President Biden on Thursday contradicted one of his own administration’s talking points during the run-up to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, admitting that sanctions “never deter” military aggression.
Mr. Biden’s comments came just hours after the U.S. imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Russia, slapping penalties against 300 lawmakers — including most members of the Russian parliament — and more than 40 defense companies.
A White House fact sheet hailed the move as a way to stop Russian efforts to fund its attacks on Ukraine.
But speaking to reporters after the NATO summit in Belgium, Mr. Biden acknowledged they don’t really work.
“Sanctions never deter,” he said. “The maintenance of sanctions, the increasing the pain and the demonstration of why I asked for this NATO meeting is to be sure that after a month, we will sustain what we’re doing, not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of the entire year. That’s what will stop him.”
Mr. Biden also scolded the reporter for asking why he thinks the sanctions unveiled Thursday would make Russian President Vladimir Putin change course.
“I did not say that,” Mr. Biden said. “Sanctions never deter. You keep talking about that. Sanctions never deter.”
Mr. Biden’s remarks contradicted assurances from the White House over the past few months that sanctions would stop Mr. Putin from moving in on Ukraine. Several top officials have insisted sanctions would prevent a Russian invasion.
“Sanctions are not an end to themselves. They serve a higher purpose. And that purpose is to deter and prevent,” deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh said last month. “They’re meant to prevent and deter a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could involve the seizure of major cities, including Kyiv. They’re meant to prevent large-scale human suffering that could involve tens of thousands of casualties in a conflict.”
Vice President Kamala Harris last month insisted the sanctions would have a “meaningful” deterrent effect, adding that view is shared by U.S. allies.
National Security adviser Jake Sullivan at a White House press briefing in February said sanctions would prevent a Ukraine invasion.
“The president believes that sanctions are intended to deter,” Mr. Sullivan said. “And in order for them to work — to deter, they have to be set up in a way where if Putin moves, then the costs are imposed.”