(MOSCOW) — President Joe Biden ordered heavy U.S. financial sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs on Tuesday, stepping up the West’s confrontation with Moscow, even as Russian lawmakers authorized President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside their country.
Biden, in a brief address from the White House, accused Putin of flagrantly violating international law in what he called the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” and promised that more sanctions would be coming if Putin proceeds further.
On Tuesday, the president was joined by 27 members of the European Union who agreed to issue their first set of sanctions against Russian officials for their involvement in Ukraine. Germany also announced it was halting the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia — a lucrative deal long sought by Moscow but criticized by the U.S. for increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy.
“None of us will be fooled” by Putin’s claims about Ukraine, the U.S. President said.
Biden said he was also moving additional U.S. troops to the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia. On Friday, the prime minister of Estonia and the presidents of Latvia & Lithuania had made direct appeal to Kamala Harris to increase the U.S. presence in the Baltics.
Biden said the U.S. would impose “full blocking” on two large Russian financial institutions and “comprehensive sanctions” on Russian debt.
“That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western finance,” Biden said. “It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or European markets either.”
The president announced what he called a first tranche of sanctions as Russian troops rolled into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin said he was recognizing the areas’ independence on Monday. Although it was not clear how big the Russian troop deployment was, Ukraine and its Western allies had long claimed that Russian troops were fighting in the region. This is a claim Moscow has always refuted.
Members of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country — effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions, where an eight-year conflict has killed nearly 14,000 people.
Putin set out the three conditions for ending the crisis which threatened to throw Europe into war.
Putin said the crisis could be resolved if Kyiv recognizes Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, renounces its bid to join NATO and partially demilitarizes. While the West denounces Crimea’s annexation as violating international law, it has repeatedly rejected Ukraine being permanently excluded from NATO.
Asked whether he has sent any Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, Putin responded: “I haven’t said that the troops will go there right now.” He added that “it’s impossible to forecast a specific pattern of action –- it will depend on a concrete situation as it takes shape on the ground.”
With a first set sanctions targeting 351 Russian lawmakers, 27 Russian institutions, and officials in the banking and defense worlds, the European Union quickly followed. They also sought to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.
With tensions rising and a broader conflict looking more likely, the White House began referring to the Russian deployments in the region known as the Donbas as an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term — a red line that President Biden had said would result in severe sanctions against Moscow.
“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” said Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, said on CNN. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway.”
The Biden administration’s rhetoric hardened considerably in less than 24 hours. Shortly after Putin declared that he would be sending troops into eastern Ukraine, the White House announced some limited sanctions on Monday to target the rebel-region. A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters about the sanctions targeting the breakaway region, noted “that Russia has occupied these regions since 2014” and that “Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step.”
Initialy, the administration refused to call the deployment an invasion because it was unclear what Russia would do. According to an American official, who spoke under anonymity in order to speak about internal discussions, after assessing Russian troop movements it became apparent that it was a new incursion.
Biden on Tuesday said he was authorizing the redeployment of some U.S. troops who are already stationed in Europe to bolster the security of NATO’s Baltic allies, particularly in light of Russia’s troop build-up in Belarus.
Biden said, “These are totally defensive moves on our part” and the U.S. has no intention of deploying its forces in non-NATO-member Ukraine. But Biden also said the U.S. and its allies “will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.” The organization’s mutual-defense pact considers an attack on one member to be an attack against all.
Western countries have been watching as Russia has gathered an estimated 150,000 troops to three Ukrainian sides over the past weeks.
Western leaders have long warned Moscow would look for cover to invade — and just such a pretext appeared to come Monday, when Putin recognized as independent two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, where government troops have fought Russia-backed rebels. On Tuesday, the Kremlin raised the stakes by claiming that Ukraine has recognized large portions of the territory.
Putin said Russia has recognized the rebel regions’ independence in the borders that existed when they declared their independence in 2014 — broad territories that extend far beyond the areas now under separatist control and that include the major Azov Sea port of Mariupol. However, he said that rebels must eventually reach an agreement with Ukraine.
All over the globe, condemnation was swift. Volodymyr Zeleskyy, Ukrainian President, stated that he was open to the possibility of cutting diplomatic relations with Russia. Kyiv also recalls its Ambassador in Moscow.
The West’s response to the events in Ukraine was hampered by confusion. Washington called it an invasion. But other Allies reacted with caution.
“Russian troops have entered in Donbas,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Paris. “We consider Donbas part of Ukraine.”
But he added: “I wouldn’t say that (it is) a fully fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”
Poland’s Defense Ministry and British Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said Russian forces had entered eastern Ukraine, with Javid telling Sky News that “the invasion of Ukraine has begun.”
However, not all Europeans saw this as such. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares noted “if Russia uses force against Ukraine, sanctions will be massive.”
The Kremlin hasn’t confirmed any troop deployments to the rebel east, saying it will depend on the security situation. Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, told reporters the Russian troops already had moved in, but more senior rebel leaders didn’t confirm that. Late Monday, convoys of armored vehicles were seen rolling across the separatist-controlled territories. It wasn’t immediately clear if they were Russian.
The White House issued an executive order to prohibit U.S. investment and trade in the separatist regions, and additional measures — likely sanctions — were to be announced Tuesday. A senior official in Washington said that the new sanctions were independent from what Washington had prepared for a Russian invasion. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Germany was forced to suspend certification of Nord Stream 2, a pipeline to transport natural gas from Russia, due to Russian actions. It was constructed to assist Germany in meeting its energy requirements, especially as it shuts down its three last nuclear power stations and phase out coal use. The U.S. has not attempted to stop the pipeline.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said that if Putin pushes into Ukraine further, the West will follow his lead. “If Russia decides once again to use force against Ukraine, there will be even stronger sanctions, even a higher price to pay,” he said.
Boris Johnson (British Prime Minister) stated that the U.K. will impose sanctions against five Russian banks as well as three rich individuals. He warned a full-scale offensive would bring “further powerful sanctions.”
Even as alarm spread across the globe, Zelenskyy sought to project calm, saying in an address overnight: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we won’t give anything to anyone.”
Dmytro Kuleba is his foreign minister and will be meeting with Antony Blinken (Secretary of State), the State Department announced.
Russia has long denied it has any plans to invade Ukraine, instead blaming the U.S. and its allies for the crisis and describing Ukraine’s bid to join NATO as an existential challenge to Russia. In a televised hour-long speech, Putin repeated these accusations Monday. He announced that Russia will recognize the rebels.
“Ukraine’s membership in NATO poses a direct threat to Russia’s security,” he said.
Karmanau reported out of Kyiv in Ukraine and Madhani was reporting from Washington. Jill Lawless, Lorne, in London; Barry Hatton, in Lisbon, Portugal; Geir Mulson, Frank Jordans, in Berlin; Edith M. Lederer, Ellen Knickmeyer and Robert Burns; Zeke Miller; Chris Megerian, Chris Megerian, Darlene Superville, all contributed to this report.