President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that the United States will impose sanctions “far beyond” the ones that the United States imposed in 2014 following the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
“This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Biden said in a White House speech, signaling a shift in his administration’s position. “We will continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates,” he added.
Russian elites and their family members will also soon face sanctions, Biden said, adding that “Russia will pay an even steeper price” if Moscow decides to push forward into Ukraine. Two Russian banks and Russian sovereign debt will also be sanctioned, he said.
Also in his speech, Biden said he would send more U.S. troops to the Baltic states as a defensive measure to strengthen NATO’s position in the area. Russia shares a border with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
A day earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to go into the separatist Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine after a lengthy speech in which he recognized the two regions’ independence. Western powers decried the move and began to slap sanctions on certain Russian individuals, while Germany announced it would halt plans to go ahead with the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
At home, Biden is facing bipartisan pressure to take more extensive actions against Russia following Putin’s decision. However, a recent poll showed that a majority of Americans believe that sending troops to Ukraine is a “bad idea,” and a slim minority believes it’s a good one.
All 27 European Union countries unanimously agreed on an initial list of sanctions targeting Russian authorities, said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and EU foreign affairs head Josep Borell claimed the package “will hurt Russia … a lot.”
Earlier Tuesday, Borell asserted that Russian troops have already entered the Donbas region, which comprises Donetsk and Lugansk, which are under the control of pro-Russia groups since 2014.
And on Tuesday, the Russian Parliament approved a Putin-back plan to use military force outside of Russia’s borders as Putin further said that Russia confirmed it would recognize the expanded borders of Lugansk and Donetsk.
“We recognized the states,” the Russian president said. “That means we recognized all of their fundamental documents, including the constitution, where it is written that their [borders] are the territories at the time the two regions were part of Ukraine.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Putin said that Ukraine is “not interested in peaceful solutions” and that “every day, they are amassing troops in the Donbas.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday morning again downplayed the prospect of a Russian invasion and proclaimed: “There will be no war.”
“There will not be an all-out war against Ukraine, and there will not be a broad escalation from Russia. If there is, then we will put Ukraine on a war footing,” he said in a televised address.
The White House began to signal that they would shift their own position on whether it’s the start of an invasion.
“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” said Jon Finer, the White House deputy national security adviser in public remarks. “An invasion is an invasion and that is what is underway.”
For weeks, Western governments have been claiming Moscow would invade its neighbor after Russia gathered some 150,000 troops along the countries’ borders. They alleged that the Kremlin would attempt to come up with a pretext to attack, while some officials on Monday said Putin’s speech recognizing the two regions was just that.
But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Tuesday that Russia’s “latest invasion” of Ukraine is threatening stability in the region, but he asserted that Putin can “still avoid a full blown, tragic war of choice.”