Donald Tusk, who has fought against Russian dominance since his student days in Gdansk, has been pushing the prime ministers of the EU to take a tough stance against president Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, told a special summit in Brussels at the weekend, that they were now very close to the point of no return.
“We are very close to the point of no return which is full scale war and which has already happened in the territory of the separatists, which was action by Russian troops. Any point of defensive action would be a point of no return,” he told journalists after addressing the summit.
One of the EU’s big concerns is that Russia will switch off the gas supply to Ukraine and to several other EU countries either completely or partly dependent on it for their energy, including Germany.
However, Mr Poreshenko put this in context when he said they were doing their best to put by sufficient supplies before the winter arrives but added: “If there is peace, there will be gas… But if the situation gets worse gas will not be the most important question.”
The Russian economy is already faltering under sanctions that range from asset and travel freezes on oligarchs and advisers close to Mr Putin to a ban on investments and loans to major state institutions including banks.
However, when Mr Putin opened up a third front by sending thousands of troops and military equipment across the border into Ukraine last week, he sent shock waves across EU capitals.
Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president, said Russia’s actions in Ukraine meant that “practically, Russia is in a state of war against Europe”. Lithuania and other countries that share a border with Russia, including Finland, fear Mr Putin will extend his operations into their territory
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has been reticent about moving too far too fast against Moscow because of energy and her country’s massive investments there, decided it was time the gloves came off.
The leaders agreed to have, within seven days, a new list of economic sanctions designed to pull the noose tighter against more individuals and enterprises.
The EU has already pledged or given €850m in aid to Ukraine and agreed to €1bn in loans. However, military aid will be left to Nato to decide when they have a summit in Newport, Wales, this week.
Donald Tusk, a 57-year-old history graduate and former journalist, was born in Gdansk and worked for Solidarity, the movement that ultimately saw his country break free from the USSR.
A carpenter and nurse’s son, he is a Kashubian, a Slavic people with their own language who arrived in Poland before the Poles and who live mainly on the Baltic Gdansk region.
He helped found the Liberal Democratic Congress party with policies similar to those he has followed during his past seven years heading his Civic Platform party and the Polish government — free market economy, privatisation, and European integration.
He has followed his country’s traditional pro-USA stance — this has seen the Human Rights court of the Council of Europe condemn Poland for knowingly allowing the US to hold kidnapped terror suspects in a secret jail in the country.
He is said to be liked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and rumours he was learning English fuelled the rumours. His name had all but disappeared for the summit in mid July. The actions of Russia in Ukraine appeared to have changed all that.
Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday called for immediate talks on “statehood” for southern and eastern Ukraine, although his spokesman said this did not mean Moscow now endorsed rebel calls for independence for territory they have seized.
The Kremlin leader’s remarks, which follow a feisty public appearance in which he compared the Kiev government to Nazis and warned the West not to “mess with us”, came with Europe and the US preparing new sanctions to halt what they say is direct Russian military involvement in the war in Ukraine.
Yesterday, Ukrainian troops and residents were reinforcing the port of Mariupol, the next big city in the path of fighters.
Ukraine and Russia swapped soldiers who had entered each other’s territory near the battlefield, where Kiev says Moscow’s forces have come to the aid of pro-Russian insurgents, tipping the balance in the rebels’ favour.
Talks should be held immediately “and not just on technical issues but on the political organisation of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine”, said Putin. Moscow, for its part, he said, could not stand aside while people were being shot “almost at point blank”.