Seeking to hit Russian President Vladimir Putin and his partners where it hurts the most, President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday a new round of serious economic sanctions in retaliation for Russia recognizing two breakaway regions of Ukraine and sending troops there, adding to Western efforts to stop what they fear is the beginning of a full-scale invasion.
During a brief address at the White House, Biden pulled no punches in calling Russia’s actions the beginnings of an invasion of Ukraine, going beyond rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk to include areas firmly under Ukrainian government control.
“He’s setting up a rationale to take more territory by force, in my opinion,” Biden said. “This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as he indicated and asked permission to be able to do from his Duma.”
The measures target Russian banks and sovereign debt, among other steps — President Biden says they go “far beyond the steps we and our allies and partners implemented in 2014” after Russian forces occupied the Crimean peninsula.
The U.S. is blocking activity with two of Russia’s largest financial institutions, including VEB and the Russian military bank. Russia has also had its sovereign debt frozen, which Biden explained prevents the Russian government from obtaining Western financing or trading Russia’s debt on American or European markets.
Starting Wednesday, Biden noted, the U.S. will also impose sanctions on “Russian elites and their family members,” as these oligarchs have served to prop up Putin and support his incursion in the Ukraine.
Along with Germany, the U.S. has also halted approval on the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline indefinitely, cutting off a project that was to provide natural gas from Russia to the rest of Europe.
Biden vowed that additional rounds of economic sanctions would be forthcoming if Russia continues its aggression — but the American military is also moving to secure former members of the Soviet Union who are now a part of NATO from possible attack from Putin’s forces.
To that end, Biden announced that the U.S. will be sending American forces already assigned in Europe to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, each of whom is a NATO member.
“These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message that the US, together with our allies, will defend our NATO territory and abide by our commitments.”
One of the worst security crises in Europe in decades is unfolding after Putin authorized sending what he labeled “peacekeeping” troops to separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk after recognizing them as independent.
Weeks of intense diplomacy have so far failed as Moscow calls for security guarantees, including a promise that its neighbor Ukraine will never join NATO, while the United States and its allies offer Putin confidence-building and arms control steps.
Biden, however, said the United States and its NATO partners are firmly united against Putin’s aggression and will act to stop it.
“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbor?” Biden asked. “This is a flagrant violation of international law that demands a firm response from the international community.”
With reporting by Robert Pozarycki