin’s reaction – threatening to use nuclear arms – it’s very bad,” Mr Borrell said.

Seven months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, analysts agree that President Putin’s forces are on the back foot, but he said a “diplomatic solution” must be reached, one that “preserves the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

“Otherwise, we can finish the war, but we will not have peace, and we will have another war,” he said.

In a rare address to the nation earlier this week, Mr Putin said his country had “various weapons of destruction” and would “use all the means available to us”, adding: “I’m not bluffing.”

“When people say it is not a bluff, you have to take them seriously,” Mr Borrell said.

In the same speech, President Putin announced the call-up of 300,000 Russians who have done compulsory military service, sparking protests and reports of people fleeing the country to avoid being sent to the front line.

It comes after a rapid counter-offensive in which Ukraine says it took more than 8,000 sq km (3,088 sq miles) back from Russian forces.

Now self-styled referendums on joining Russia are being held in four occupied regions. Ukraine has denounced these as annexation attempts, and reported that armed Russian soldiers are going door-to-door collecting votes.