Three EU leaders urge calm over Putin's nuclear rhetoric

European Union flags flutter outside the European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

BRUSSELS, Sept 21 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin's latest steps in Russia's war against Ukraine show his panic and the European Union will continue supporting Kyiv, three of the bloc's leaders said on Wednesday.

The Belgian and Dutch prime ministers and the chairman of all the EU's 27 national leaders spoke after Putin mobilised more troops for Ukraine, backed a plan to annex swathes of the country and issued a nuclear threat to the West. read more

"It is all a sign of panic. His rhetoric on nuclear weapons is something we have heard many times before, and it leaves us cold," said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. "It is all part of the rhetoric we know. I would advise to remain calm."

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His Belgian peer, Alexander de Croo, also urged a calm response between not provoking Russia, and supporting Ukraine.

"We must not add fuel to the fire," he said." We must be clear in our position and continue to support Ukraine."

The EU leaders' chairman, European Council President Charles Michel, said the bloc would not be scared away from supporting Ukraine.

"In this war, there is only one aggressor, Russia, and one aggressed country, Ukraine. EU's support to #Ukraine will remain steadfast," he said.

'RECKLESS'

While there have been no immediate comments from the leaders of Germany or France, the EU's executive European Commission said Putin's "reckless" nuclear gamble had to stop.

"Putin is doing a nuclear gamble. He's using the nuclear element as part of his arsenal of terror, it's unacceptable," said a foreign policy spokesman for the European Commission, Peter Stano.

Stano said there would be "consequences from our part" but declined to announce any new sanctions against Russia. He said "sham, illegal referenda" that Moscow backed in Ukrainian regions it occupies would not be recognised.

"This is just another proof that Putin is not interested in peace, that he's interested in escalating this war of aggression," he told a regular news briefing. "This is also yet another sign of his desperation."

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Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Marine Strauss, Bart Meijer, John Chalmers, Editing by William Maclean

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