Putin is desperate and needs to understand that if he goes for the nuclear option, Russia will cease to exist. Following Russia's dramatic decision last week to cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, the West and its allies must give serious consideration to upgrading the level of military support they provide to Ukraine. Pictured: The compressor gas station, in Wloclawek, Poland, of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, which carries gas from Russia's Yamal Peninsula field, supplying 40% of Europe's gas. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)
The best way for the West to respond to Russia's blatant attempt to blackmail Europe into dropping its support for Ukraine is to provide the Ukrainian forces with the military hardware they need to win the war.
To date, most of the military support provided by Nato countries has consisted mainly of defensive weapons, such as anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
The only serious attempt to provide Ukraine with sophisticated weaponry came from Poland in the early stages of the conflict, when Warsaw proposed providing Kyiv with 70 Soviet-era Mig-29 Russian warplanes which were still in service in Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia.
The deal was said to be so well-advanced that Ukrainian pilots had even travelled to Poland to wrap up the deal and bring the planes back over the border.
But the proposal was ultimately scuppered by the Biden administration which, fearing the delivery could broaden the conflict into a direct confrontation between Russia and Nato, withdrew its support. "We do not support the transfer of the fighters to the Ukrainian air force at this time," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters in early March, effectively killing the deal.
The Pentagon's dismissal of the deal came after US secretary of State Antony Blinken had earlier stated during an interview on CBS "Face the Nation" that Poland had a "green light" to send the warplanes.
If the contradictory messages from the Pentagon and the State Department have illustrated the deep confusion at the heart of the Biden administration about how to respond to the Ukraine crisis, it has done little to help the Ukrainian military in its desperate battle against Moscow's superior firepower.
The reason, of course, that Biden is reluctant to approve the sale of military hardware to Kyiv is that his administration has been bullied into submission by Putin's threats concerning Russia's powerful nuclear arsenal. In reality, the Russian leader's constant reference to his nuclear weapons is nothing more than a bluff, a sign of his own weakness now that it is clear his Ukraine invasion plan has become an unmitigated disaster. Furthermore, the Biden administration needs to learn that it cannot back down every time a rogue nation, whether it is Russia or Iran, uses the nuclear issue to threaten the West.
Consequently, Washington should ignore Putin's empty threats and, following Russia's dramatic decision last week to cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, should give serious consideration to upgrading the level of military support it provides to Ukraine.
Russia says it cut gas supplies to the two east European states because they refused to agree to the Kremlin's demand that payments are made in roubles, the Russian national currency.
The real reason, though, is that Russia is trying to blackmail Poland and Bulgaria, which have become high profile supporters of the Ukrainian war effort, to end their support for Kyiv.
The Russian action has inevitably raised fears that Moscow will seek to use energy blackmail against the rest of Europe if it continues to provide backing to Ukraine. As Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in response to the action taken against Poland and Bulgaria, Russia was "beginning the gas blackmail of Europe".
"Russia is trying to shatter the unity of our allies. Russia is also proving that energy resources are a weapon. That is why the EU needs to be united and impose an embargo on energy resources, depriving the Russians of their energy weapons."
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also denounced Russia for using gas "as an instrument of blackmail".
"This is unjustified and unacceptable," she said in a statement following the decision to cut supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. "And it shows once again the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier."
It is also an excellent time for the European Union finally to green-light the EastMed gas pipeline, in the works for years, but also scuppered by the Biden administration in capitulation to Turkey. The EastMed, however, remains an ideal solution to diversify the supply of gas to Europe and only awaits the European Union's approval.
Russia's action certainly represents a significant escalation in its confrontation with the West over Ukraine. The best way for the West to respond, therefore, is not to concede to the Russian demands to scale down its support for Kyiv.
It is to do the opposite, and provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs not just to defend itself against Russian aggression, but to go on the offensive and win the war. Putin is desperate and needs to understand that if he goes for the nuclear option, Russia will cease to exist.
Time and again, since the conflict began in February, Western leaders from US President Joe Biden to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have shied away from providing military hardware to Ukraine for fear of provoking a broader conflict with Moscow.
With the conflict now entering its third month, and Mr Putin showing no inclination to stop his barbaric assault on the people of Ukraine, it is clear this policy of appeasement has failed.
Consequently, the West should now concentrate its efforts on providing Ukraine's forces with the military equipment they require not only to defend their country from Russian aggression, but to defeat the Russians and liberate their country from Mr Putin's tyranny.
As a top priority, the Biden administration must therefore reverse its decision to block the transfer of 70 MiG fighters to Ukraine. Supplying Ukraine with extra warplanes, together with tanks and other military hardware, is essential if Kyiv is to have any chance of inflicting a serious defeat against Russia.
There certainly appears to be mounting support in Europe to provide Ukraine with such weapons, with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss last week calling for Kyiv to be given warplanes and other heavy armour.
Such a change in policy is certainly in the West's long-term interests. If the Ukrainian forces can achieve victory over their Russian invaders, it will act as a strong deterrent to Mr Putin not to launch any more unprovoked attacks on European soil, as well as to other potential aggressors waiting in the wings.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.