President Joe Biden on Thursday blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin and promised to punish him as Russian forces poured into Ukraine, sparking the heaviest fighting in Europe in decades.
“He rejected every good faith effort the United States and our allies and partners made to address our mutual security concerns through dialogue to avoid needless conflict and avert human suffering,” Biden said. “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
Earlier in the day, the president consulted with a group of powerful U.S. allies that together comprise the G-7 ― a coalition including Germany, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Canada that controls a large portion of the global economy.
Biden said the U.S. and its partners would cut off vital imports for Russia; make it much harder for the country to operate in American dollars and a range of other currencies; and sanction powerful Russians close to Putin. The U.S. will sanction four additional Russian banks, on top of the two that Washington already sanctioned earlier in the week, and deploy 7,000 more troops to European countries that are members of the NATO alliance, Biden added.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so the U.S. is not obligated to defend that country, but allies that also neighbor Russia — like Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — worry that Putin may see them as targets too.
“The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,” Biden said.
On Thursday morning local time, Putin announced that he was sending troops across his country’s vast borders with Ukraine. Russia bombarded Ukrainian cities and Russian forces began fighting Ukrainian soldiers soon afterward in an offensive that is ongoing.
The Russian assault has so far killed dozens of Ukrainian civilians and 40 Ukrainian troops, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova told reporters in Washington on Thursday morning.
The U.S. and its allies are, for now, not enacting a punishment that Ukraine has requested: cutting Russia off from the SWIFT financial system. “That’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take,” Biden said, though he did not rule out the move.
“The sanctions we imposed exceed SWIFT,” the president continued. “They are profound sanctions. Let’s have a conversation in another month or so and see if they’re working.”
Biden said he does not expect economic pain to stop the invasion immediately but believes it will ultimately force Putin to reconsider ― if the U.S. and its partners hold firm.
Notably, he did not comment on the view of China, which Russia has been courting in recent years. Asked if Washington had requested help from Beijing to end the fighting, Biden said, “I’m not prepared to comment on that at the moment.”
Most world leaders say the Russian invasion is an extreme, era-defining step that could have unimaginably dark consequences.
“Ukraine is a country that for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy and the right to choose its own destiny. We ― and the world ― cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised address on Thursday. Britain placed Russian elites and banks on its sanctions list and said it was working towards excluding Russia from SWIFT.
French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Last night’s events are a turning point in the history of Europe and of our country. They will have profound, lasting consequences for our lives.”
Biden warned that Putin’s rejection of diplomatic efforts suggested that Russia may pursue broader goals and wage an ever-deadlier war.
“This was never about genuine security concerns on their part, it was always about naked aggression ― about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary,” Biden said.
He told Americans that he was focused on ensuring that they would not experience spill-over effects of the conflict, either in higher energy prices — given Russia’s role as a major oil and gas exporter — or in disruptions to normal life through Russian measures like cyber-attacks. But he emphasized that a clear stand was necessary to avoid longer-term instability.
“America stands up to bullies,” Biden said. “When the history of this era is written, Putin’s choice to make a totally unjustifiable war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.