MOSCOW (AP) – The East-West faceoff over Ukraine escalated dramatically, with Russian lawmakers authorizing President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside his country and United States (US) President Joe Biden and European leaders responding by slapping sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banks.
Both leaders signalled that an even bigger confrontation could lie ahead. Putin has yet to unleash the force of the 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, while Biden held back on even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia but said they would go ahead if there is further aggression.
The measures, accompanied by the repositioning of additional US troops to the Baltic nations on NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia, came as Russian forces rolled into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin said he was recognising the independence of the separatist regions in defiance of US and European demands.
Speaking at the White House, Biden said the Kremlin had flagrantly violated international law in what he called the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.” He warned of more sanctions if Putin went further.
“We are united in our support of Ukraine,” Biden said. “We are united in our opposition to Russian aggression.” When it comes to Russian claims of a justification or pretext for an invasion, Biden said, “None of us should be fooled. None of us will be fooled. There is no justification.”
Hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the threat of invasion, which US officials have for weeks portrayed as all but inevitable, appeared to evaporate. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled plans for a meeting in Geneva with his Russian counterpart, saying it would not be productive and that Russia’s actions indicated Moscow was not serious about a peaceful path to resolving the crisis.
Western nations sought to present a united front, with more than two dozen European Union members unanimously agreeing to levy their own initial set of sanctions against Russian officials. Germany also said it was halting the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia – a lucrative deal long sought by Moscow but criticised by the US for increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy.
The US, meanwhile, moved to cut off Russia’s government from Western finance, sanctioning two of its banks and blocking it from trading in its debt on American and European markets. The administration’s actions hit civilian leaders in Russia’s leadership hierarchy and two Russian banks considered especially close to the Kremlin and Russia’s military, with more than USD80 billion in assets.
That includes freezing all of those banks’ assets under US jurisdictions.