‘Putin Chose This War’: Biden Threatens to Debilitate Russian Economy

“We will limit Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen—to be part of the global economy.”
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about Russia's military invasion of Ukraine in the White House Thursday.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about Russia's military invasion of Ukraine in the White House Thursday. (Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

President Biden announced a series of multilateral sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s economy on Thursday, less than a day after Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said in a White House speech. “This is going to impose severe costs on the Russian economy both immediately and over time.”

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Biden said the sanctions were coordinated with 27 countries in Europe and elsewhere to punish Russia for its attack. The sanctions include barring Russia’s four largest banks from access to the international system, freezing Russian assets in the U.S., and an expansion of sanctions against Russian oligarchs. But the sanctions did not include banning Russia from the SWIFT banking system or direct sanctions on Putin.

Biden also said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would convene a summit on Friday, and that the U.S. planned to move troops to its NATO allies in Europe, even as he promised that the U.S. would not directly intervene militarily in Ukraine.

"We have purposefully designed these sanctions to maximize the long-term impact on Russia and to minimize the impact on the United States and our allies,” Biden said. “We will limit Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen—to be part of the global economy.”

The Biden administration had attempted to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from a full-scale invasion by repeatedly declassifying and publicizing intelligence that showed he planned to invade, while warning that an invasion would trigger severe sanctions. The U.S. also sought to work closely with European security partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to coordinate a pressure campaign to keep Putin from invading.

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“For weeks we’ve been warning that this would happen and now it’s unfolding largely as we predicted,” Biden said Thursday.

That policy failed to deter Putin, however. The next question is how effectively the U.S. and European democracies can coordinate an economic response that will punish Russia for Putin’s actions—and how much pain they’re willing to tolerate. 

Much of Europe, especially Germany, is dependent on Russia for its energy consumption, and there seems to be little appetite to sanction its energy sector. And as the European Union worked towards harsher sanctions against Russia before the invasion, a number of countries sought carve-outs for their own home industries, with Belgium looking to protect the diamond industry and Italy seeking an exemption to keep selling luxury fashion goods to Russia.

Ukrainian officials had hoped for more. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier on Thursday that NATO must ban Russia from the SWIFT banking transfer system, or have blood on its hands.

“I will not be diplomatic on this. Everyone who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from SWIFT has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children will be on their hands too,” he tweeted.

“We need more sanctions, we need more weapons to strengthen our defenses, and we need humanitarian support for those who suffer now from the Russian aggression,” Kuleba tweeted later, as Biden spoke.

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Biden said potential future sanctions including those targeting Russian oil and gas and targeting Putin directly were still on the table, but he argued the new sanctions were more damaging than revoking Russia’s SWIFT access.

“They are profound sanctions. Let’s have a conversation in another month or so to see if they’re working,” Biden said.

Biden’s speech came shortly after he met with other nations’ leaders at the G7 Economic Summit including the heads of government of Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom as well as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

And they come as Russia continues its offensive into Ukraine. Missile strikes have been reported across Ukraine and Russian troops have attempted to seize key strategic points throughout the country.

Russia had sent in troops from the Crimean Peninsula in the south and regions of eastern Ukraine it’s occupied for years, as well as from Belarus in the north. According to reports, Russian forces had seized an airport outside of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. An advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl.

“Make no mistake, freedom will prevail,” Biden said.