As expected, President Joe Biden unveiled on Thursday even more severe economic sanctions against Russia hours after Vladimir Putin unleashed his armies on Ukraine.
“Putin is the aggressor,” Biden said during a press conference in the White House’s East Room on Feb. 24. “Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
Russian troops began their invasion of Ukraine early Thursday morning local time, hitting the sovereign nation from three different sides with a barrage of tanks, artillery and missiles. Though Putin called it a “special military operation” to protect the breakaway Donbass region over baseless claims of genocide there, the United States and its allies say it appears Putin’s looking to topple the democratic Ukrainian government and impose an autocracy more friendly to him.
“This is a pre-mediated attack. Putin has been planning this for months,” Biden said. “He rejected every good faith effort the United States and our partners made to address our mutual security concerns through dialogue, to avoid needless conflict and avert human suffering. For weeks, we have been warning that this would happen, and now, it’s unfolding largely as we predicted.”
The invasion happened days after Biden and other Western leaders slapped Putin and Russia with various economic sanctions Tuesday over Putin’s recognition of two areas of the Donbass as separate republics. Those sanctions include freezing the assets of two major banks, prohibiting Russia from financing its debt in Western markets, suspending the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, and targeting the assets of oligarchs supportive of Putin.
The new sanctions announced Thursday further limits Russia’s ability to conduct business with the U.S., Japan and European Union nations, while also cutting off exports of high-tech items Russia requires not only to develop their own war machine, but also maintain and modernize their infrastructure.
The United States is also sanctioning four more major Russian banks that control more than a trillion dollars in assets , and has cut off Russia’s largest bank, which holds more than one-third of all Russian banking assets in the west.
Russia’s largest state-owned enterprises, with assets exceeding $1.4 trillion, are also being frozen, Biden said. And the United States and its G7 partners will be adding more names of Russian elites and their family members for further sanctions — putting an even tighter economic stranglehold upon Putin’s oligarchy.
“These are people who personally gained from the Kremlin’s policies, and they should share in the pain,” Biden noted.
The United States and NATO are providing more than $650 million in defensive assistance to Ukraine. NATO will convene a summit Friday to map out additional steps to protect its members on the eastern front; Biden said the U.S. is moving additional troops already stationed in Europe into the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as in Poland and Romania, which directly border Ukraine.
“Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the east,” Biden said, again ruling out military intervention in the conflict with Russia, which has one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world.
The U.S. is also prepared to respond to any potential cyberattacks by Russia upon American infrastructure, he noted.
The president said he’s also working to ensure the costs of Russian sanctions do not come back to hurt the American consumer. With oil prices skyrocketing since the invasion started, the Biden administration is working on efforts to keep the energy costs down, including releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
But no one should expect the sanctions to work overnight, Biden warned. While promising that the sanctions will deliver a serious economic blow to Russia, it will take time for its effects to register on its economy — with allies hoping those impacts will finally get Putin to stand down and abandon his quest to conquer the former Soviet state.
Between now and then, however, Ukraine faces some of its darkest days.
“The next few weeks and months will be hard on Ukraine,” Biden said. “The Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown that they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards. This is a dangerous moment for all of Europe… Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold global piece. Now, the entire world sees clearly what Putin and his Kremlin allies are really all about. … It was always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire of empire by any means necessary.”