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Biden announces initial sanctions on Russia over Ukraine moves

President Biden said Tuesday the U.S. would sanction Russian sovereign debt and Russian elites, as well as their family members, in response to Russia's deployment of troops to regions in eastern Ukraine, describing the developments as the start of an invasion.

Biden also said that the U.S. would sanction Russian financial institutions, VEB and Russian state bank Promsvyazbank, or PSB.

The announcement came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics in eastern Ukraine as independent and afterward ordered troops into Ukraine's Donbas region.

On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers greenlighted a request by Putin to use military force outside of Russia, a move that could pave the way for a broader invasion of Ukraine.

"He is setting up a rationale to take more territory by force, in my view," Biden said of Putin in remarks from the East Room. "This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine."

The president made clear that the sanctions were an initial response to Russian aggression and said his administration would impose further sanctions if Moscow engaged in a broader invasion of Ukraine.

"If Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as with sanctions," Biden said.

Biden said that the sanctions on Russian sovereign debt would cut off the Russian government from Western financing.

The new directive extends an existing restriction on sovereign debt "to cover participation in the secondary market for bonds issued after March 1, 2022 by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation, or the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation," according to the Treasury Department.

Speaking to reporters later Tuesday afternoon, a senior Biden administration official said that the administration could impose further sanctions on larger Russian banks if Russia continues to escalate, such as Russia's VTB Bank.

"No Russian financial institution is safe if this invasion proceeds," the official said.

The Treasury Department in a subsequent release said that the list of sanctioned individuals includes FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov and his son Denis; Russian politician Sergei Kiriyenko and his son Vladimir; and Petr Fradkov, chairman and CEO of PSB.

The senior administration official said that the sanctions should put other Russian elites and their family members "on notice."

Biden had faced growing calls from Republicans and Democrats to unveil harsher sanctions on Moscow after Putin declared Donetsk and Luhansk independent on Monday.

The White House, which earlier this week initially did not call the Russian troop deployments to the region an invasion, announced limited sanctions on Donetsk and Luhansk on Monday afternoon that blocked U.S. investment, financing and trade with the two areas. Donetsk and Luhansk have been embroiled in a separatist war since Putin invaded Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

White House principal deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer made clear during a CNN appearance earlier Tuesday morning that the administration viewed the Russian troop movements as an invasion that would be met with "significant" sanctions. Finer also indicated the sanctions would be imposed in waves.

Biden noted Tuesday that the sanctions would go "far beyond" the measures the U.S. and its allies imposed on Russia in 2014 in response to that crisis.

Even with the new announcement of sanctions, Biden seemed to acknowledge the penalties would be insufficient in stopping Putin from launching a wide-scale attack against Ukraine.

"We still believe that Russia is poised to go much further in launching a massive military attack against Ukraine," Biden said. "I hope we're wrong about that."

Biden made clear that Putin is the aggressor in Ukraine with its military buildup, seeking to rebut the Russian leader's narrative and accusing Putin of blatant violation of international law.

"Further Russian assault in Ukraine remains a severe threat in the days ahead," Biden said. "If Russia proceeds, it is Russia and Russia alone that bears responsibility."

The U.S. sanctions were part of a broader constellation of penalties targeting Russia for its actions. Germany announced that it would halt approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Ukraine. The European Union and United Kingdom also announced sanctions targeting Russian individuals and institutions, including Russian banks.

As he concluded his remarks, Biden conveyed that the U.S. and its allies remain open to diffusing the brewing crisis through diplomacy "if it is serious." The window for a diplomatic breakthrough seemed to close rapidly, however, with Putin's actions over the previous 24 hours.

"I'm hoping diplomacy is still available," Biden said.

[Source: By Morgan Chalfant, The Hill, Washington, 22Feb22]

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