MOSCOW – President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that the United States is ordering severe financial sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs, saying Moscow had grossly violated international law by invading Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims to Ukraine “will not deceive any of us,” the US president said. And he said there could be additional sanctions if Putin goes further.
Biden said he was also transferring additional U.S. troops to the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank, which borders Russia.
Biden joined the 27 members of the European Union, who on Tuesday unanimously agreed to impose their own initial set of sanctions against Russian officials for their actions in Ukraine.
Russian lawmakers on Tuesday allowed President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside the country – a move that could portend a wider attack on Ukraine after the U.S. said there was already an invasion going on.
Several European leaders have said Russian troops have entered rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin recognized their independence. But it was unclear how large the deployment was, and Ukraine and its Western allies have long argued that Russian troops are fighting in the region, which Moscow has always denied.
Members of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country, effectively formalizing the deployment of Russian troops in rebel regions, which killed nearly 14,000 people in an eight-year conflict.
Shortly afterwards, Putin set out three conditions for ending the crisis that threatened to plunge Europe back into war, causing mass casualties, energy shortages on the continent and economic chaos around the world.
Putin said the crisis could be resolved if Kiev recognizes Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, abandons its application for NATO membership and partially demilitarizes. The West regarded the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law and had previously categorically rejected Ukraine’s non-admission to NATO forever.
Asked whether he had brought Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, Putin said: “I did not say that troops are going there right now.” He modestly added that “it is impossible to predict a specific model of action – it will depend on the specific situation that will develop on the ground.”
Biden had scheduled a performance later Tuesday, but Germany took the first big step. It has taken steps to halt Russia’s certification of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, a lucrative deal long sought by Moscow but criticized by the United States for increasing Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.
The rest of the European Union was soon followed by the first set of sanctions against 351 Russian lawmakers who voted to recognize separatist regions in Ukraine, as well as 27 other Russian officials and institutions from the defense and banking world. They also sought to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.
With rising tensions and a more likely conflict, the White House began calling Russia’s location in the region known as the Donbass an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term – the red line that President Joe Biden said led. before the US imposed tough sanctions against Moscow.
“We believe this is the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s latest invasion,” John Feiner, chief deputy national security adviser, told CNN. “Invasion is invasion, and that’s what’s happening.”
In less than 24 hours, the rhetoric of the Biden administration intensified considerably. The White House announced limited sanctions against the rebel region on Monday night shortly after Putin said he was sending troops east of Ukraine. A senior Biden administration spokesman, who briefed reporters on sanctions against the separatist region, said “that Russia has occupied these regions since 2014” and that “the transfer of Russian troops to the Donbass would not in itself be a new step.”
The administration initially resisted calling the deployment an invasion because the White House wanted to see what Russia was actually going to do. After assessing the movement of Russian troops, it turned out that it was a new invasion, according to a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
In a matter of weeks, Western powers have been preparing for this, as Russia has amassed about 150,000 troops from three sides of neighboring Ukraine – and has promised swift and severe sanctions if implemented.
Western leaders have long warned that Moscow would seek cover for the invasion – and this was the reason Monday when Putin declared two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine independent, where government troops fought Russian-backed rebels. Then on Tuesday, the Kremlin raised rates even more, saying that the recognition extends even to most of what is now in the hands of Ukrainian forces.
Putin said Russia had recognized the independence of the rebel regions within the borders that existed when they declared independence in 2014 – vast territories that go far beyond the territories now controlled by the separatists, and which include the main port on Sea of Azov Mariupol. However, he added that the rebels should eventually negotiate with Ukraine.
Condemnation from all over the world was swift. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will consider severing diplomatic relations with Russia, and Kyiv has recalled its ambassador to Moscow.
But confusion over what was happening in eastern Ukraine threatened to hold back the West’s response. While Washington has clearly called it an invasion, some other allies have taken cover.
“Russian troops have entered the Donbass,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borel said in Paris. “We consider Donbass part of Ukraine.”
But he added: “I would not say that (this) is a complete invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”
The Polish Ministry of Defense and the Minister of Health of the United Kingdom Sajid Javid also said that Russian forces had entered eastern Ukraine, and Javid told Sky News that “the invasion of Ukraine has begun.”
Not everyone in Europe has seen it that way. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albarez noted that “if Russia uses force against Ukraine, sanctions will be massive.”
The Kremlin has not confirmed the deployment of troops in the east of the rebels, saying it would depend on the security situation. Vladislav Brig, a deputy of the local separatist council in Donetsk, told reporters that Russian troops had already entered, but higher-ranking rebel leaders did not confirm this. Late Monday, columns of armored vehicles were spotted in separatist-controlled areas. It was not immediately clear whether they were Russian.
The White House has ordered a ban on US investment and trade in the separatist regions, and additional measures were to be announced on Tuesday – possibly sanctions. These sanctions do not depend on what Washington has prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, according to a senior administration official, who informed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Russia’s steps have prompted Germany to suspend the certification process for the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, which was to supply natural gas from Russia. The pipeline was built to help Germany meet its energy needs, particularly when it shuts down its last three nuclear power plants and gradually stops using coal, and it has resisted calls from the U.S. and others to stop the project.
If Putin advances further on Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has insisted that the West will move one step. “If Russia decides to use force against Ukraine again, there will be even stronger sanctions, even higher prices,” he said.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said that the United Kingdom will impose sanctions against five Russian banks and three wealthy people. He warned that a full-scale offensive would bring “further powerful sanctions”.
Even as the alarm spread around the world, Zelensky sought to project calm, stating in a statement during the night: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we will not give anything to anyone. “
His foreign minister, Dmitry Kuleba, is in Washington to meet with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the State Department said.
Russia has long denied plans to invade Ukraine, instead blaming the United States and its allies for the crisis and describing Ukraine’s bid to join NATO as an existential challenge to Russia. Putin reiterated the allegations in an hour-long televised speech Monday, announcing that Russia recognizes the rebels.
“Ukraine’s membership in NATO poses a direct threat to Russia’s security,” he said.
The West’s rejection of Moscow’s demands gives Russia the right to take other steps to protect its security, Putin said.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it was evacuating its diplomatic staff from Ukraine “soon,” pointing to attacks on diplomatic buildings, cars and physical threats to diplomats in Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Odessa, Lviv and Kharkiv.
Karmanov reported from Kyiv (Ukraine) and Madhani from Washington. Jill Lawless in London, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Barry Hutton in Lisbon, Portugal, Zick Miller and Aamer Madhani in Munich, Germany; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations, as well as Eric Tucker, Ellen Nickmeyer, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.