The White House as viewed on March 14, 2017. (Shealah Craighead/White House)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine amounted to “the beginning of a Russian invasion” of that country that could get much worse in the days ahead.
Seeking to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from further military action, Biden said the United States would apply the “first tranche of sanctions” on Russia and move U.S. forces and equipment already in Europe to the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“If Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further, as with sanctions,” Biden said from the East Room of the White House.
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The sanctions will apply to two of Russia’s financial institutions, the VEB and its military bank; Russian sovereign debt, cutting the nation off from Western financing; and Russian elites and their family members, who Biden said “share in the corrupt gains” of Russian policies.
Biden said that the United States would begin bolstering military support for the three Baltic nations by moving U.S. equipment and forces already in Europe into those North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries.
“Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia,” Biden said. “We want to send an unmistakable message though that the United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory.”
Biden on Monday issued a first round of sanctions barring new investment, trade and finance in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic after Putin declared them independent.
Russian military forces have since begun moving into the two areas within eastern Ukraine, infuriating Western leaders and leading German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to halt approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.
Putin continued escalating tensions Tuesday when he called for the recognition of Crimea as Russian territory and received approval from Russian lawmakers to use military forces outside the country.
Biden said during his speech that “further Russian assault in Ukraine remains a severe threat in the days ahead.”
He also again sought to prepare Americans for repercussions here, especially the possibility of higher gas prices.
“Defending freedom will have costs for us, as well, here at home. We need to be honest about that,” Biden said. “But as we do this, I’m going to take robust action to make sure that the pain of our sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy, not ours.”
White House officials are closely monitoring energy supplies for possible disruptions and coordinating with major oil producers in an attempt to ensure stability, Biden said.
Even with the escalation by Russia, Biden said he remains open to diplomacy, but cautioned that his administration will “judge Russia by its actions, not its words.”
“There is still time to avert the worst case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people,” Biden said.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen later detailed the sanctions, which she said “begin the process of dismantling the Kremlin’s financial network and its ability to fund destabilizing activity in Ukraine and around the world.”
The measures will prevent the Corporation Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs Vnesheconombank, or VEB, Promsvyazbank Public Joint Stock Company, or PSB, and 42 subsidiaries from conducting business within the United States or any U.S. financial systems.
VEB holds roughly $53 billion in assets and services Russia’s sovereign debt as well as financing the country’s economic development. PSB, Russia’s eighth-largest bank, was designed to provide financing to the Defense Ministry and defense sector as well as providing personal finance to military personnel.
Both institutions are state owned.
Treasury also sanctioned five Russian “elites,” including Denis Aleksandrovich Bortnikov, the deputy president of Russian-state owned financial institution VTB Bank Public Joint Stock Company. He is the son of Aleksandr Vasilievich Bortnikov, the director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.
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