President Joe Biden announced a raft of new sanctions against Russia he said would cut off its government from Western financing and punish elites who benefit from the Kremlin’s corrupt policies, after President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to move into the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine.
“These have been closely coordinated with our allies and partners, and we’ll continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates,” Biden said in remarks from the White House Tuesday afternoon, calling Putin’s moves “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
The latest package would issue sanctions on two major Russian banks and on the country’s sovereign debt, meaning it can no longer raise money from the West and trade new debt on U.S. or European markets, the president said. Starting tomorrow, the U.S. will also impose sanctions on Russian elites and their family members, he added.
Biden called the moves “the first tranche” of punitive measures the U.S. is prepared to take, and he said they would go far beyond the steps the U.S. and its allies took in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
“This is a flagrant violation of international law, and it demands a firm response from the international community,” he said of Putin’s decision to send Russian forces into the territories.
Biden also said the U.S. would continue to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine in the meantime, and said he has authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe “to strengthen our Baltic allies — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”
“Let me be clear, these are totally defensive moves on our part,” he said. “We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message though — that the United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.”
Biden also announced new U.S. deployments from within Europe to the three Baltic NATO states: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
A defense official later said the new deployments will include about 800 infantry troops based in Italy, which will head to the Baltic, along with dozens of aircraft that will fan out among allied nations in NATO’s east.
Eight F-35s currently in Germany will also move to several spots “along NATO’s eastern flank,” the official said, along with 20 Apache attack helicopters that will relocate from Germany to the Baltic region, and 12 more Apaches will move from Greece to Poland.
One European diplomat briefed on the moves told POLITICO that the deployments were decided at a Sunday meeting at the White House between Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley.
The president also emphasized his administration will do everything it can to mitigate the effects of higher energy prices on American businesses and consumers that are likely to stem from sanctions.
Apart from the administration’s sanctions, Tuesday also marked the first time U.S. officials referred to Russia’s activity in Ukraine as an invasion — a shift in rhetoric that a senior administration official was reluctant to make on a call with reporters on Monday. But prior to Biden’s speech on Tuesday, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer repeatedly described the Russian troop movements as the beginning of an invasion.
Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday similarly referred to Putin’s troop movements as an invasion, decried the military escalation in Ukraine and urged the White House to hit Russia hard with the punitive sanctions it has previewed for months.
“Every indication suggests these actions will almost certainly be used as a prelude to even further aggression and an even larger invasion,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
“If that occurs, many Ukrainians could die,” McConnell added. “The humanitarian consequences could be catastrophic. And the threat will not stop with Ukraine. All the free nations of the world will be affected if Putin’s aggression is allowed to stand unchallenged.”
Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Tuesday morning that now is the time for the White House to begin to impose sanctions “to demonstrate to Putin the consequences Russia will suffer from his actions, and hopefully to avert a wider war.”
Brown also praised the president for coordinating a united response with European countries, saying “sanctions imposed with our allies will pack a much bigger punch than U.S. sanctions alone.”
The president’s announcement followed a move by the European Union to impose a range of sanctions on Russia including curbs on Moscow’s ability to raise capital on the EU’s financial markets, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also said Tuesday Germany would halt the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a step Berlin has previously been reluctant to take. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. has sanctioned five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals linked to Moscow in its first tranche of punitive measures against the Kremlin over its invasion of Ukraine.
The latest penalties by the United States come after Biden issued an executive order on Monday intended to punish Russia for formally recognizing the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, which are controlled by Russia-backed forces.
Biden’s order on Monday expanded upon the U.S. sanctions leveled against Russia in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. Specifically, the order prohibits new U.S. investment in the breakaway regions, imports and exports from the regions, and financial and property transactions as determined by the Treasury Department.
The Treasury on Tuesday announced sanctions against several oligarchs close to Putin, including Denis Bortnikov, the son of Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service; Petr Fradkov, head of state-backed PSB bank and son of the former head of Russia’s intelligence service; and Vladimir Kiriyenko, the CEO of VK Group, parent company of Russia’s top social media platform, and his father Sergei, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff.
Administration officials have insisted since late last year that new sanctions would be swift and severe, hampering Putin’s ability to industrialize his economy and putting pressure on the president’s wealthy allies by limiting their ability to move money around the world.
Those steps could also have ripple effects across the global economy and financial markets, pushing up prices on oil and gas and other commodities, such as nickel, platinum, palladium and wheat. RSM Chief Economist Joe Brusuelas estimated the energy shock could shave nearly a full percent off U.S. economic growth over the next year and push annual inflation up above 10 percent.
The White House has grappled with soaring prices over the past year, particularly for food and energy, as supply chain constraints and surging demand combined to push up inflation.
Biden said the administration will use every tool at its disposal to protect American businesses and consumers from rising prices at the pump, but he emphasized Tuesday that “defending freedom will have costs for us as well.”
“We need to be honest about that,” he said. “But as we do this, I’m going to take robust action to make sure the pain of our sanctions is targeted at Russia’s economy, not ours.”
The president also repeatedly said the U.S. could impose additional sanctions on Russia going forward.
A senior administration official said Tuesday that could include steps to block Russia’s access to critical technologies through export controls if Putin escalates his invasion of Ukraine.
That could limit Russia’s ability to obtain goods for its military or high-tech sectors, such as semiconductors or advanced machinery and manufacturing equipment. Administration officials have previously said such restrictions, if imposed, would likely apply to third-country exports — that is, U.S. technology that is exported to one country, put into a product and then shipped to Russia.
The senior administration official did not elaborate on what technologies would be targeted or how broadly the export controls would be applied. A request for further comment from the White House was not immediately returned.
Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and expert on sanctions policy, called the measures unveiled Tuesday a “proportional response” to Putin’s moves so far. “The severe sanctions are still on the shelf, and are being held in abeyance in hopes that Putin will deescalate,” he said.