- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2022

President Biden on Thursday ordered a series of what he called “strong” economic sanctions on Russia as punishment for its devastating invasion of Ukraine, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin “chose this war.”

The U.S. sanctions block assets of four large Russian banks, freeze holdings of wealthy Russian oligarchs and impose high-tech export controls on Moscow.

“This aggression cannot go unanswered, and if it did, the consequences for America would be much worse,” Mr. Biden said in a televised speech from the White House. “America stands up to bullies. We stand up for freedom.”

Earlier Thursday, Russia launched a widespread military attack on Ukraine along three fronts. Russian airstrikes bombed cities and towns as armored columns advanced to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

A senior U.S. defense official said the moves were to take out key population centers and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government.

By nightfall, at least 57 people were killed and 169 people were injured, a top Ukrainian official said.

SEE ALSO: McConnell to Biden: Ratchet the sanctions against Russia all the way up

Russia seized control of the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst commercial atomic disaster in 1986.

Mr. Biden responded by sending an additional 7,000 troops to Germany to bolster NATO’s defenses. Those troops are in addition to the 7,000 sent to Eastern Europe over the past few weeks.

NATO is set to convene an emergency summit Friday to discuss how the coalition could further strengthen its defensive capabilities in the face of Mr. Putin’s attack.

The troops will not be deployed directly to Ukraine or engage in combat with Russian troops.

Keeping U.S. troops out of Ukraine is a rare issue that has united Democrats and Republicans in Washington. Even the most hawkish Republicans in Congress are not calling for Mr. Biden to send troops into armed conflict with Russia.

In a speech early Thursday, Mr. Putin chillingly warned that any country coming to Ukraine’s defense would face the full force of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

SEE ALSO: Ukraine crisis shows Biden behind the curve again, critics say

“No one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to defeat and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor,” Mr. Putin said.

Republican leaders accused Mr. Biden of failing to impose sanctions on Russia ahead of the invasion in hopes of deterring Moscow.

“Deterrence after the fact is not deterrence at all,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “And we should have sent more reinforcements to support NATO’s eastern flank allies earlier.”

He said after Mr. Biden’s address, “We’re all together at this point, and we need to be together about what should be done. But I have some advice: Ratchet the sanctions all the way up. Don’t hold any back.”

With the threat of military intervention off the table, Mr. Biden announced a fresh round of sanctions against Russia, vowing to make Mr. Putin “a pariah on the international stage.”

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

The latest sanctions include export controls, which restrict Russia’s ability to acquire new technology, including semiconductor chips and other products essential to its military and aerospace industries.

Mr. Biden penalized four more Russian banks and elites with close ties to Mr. Putin by freezing their U.S. assets.

Jeffrey J. Schott, a senior fellow of international trade and economic sanctions for the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the export control sanction will be particularly impactful because it constrains Russia’s economy.

“It will have a corrosive effect on the Russian economy,” he said.

The penalties announced Thursday had been held in reserve as Mr. Biden hoped the threat of those sanctions would be enough to deter Mr. Putin from invading Ukraine.

But the first tranche of sanctions announced this week and the threat of more to come have been ineffective at persuading Mr. Putin to reverse course.

The earlier sanctions included punishment of Russian elites and two Russian banks.

Mr. Biden did not impose some of the harshest sanctions available, leaving critics wondering what he was waiting for with Russian forces marching through Ukraine.

The sanctions are omitting the Russian energy giant Rosneft, apparently over concerns of disrupting energy markets.

Another sanction left off the table was blocking Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a high-security network that connects financial institutions around the globe.

If Russia is removed from SWIFT, it would severely hamper its ability to do business with other countries. Shipments of metals, oil, gas and other commodities could stop for at least some time.

Mr. Biden said European allies weren’t ready to boot Mr. Putin from SWIFT. They said the penalties imposed on Russian banks will have “more of a consequence.” But reports emerged later Thursday that some European Union leaders are considering removing Russia from SWIFT, which is viewed as the “nuclear option” of sanctions.

In a tweet Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western nations to ban Russia from SWIFT.

Also not included in the latest package are sanctions on Mr. Putin personally. Mr. Biden did not respond to a question about why he did not impose penalties against the Russian president.

Mr. Biden said he had no plans to speak with Mr. Putin.

It is not clear why the Biden administration believes the latest round of sanctions will have an impact.

“Sanctions, unfortunately, have become a substitute for policy when it should be only one tool within the broader strategic policy toolkit,” said Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute focused on Russian policy. “The sanctions can be a powerful tool only when they are combined with other tools like the threat of military intervention. That is what we are not doing.”

Russia has been subject to sanctions since its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and its behavior has not changed. Instead, Moscow has taken steps to blunt its impact, including phasing out its use of the U.S. dollar, reducing its debt and building up its financial reserves.

Russia currently has the fourth-largest currency and gold reserves in the world.

“Putin has built up a cushion, but sanctions can last for a long time and that cushion will be eroded,” Mr. Schott said.

Ahead of his speech, Mr. Biden spoke virtually with top officials of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations to discuss which sanctions would be imposed on Russia. Other European allies announced their own sanctions after the meeting.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that she would freeze Russian assets in the EU and block Russian banks’ access to European financial markets.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that his government will launch “the largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen.”

Mr. Johnson said all major Russian banks will have their British assets frozen and be excluded from the U.K. financial system. The British government will also prohibit Russian companies from raising money in the United Kingdom.

Britain also will impose export bans to further isolate Russia from technology. Sanctions were also slapped on five Russian defense companies, including Rostec, the country’s largest defense business.

All told, the sanctions will affect more than 100 entities, companies and individuals, including five oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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