President Joe Biden on Tuesday imposed a harsh new set of economic sanctions and authorized a new movement of U.S. troops to the Baltics, all geared toward crippling Russia’s economy and deterring any further escalation of the Ukraine conflict.
“This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Biden said in an afternoon briefing from the White House. “Let me begin to impose sanctions in response.”
Biden also said he’d be moving U.S. troops and military equipment already stationed in Europe to the Baltics as a “purely defensive” move, warning Russia he intends to defend “every inch of NATO territory.” (Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, all in the Baltic region, are members of NATO.)
The new sanctions come a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized two separatist regions in Donbas, where an eight-year war between Kremlin-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government has already claimed 13,000 lives, in a bizarre press conference where he made multiple threats to Ukraine. Putin followed up the press conference by authorizing Russian “peacekeepers” to enter into the two separatist regions in support of local forces. (Many experts have long maintained that Russian army soldiers are already in Donbas and have been for years.)
Backlash from the international community came hours after Putin’s decision, with diplomats slamming Russia’s actions as war-mongering in an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting held late Monday. British representative to the United Nations Barbara Woodward told the council that Russia’s actions “unleashes the forces of war, death, and destruction on the people of Ukraine.”
Biden aimed sanctions directly at the VEB bank and its military wing, as well as further measures against Russian politicians and elites, which comes on the heels of Germany halting the certification of the $10 billion Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline. That pipeline was set to be a key driver of the Russian economy.
The movement of American troops, thousands of whom were recently deployed to Poland and other Eastern European NATO allies close to Russia, is a show of support to the international defense collective. Adding new troops to Baltic nations (Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania) who all have significant Russian populations long seen as a potential pretext for a Russian incursion, shows the Biden administration is serious about deterring any further military actions directed by the Kremlin on its neighbors.
Hours before Biden’s remarks, Putin declared that he recognizes the entire Donbas region, which includes areas under Ukrainian military control, as the land of separatists. There had been a question whether the Kremlin would use the current contact lines, between the trenches of Ukrainian military and the separatists, as borders of what Putin considers the two recognized regions. Using the entirety of the region as the borders effectively means Russia will require Ukraine to either give up those parts or fight for them.
Former President Donald Trump, at one time seen as close to Putin, issued a statement online claiming that the conflict wouldn’t have happened if he’d still been president.
“If properly handled, there was absolutely no reason that the situation currently happening in Ukraine should have happened at all,” Trump said. “I know Vladimir Putin very well, and he would have never done during the Trump Administration what he is doing now, no way!”