The Europeans were also reluctant to ship lethal weapons to the Ukrainian military, even those classified as defensive. Fearing a backlash at home, Germany and its neighbors have limited themselves to sending protective equipment such as helmets or bulletproof vests.

But their resolve quickly grew stronger with the start of the war. Shortly before Germany, the Netherlands offered Ukraine Stinger missiles and other weapons. Last Saturday, the European Union set up a nearly $500 million fund for members to send in weapons. It was the first time the bloc had jointly purchased lethal weapons to arm another country’s military under the EU banner – another Rubicon crossed.

“I can’t remember a time when the target of Western sanctions was so economically integrated into the West,” said Tom Keatinge, senior fellow at the British Royal United Services Institute, a research group in London. Punishing Russia, he said, has become an imperative for world leaders and everyday consumers. “It became, ‘What are you going to sacrifice for Ukraine, man in the street?'”

Countries geographically closer to Russia, such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the Netherlands – backed by the United States and Canada – pushed for a single, huge set of sanctions that would genuinely hurt Mr Putin, according to European officials who took part in the talks.

In particular, these countries were pushing to personally penalize Mr. Putin and his Foreign Minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, and to suspend Russian banks from SWIFT, a kind of financial nuclear option which had then become a rallying cry for the protesters in the streets. of Europe and on social networks. But SWIFT was still banned for Germans, several officials said.

It was before dinner on February 24, the evening after the invasion began, when the image of Mr. Zelensky flashed on a video screen. European leaders were meeting in the greatest secrecy, without advisers or electronic devices. Dressed in suits and ties, they sat in the comfort of a high-tech conference room in Brussels. Mr. Zelensky appeared to be in a bunker somewhere in Kiev, wearing his now famous military green T-shirt. The contrast didn’t escape anyone in the room.