The U.S. is imposing sanctions on Russia and redeploying troops within Europe to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to call for the breakup of Ukraine and send troops into that country, President Joe Biden said Tuesday.
“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territories that belong to his neighbors?” Biden asked.
The president said the sanctions would hit two major Russian banks and make it harder for Moscow to raise money by selling its sovereign debt. Meanwhile, the U.S. will send U.S. soldiers from elsewhere in Europe to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union but have since become democracies and U.S. allies as part of the NATO military alliance.
“We have no intention of fighting Russia,” Biden said. “We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States and our allies will defend every inch of NATO territory.”
The U.S. views Putin’s move to bolster Russian-backed breakaway regions in Ukraine as an invasion. Washington and its friends plan to soon unveil further steps to punish Russia and deter further escalation.
“As Russia contemplates its next move, we have our next move prepared as well,” Biden said, adding that he believes Putin plans to escalate his incursion. “The United States will continue to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine.”
Washington is also placing sanctions on influential Russians close to Putin and their family members, the president added. The group includes Russian spy chief Alexander Bortnikov, Putin aide Sergei Kiriyenko and three well-connected businessmen.
Biden’s remarks came after Putin said the separatists should control a much larger portion of Ukraine than they already do, possibly signaling that Russian troops will fight the Western-backed Ukrainian army to capture new territory and set off a longer, bloodier conflict. Russia has also begun evacuating its diplomatic facilities in Ukraine.
The U.S. is not obligated to defend Ukraine, but American officials and national security experts say a Russian-led upheaval of the status quo in Europe would endanger NATO states and would drive long-term instability. As Putin has amassed over 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders in recent months, NATO members have sent military support to Ukraine and reinforced their own forces in Russia’s neighborhood. Russia says NATO must withdraw from countries on its periphery — despite their independence — and promise to never accept Ukraine as a member.
Earlier in the day, NATO member Germany said it would halt a pipeline project that would have let Russia earn millions of dollars by pumping gas across Europe. Berlin’s move vindicated the Biden administration’s strategy of warm, close cooperation with U.S. allies — undercutting Republicans’ claims that the president must intensely pressure European nations like Germany.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Tuesday that her country wants to remain united with its friends and show “a stop sign” to Russia. In a call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, a senior Biden administration official called the pipeline, known as Nord Stream 2, “a cash cow” for Putin and said the pause represented “a major turning point in the world’s energy independence from Russia.”
The U.S. will continue “to reduce Europe’s addiction to Russian gas,” the official added, and is ready to impose broader, more painful measures like targeting Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial bank, and cutting Moscow off from the SWIFT financial system.
Western governments still hope that diplomacy can tamp down tensions on the continent, Biden said.
The administration official noted that simply placing the maximum of sanctions on Russia is not America’s goal: “Sanctions are meant to deter and prevent. We want to prevent a large-scale of invasion of Ukraine,” the official said.
And the president notably did not mention the possibility that he will hold a summit with Putin, though Secretary of State Antony Blinken did later cancel a planned meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
For now, “we still believe Russia is poised to go much further,” Biden said.