President Joe Biden forcefully condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Thursday afternoon, and announced strong sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The president said that the United States had already sanctioned Russian banks that hold about $1 trillion in assets, adding that it was also blocking four more major banks.
“This is a pre-meditated attack” Mr Biden said in an address from the White House, noting how he moved 175,000 troops and military supplies ahead of the invasion.
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Mr Biden’s words come after Russia invaded the former Soviet bloc nation, having earlier recognised two of its regions as independent. Mr Putin had accumulated a series of troops on the ground.
“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Mr Biden said in an address from the White House, noting how the Russian leader had moved 175,000 troops and military supplies ahead of the invasion.
“For weeks, we have been warning that this would happen, and now it’s unfolding largely as we predicted,” said Mr Biden. “We have purposefully designed these sanctions to maximize the long-term impact on Russia and to minimize the impact on the United States and our allies.”
The president said that the United States had already sanctioned Russian banks that hold about $1 trillion (around £750bn) in assets, adding that it was also blocking four more major banks.
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“Every asset they have in America will be frozen,” he said.
The words come after Mr Biden had attempted to use a diplomatic approach prior to the invasion. He had spoken with president Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and said he had briefed him on the steps the United States was taking to punish Russia.
“Putin is the aggressor,” he said.
Mr Biden said he had spoken with the G7 leaders, who had kicked Russia out of what was then the G8 in 2014 following its seizure of the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The president said the United States was closely monitoring energy supplies, and urged energy companies not to take advantage of the situation.
“This was never about a genuine security concern,” he said.
While Mr Biden said US forces “are not, and will not, be engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine”, he did say that they would “defend our Nato allies and reassure those allies in the east”. He also said that US forces would defend “every inch of Nato territory with the full force of American power”.
The president also said he had no plans to speak with Mr Putin. Over the weekend, French president Emmanuel Macron brokered a potential summit between the two heads of state, but the White House had stipulated that a meeting would only happen if Russia didn’t invade Ukraine.
“It’s a large conflict already. The way to make sure it’s not going to spiral into a larger conflict is by providing all the forces needed in the eastern European nations that are members of Nato,” he said.
When asked about whether he had underestimated Mr Putin, he explained why he believed his Russian counterpart had decided to invade Ukraine.
“He wants to, in fact, re-establish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about. And I think that his ambitions are completely contrary to the place where the rest of the world has arrived,” he said.
Many Republicans echoed Mr Biden’s sentiments in blaming Mr Putin for the war in Ukraine.
“Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is reckless and evil,” house minority leader Kevin McCarthy said. “The United States stands with the people of Ukraine and prays for their safety and resolve. Putin’s actions must be met with serious consequences. This act of war is intended to rewrite history, and more concerning, to upend the balance of power in Europe. Putin must be held accountable for his actions.”
House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, a Democrat, said the action should precipitate the final death of the Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline between Russia and Germany. He also called for Russia to be kicked out of the Swift banking system.
“I don’t think there’s any situation where we will have American boots on the ground in Ukraine,” he said. “We need to dramatically escalate the sanctions that we place on Russia for this act of naked aggression by the Kremlin dictator.”
At the same time, some backbench members from both parties criticised his response. Republican representative Nancy Mace from South Carolina, who is a graduate of the Citadel military college, criticised Mr Biden for being naive. Instead, she called for the president to open pipelines and increase energy production and exports to Europe along with implementing “real” sanctions.
“The traffic tickets President Biden is writing won’t stop tanks and missiles,” she said.
Conversely, Democratic rep Cori Bush of Missouri, a member of the “Squad”, a group of progressive lawmakers, urged the president not to use sanctions.
“Putin’s murderous dictatorship is killing people right now in a brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine,” she said. “Now is the time for us to act with moral clarity. We must use every tool to save lives and promote diplomacy – not military escalation or inhumane sanctions.”
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