President Biden planned to announce Thursday that the U.S. will impose severe economic sanctions on Russia over what he described as an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine.
In a statement issued just after midnight, Biden did not detail what those measures would entail but said he was hoping to “rally international condemnation” of the attack that a senior Pentagon official said Thursday was only just beginning.
“What we’re seeing are initial phases of a large-scale invasion,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official said Russia appeared to be advancing in a three-pronged land assault on Ukraine from the east and from two regions in Belarus with a clear goal: to “decapitate” the Ukrainian government and replace it with people friendly to the Kremlin.
After urging citizens to take up arms against Russian forces, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted a demand, prior to Biden’s announcement, that Western allies bar Russia from a critical global financial messaging system and impose a no-fly zone over his country.
With bipartisan support for tougher sanctions on Russia and President Vladimir Putin, the new measures Biden is set to announce could include cutting Russia’s top banks out of SWIFT, the financial messaging system used by more than 11,000 banks around the world. Other measures could restrict technology exports and sanctioning other high-ranking Russian officials, including Putin himself.
The White House in recent days has ordered sanctions that officials said would target Russian financial institutions and a few of the country’s elites and their family members, including the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service. The administration, clinging to a sliver of hope in deterring Putin, held back its stiffest measures and said it would escalate if and when Putin’s invasion ramped up.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday night. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”
Biden is expected to announce the new measures from the East Room at 9:30 a.m. Pacific. He spent the morning meeting with his National Security Council and conferring via videoconference with Group of 7 allies.
On Wednesday, Biden said he would allow previously blocked sanctions to take effect against the company behind the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which was built to transport natural gas from Russia directly to Germany. The U.S. “will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate,” he said in a statement.
The announcement came a day after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had taken steps to halt the process of certifying the pipeline, which has yet to begin operating.
The sanctions are being imposed while the Kremlin has pressed ahead with its assault on Ukraine, with explosions heard in cities across the country as Russian troops crossed the border by land and sea, despite Moscow’s denials that an invasion was planned.
Video showed Russian armored vehicles advancing into mainland Ukraine from Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow illegally seized eight years ago. Ukrainian air traffic controllers sealed off the country’s airspace “due to the high risk of aviation safety for civil aviation.”
In response to the attacks, Zelensky declared martial law in his embattled nation and encouraged his compatriots to take up arms.
Although Biden and NATO allies have spoken repeatedly about their support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, they have also made it clear they will not assist Ukraine militarily beyond providing weapons assistance and financial aid.
“There’s no scenario — the president is not sending U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine against Russia,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, suggesting that Russian troops taking over the country was “several steps away.”
Less than 24 hours after Psaki made that statement in the White House briefing room, Russian troops were already on the ground near Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, according to live television reports. The multifront assault, analysts say, appears geared toward toppling Zelensky’s government.