The East-West standoff over Ukraine took a dramatic turn Tuesday, with Russian lawmakers authorizing President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside his country and US President Joe Biden and European leaders retaliating with sanctions against Russian oligarchs and banks.
Both leaders hinted at the possibility of a larger confrontation. Putin has yet to unleash the full force of the 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, while Biden refrained from imposing even tougher sanctions that would likely cause economic chaos in Russia but would be implemented if further aggression occurred.
The measures, which were accompanied by the repositioning of additional US troops to the Baltic nations on NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia, came as Russian forces rolled into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine, defying the US and European demands.
Biden said Kremlin violated international Law
Biden said the Kremlin had flagrantly violated international law in what he described as the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” during a speech at the White House. He warned Putin that if he went any further, he would face additional sanctions. “Our support for Ukraine is unwavering,” Biden stated. “Our opposition to Russian aggression is unwavering.” Regarding Russian claims of a justification or pretext for an invasion, Biden stated, “None of us should be fooled.” We will not be duped. There is no rationale.”
Hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the invasion threat, which US officials have painted as all but inevitable for weeks, appeared to vanish. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned meeting with his Russian counterpart in Geneva on Thursday, claiming the meeting would be fruitless and that Russia’s actions indicated Moscow was not committed to a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Western nations attempted to present a united front, with more than a dozen European Union members unanimously agreeing to impose their own initial set of sanctions against Russian officials. Germany also announced that it was suspending the certification process for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — a lucrative deal that Moscow has long sought but has been criticized by the US for increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy.
Meanwhile, the US has taken steps to isolate Russia’s government from Western financial markets, sanctioning two of its banks and prohibiting it from trading in its debt on American and European markets. The administration’s actions targeted civilian leaders in Russia’s leadership hierarchy, as well as two Russian banks with more than $80 billion in assets that are considered particularly close to the Kremlin and Russia’s military. This includes freezing the assets of those banks located in US jurisdictions.
Biden, however, refrained from some of the most severe financial penalties contemplated by the US, including sanctions that would bolster Germany’s hold on any restart of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; an export ban that would deny Russia access to US high-tech for its industries and military; and broad bans that could cripple Russia’s ability to conduct business with the rest of the world.
US announced the deployment of additional US troops
Biden announced the deployment of additional US troops to the Baltics, though he characterized the moves as purely “defensive,” stating, “We have no intention of fighting Russia.” According to a senior defense official, the US is deploying approximately 800 infantry troops and 40 attack aircraft to NATO’s eastern flank from other locations in Europe. Additionally, an F-35 strike fighter and AH-64 Apache attack helicopter contingent will be relocated.
Earlier Tuesday, Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, unanimously approved Putin’s use of military force outside the country, effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to rebel regions where an eight-year conflict has claimed nearly 14,000 lives.
Putin then laid out three conditions for resolving the crisis, which has threatened to plunge Europe back into war, raising the specter of massive casualties, continental energy shortages, and global economic chaos.
Putin suggested that the crisis could be resolved if Kyiv recognized Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed after seizing it from Ukraine in 2014, renounced its NATO bid, and partially demilitarized. The West has repeatedly condemned the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law and has categorically rejected barring Ukraine from NATO indefinitely.
When asked if he had sent Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could travel, Putin responded, “I have not stated that the troops will go there immediately.” “It is impossible to forecast a specific pattern of action,” he continued, “because it will depend on the concrete situation as it develops on the ground.”
EU announced sanctions against Russia
The EU announced initial sanctions against 351 Russian legislators who voted in favor of recognizing Ukraine’s two separatist regions, as well as 27 other Russian officials and institutions in the defense and banking sectors. Additionally, they sought to restrict Moscow’s access to the European Union’s capital and financial markets.
With tensions rising and a wider conflict becoming more likely, the White House began referring to Russia’s deployments in the Donbas region as an “invasion” after initially avoiding the term — a red line Biden had stated would result in severe sanctions. “We believe that this is, indeed, the start of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine,” Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, told CNN. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is precisely what we are witnessing.”
On Monday evening, shortly after Putin announced the deployment of troops, the White House announced limited sanctions against rebel regions. According to a senior Biden administration official briefing reporters on the sanctions, “Russia has occupied these regions since 2014” and “Russian troops moving into Donbas would not be a new step.”
Western leaders have long warned Moscow would seek a pretext to invade — and just such a pretext appeared to materialize Monday with Putin’s recognition of the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The Kremlin then ratcheted up the stakes by declaring that recognition extends to large portions of those two regions currently held by Ukrainian forces, including the major Azov Sea port of Mariupol. Nevertheless, he added, the rebels should eventually negotiate with Ukraine.
Global condemnation was swift. In Washington, members of Congress from both parties vowed that the US would continue to support Ukraine, even as some pressed for swifter and more severe sanctions against Russia. Senators considered a sanctions package but decided against it as the White House continued its strategy. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indicated that he would consider severing diplomatic relations with Russia, and Kyiv summoned its ambassador in Moscow.
If Putin continues his incursion into Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg vowed that the West would follow suit. “If Russia chooses to use force against Ukraine once more, there will be even harsher sanctions and a higher price to pay,” he added.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, announced that the United Kingdom would impose sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals. He warned that a full-fledged offensive would result in “further robust sanctions.” Zelenskyy stated that he was mobilizing some of the country’s military reserves but added that no full mobilization was necessary.
Zelenskyy stated in an address to the nation that his decree applied only to those assigned to the so-called operational reserve, which is typically activated during active hostilities and covers “a special period of time,” without elaborating.
“There is no reason for full mobilization today. We urgently need to augment the Ukrainian army and other military formations,” he stated. Oleksii Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, stated earlier this year that Ukraine has the ability to call up to 2.5 million people.