US President Joe Biden has announced a new sanctions package against Russia, calling Moscow’s recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent the “beginning of a Russian invasion” of its neighbour.
In a brief speech on Tuesday, Biden condemned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognise the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk and to authorise the deployment of Russian troops to “maintain peace” in the regions.
“If Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as with sanctions,” Biden said.
“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbours? This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community.”
The sanctions target Russia’s sovereign debt as well as two large Russian financial institutions, including the country’s military bank, Biden said.
“That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western financing. It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or European markets either,” the US president added.
On Monday, Putin recognised the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) – areas that have seen fighting between Moscow-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government since 2014.
Moscow then signed agreements with the territories that would allow it to establish a military presence in eastern Ukraine.
The Biden administration initially responded with sanctions targeting trade in the two regions specifically, but Tuesday’s measures go after Russia itself.
“We’ll also impose sanctions on Russia’s elites and their family members. They share the corrupt gains of the Kremlin policies and should share in the pain as well,” Biden said.
“This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as he [Putin] indicated and asked permission to be able to do from his Duma.”
US and European officials have said in recent weeks that they believe Russia is planning a large-scale incursion into Ukraine.
“Every indication is that Russia is continuing to plan for a full-scale attack of Ukraine,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
Biden echoed that assessment later in the day, saying that Russia “poised to go much further in launching a massive military attack against Ukraine”.
The United States and its allies were quick to denounce Putin’s decision on Monday, with several European countries imposing sanctions on Russia.
Germany halted the approval of Nord Stream 2, the Russian-owned $11bn gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. The United Kingdom announced sanctions on three Russian billionaires and five banks, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia will have “pariah status” if it continues to invade Ukraine.
Western powers have been warning for months that Russia, which they say has been amassing troops near the Ukrainian border, may be getting ready to invade its neighbour.
Russia previously denied it is planning to invade, but it has vehemently opposed Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO. Moscow also wants security guarantees that the US-led alliance will stop its expansion into former Soviet republics, but Washington and NATO have rejected the demand as a “non-starter”.
Several rounds of talks between Western and Russian leaders and diplomats have failed to resolve the crisis.
On Tuesday, Moscow blamed Kyiv for escalating the situation, with the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, accusing Ukraine of being on the verge of a “military adventure” in Luhansk and Donetsk.
“We remain open to diplomacy, but allowing a bloodbath in the Donbas is not what we intend to do,” Nebenzia told the UN Security Council.
Ukraine has repeatedly denied Russian allegations that its forces are attacking the breakaway regions.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested before talks with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday that it is not too late to resolve the crisis diplomatically. “Mr Putin can still avoid a full-blown, tragic war of choice,” Austin said.
Biden also said the door remains open for diplomacy. “There is still time to avert the worst-case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people if they move as suggested,” the US president said. “The United States and our allies and partners remain open to diplomacy – if it is serious.”