Biden hits Russia with sanctions, transfers troops to Germany

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden hit back at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursdaytriggering tough new sanctions, ordering the deployment of thousands more troops to NATO ally Germany, and declaring that America would stand up to Russian Vladimir Putin.

He also acknowledged that the invasion — and efforts to thwart Putin — will come at a cost to Americans. But he sought to reassure the public that any economic pain that could accompany rising energy prices would be short-lived in the United States.

As for the Russian president, Biden said, “He will test the West’s resolve to see if we stick together. And we go.”

Targeting the Russian financial system, Biden said, the United States will freeze the assets of major Russian banks, i impose export controls aimed at the country’s high-tech needs and sanction its business oligarchs.

The president said the United States would also deploy additional forces to Germany to bolster NATO after the invasion of Ukraine, which is not a member of the defense organization. Some 7,000 additional American soldiers will be sent.

Some US lawmakers — and Ukrainian officials — have called on Biden to do more.

“We can and must do more,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, pointing to the possibility of removing Russian banks from the SWIFT international banking system and personally sanctioning Putin. “Congress and the Biden administration must not shy away from any option.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday voiced support for Biden’s latest moves, but also urged Biden to exert maximum pressure on Putin. McConnell said the four top congressional leaders in the House and Senate received a classified briefing from the president on Thursday evening.

“We’re all together at this point and we have to be together on what needs to be done,” McConnell said. “But I have one advice: increase the penalties to the maximum. Do not hold back.

White House deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh stressed that the Biden administration values ​​close coordination with allies and even avoids the perception of hurting ordinary Russian citizens when deploying sanctions. He declined to detail a circumstance in which Biden might approve of cutting the Russians from SWIFT or directly targeting Putin.

“When we think about what penalties to apply, we are not cowboys and cowgirls pushing a button to impose costs,” Singh said. “We follow a set of principles. We want the sanctions to have enough impact to demonstrate our resolve and to show that we have the capacity to meet crushing costs for Russia.

Biden said Putin, who called the collapse of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the last century, is looking beyond Ukraine.

“He has much bigger ambitions,” Biden said. “He actually wants to restore the former Soviet Union. That’s what it’s about.

The sanctions announced Thursday match the White House’s insistence that they would hit Russia’s financial system and Putin’s inner circle, while imposing export controls that would seek to deprive industries and the military Russian American semiconductors and other high-tech products.

“Putin is the aggressor,” Biden said. “Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

But Biden, so far, has not imposed some of the harshest potential sanctions, including excluding Russia from the SWIFT payment system, which allows money transfers from one bank to another in the whole world.

Biden announced the sanctions at the White House while the Ukrainian government reported increased casualties inflicted by Russian forces attacking from the east, north and south.

Oil and natural gas prices have already surged on fears that Russia – an energy production giant – is slowing the flow of oil and natural gas to Europe. Biden, however, acknowledged that the sanctions “will take time” to have their effect on the Russian economy.

Biden added that after Russia’s “brutal assault” on Ukraine, it would be a mistake to let Putin’s actions go unaddressed. He said if they did, “the consequences for America would be far worse.”

“America stands up to bullies, we stand up for freedom,” Biden said. “It’s who we are.”

Biden spoke hours after holding a virtual meeting with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Italy and Japan. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also attended the meeting.

The president also met with his national security team in the White House Situation Room as he sought to flesh out US measures amid the rapidly escalating crisis.

The White House said Biden would meet with other NATO heads of state on Friday morning “in an extraordinary virtual summit to discuss the security situation in and around Ukraine.” Vice President Kamala Harris will virtually meet with the leaders of NATO’s eastern flank members, including countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that gained independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 .

While Biden called the sanctions harsh, Ukrainian officials urged the United States and the West to go further.

“We demand the disconnection of Russia from SWIFT, the introduction of a no-fly zone over Ukraine and other effective measures to stop the aggressor,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a statement. a tweet.

The Biden administration, however, has shown some reluctance to cut Russia off from SWIFT, at least immediately, due to fears that the move could also have huge ramifications for Europe and other Western economies. Biden, responding to questions from reporters, appeared to push a decision on SWIFT to European allies.

“It’s always an option but right now it’s not the position the rest of Europe wants to take,” Biden said. He also argued that the financial sanctions he announced would be more damaging to Russia.

The system headquartered in Belgium enables tens of millions of daily transactions between banks, financial exchanges and other institutions. The United States notably previously blocked Iran from the system because of its nuclear program.

European officials have noted that Russia’s loss of access to SWIFT could be a drag on the wider global economy. Russia has also equated a SWIFT ban with a declaration of war. And because the system cements the importance of the US dollar in global finance, outright bans also carry the risk of pushing countries to use alternatives via the Chinese government or blockchain-based technologies.

Brian Frey, a former Justice Department prosecutor in the Trump administration, said that although SWIFT is the main messaging system for financial payments, “there are alternatives to the system” and cutting off Russia would create “a backlash in rear and immediate problems for the international community”. ”

The sanctions notably target the two largest Russian banks, Sberbank and VTB Bank. The US Treasury Department said the comprehensive sanctions “target almost 80% of all banking assets in Russia and will have a profound and lasting effect on the Russian economy and financial system”.

People close to Putin have also been targeted by the latest sanctions. Among them are former Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov; Andrey Patrushev, a Putin ally who held high-ranking positions at the state-owned Gazprom Neft; and former Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, chairman of the board of the oil company Rosneft.

The Treasury also announced sanctions against Belarusian banksthe country’s defense industry and security officials for their support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Biden said the export control measures he ordered would “impose a significant cost on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time.” The measures will restrict Russia’s access to semiconductors, computers, telecommunications, information security equipment, lasers and sensors.

“We’re going to hurt their ability to compete in a 21st century high-tech economy,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, the second Russian diplomat in Washington, Minister-Counsellor Sergey Trepelkov, has been expelled in retaliation for the Russian expulsion of the No. 2 US diplomat in Moscow earlier this month, a senior Department of Defense official said Thursday. ‘State.

The expulsion was unrelated to the invasion and is part of a long-running dispute between Washington and Moscow over embassy staff, the official said.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Josh Boak, Fatima Hussein, Matthew Lee, Lisa Mascaro, Chris Megerian in Washington and Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky contributed reporting.

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