Biden announces tougher sanctions on Russian banks, elites but not yet on Putin himself

After weeks of warning of ‘tough’ sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, President Joe Biden addressed the nation and the world from the White House on Thursday in what is unfolding as a defining moment of his presidency. as President Vladimir Putin pursues a full-scale attack.

Biden announced an escalation in sanctions to match the escalation of Russian aggression, but not the full economic punishment that Ukraine and others had demanded and none yet against Putin himself, although he said that this option was still “on the table”.

“The Russian military launched a brutal assault on Ukraine without provocation, without justification, without necessity,” Biden said firmly. “It’s a premeditated attack.”

“For weeks, for weeks, we warned this would happen, and now it’s going largely as we planned,” he continued.

Biden announced new sanctions against four major Russian banks, including VTB and SberBank, additional Russian elites and family members, and applied Russia’s sovereign debt restriction to state-owned companies, companies with assets exceeding 1 .4 trillion dollars.

“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will suffer the consequences,” Biden said. “Today, I am authorizing strong additional sanctions and new limitations on what can be exported to Russia. This will impose significant costs on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time.”

However, Biden not only sanctioned Putin himself, but also cut Russia off from the SWIFT international banking system.

Pressed by reporters on why not sanction Putin directly now, Biden veered off course.

“Sir, the sanctions clearly haven’t been enough to deter Vladimir Putin so far,” said Cecilia Vega, ABC News’ chief White House correspondent. “What’s going to stop him? How and when will it end? And do you see him trying to go beyond Ukraine?”

“Nobody expected the sanctions to stop anything from happening,” Biden replied. “It has to – it’s going to take time, and we have to show determination. So he knows what’s coming. And so the Russian people know what he’s brought them.”

“Between our actions and those of our allies and partners, we estimate we will cut more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports,” Biden said in his prepared remarks. “We will deal a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It will degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program. It will hurt their ability to build ships, reducing their ability to be economically competitive. will be a blow to Putin’s long-term strategic ambitions.”

But it remains unclear whether the sanctions will make a difference to what Putin claimed overnight would be a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine, which is proving far more widespread.

“For anyone who would consider interfering from the outside, if you do, you will face greater consequences than you have faced in history,” Putin warned the world.

While it was still unclear how far Putin would go beyond eastern Ukraine, Russian forces attacked near the capital Kiev, sparking fresh fears that he is trying to overthrow the government Ukrainian.

Biden maintained that US forces would not fight the Russians on the ground, but announced that he was authorizing the deployment of additional capabilities of US forces in Germany as part of the NATO response force, including the 8 500 soldiers put on “high alert” last month.

“Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the East. As I have made clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory. NATO with the full force of American might,” Biden said.

“I also spoke with Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milly about preparations for additional moves, should they become necessary, to protect our NATO allies and support the largest military alliance in the world. history of the world – NATO”, he added later.

Biden also said NATO would convene a summit on Friday.

“This aggression cannot go unanswered,” Biden added. “If that were the case, the consequences would be much worse.”

Will Biden personally sanction Putin?

The Biden administration had threatened new sanctions against major Russian financial institutions and banks and to take steps to restrict Russian access to technology – as it did on Thursday – but it had also considered cutting Russia off. SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) – which would hinder Russia’s participation in global markets and directly punish Putin’s inner circle – or the Russian President himself.

Biden told reporters late last month that he would consider personally sanctioning Putin if Russia invaded Ukraine – a day after 8,500 US forces were placed on “high alert” in the region – but those efforts did not seem to deter the Russian leader, nor did the economic sanctions imposed this week by US and European allies, including halting certification of Nord Stream 2, a major gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany.

But Biden didn’t go that far.

The administration began rolling out a “first tranche” of sanctions, tied to Russian banks, oligarchs and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, as some lawmakers criticized Biden for not going far enough on the sanctions, which didn’t not resulted in Russia backtracking.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, at a press conference in Kentucky ahead of Biden’s remarks, called on the administration to “raise sanctions all the way” against Russia.

“Don’t hold back. Every harsh punishment available should be employed and should be employed now,” McConnell said.

He said “honestly, we don’t know” whether sanctions would be enough to deter Putin, but argued that tougher sanctions were still needed.

As of Thursday morning, Russian forces had advanced from three directions – from south to north, from Belarus south to Kiev and from northeastern Ukraine to the south – as Ukraine woke up to a nation in war.

US military assessment, diplomatic steps

US intelligence believes these three axes were “designed to take key population centers”, a senior defense official said Thursday.

The White House says sanctions will be ‘united and decisive’, but it remains to be seen how the West will be able to punish Putin, who seems determined to press ahead with his plans, despite weeks of diplomatic attempts by of the international community and a set of sanctions already imposed.

As the United States condemns what it calls an “unprovoked and unwarranted” attack on Ukraine, Biden met with his National Security Council in the Situation Room early Thursday ahead of a virtual video call with leaders of the G -7 to discuss a united response to the Russian attack. .

Notably, Russia was part of the G-7 until its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 – where it is now moving closer to Ukraine’s borders.

Biden was at the White House overnight as the attack unfolded.

Minutes later, Biden was on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who reached out to him after receiving a “silence,” he said in a phone call to Putin. Russia has two tactical goals in Ukraine, according to Zelenskyy’s office: to seize territory and to overthrow the Ukrainian leadership.

Consequences — for Americans

After their call, Biden released a statement saying Putin “has chosen a premeditated war that will result in catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”

“World prayers are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they come under an unprovoked and unwarranted attack by Russian military forces,” Biden said.

The US president has acknowledged there will be “consequences at home” – particularly at the gas pump and on energy prices – as a result of the Russian invasion and subsequent sanctions, but is committed to mitigating these costs.

However, before his remarks on Thursday, U.S. crude oil prices surged above $100 a barrel, pushing gasoline prices to an average of $3.54 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association. At least three states had average gas prices of $4 or more. Meanwhile, US stocks and Dow futures also plunged.

“We are taking active steps to reduce costs, and U.S. oil and gas companies should not – should not – exploit this moment to raise their respective prices to boost their profits,” Biden said Thursday. “In our sanctions package, we have specifically designed to allow energy payments to continue.”

Throughout the crisis, Biden has reminded Americans that the United States has a responsibility to defend its NATO allies — and democracy around the world.

“America is standing up to bullies,” Biden said Thursday. “We stand for freedom. That’s who we are.”

ABC News’ Luis Martinez, Patrick Reevell, Allison Pecorin, Zunaira Zaki, Sarah Kolinovsky and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

ABC News

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