Biden taking calibrated approach as Russian troops move into Ukraine

A day after downplaying Russian tanks moving into a contested vicinity of Ukraine on Monday as “not new,” the White House began referring to the troop movements as “an invasion” on Tuesday, setting the table for President Biden to announce additional economic sanctions on Moscow.

Biden is scheduled to address the nation at 10 a.m. Pacific time, the White House said. But it’s unclear how much further — and how fast — Biden will go in punishing Russian President Vladimir Putin as he directs Russian forces to expand deeper into Ukraine, as Western allies try to stay unified as they shift from trying to deter a conflict to containing one.

In the first hours of a new conflict in Europe, democratic powers are working to balance the need to punish Putin for violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty with the awareness that harsh economic repercussions may not be enough to force the Russian autocrat to change course. In fact, officials say, Putin may use Western sanctions as a pretext to escalate the crisis.

So far, allies have taken limited steps in responding to Russia, keeping more meaningful economic sanctions in save as political pressure builds on them to take more strong action.

On Monday, the White House announced that it would impose economic sanctions on the two separatist regions of Ukraine that Putin recognized as independent. But they held off on a larger package of sanctions, which had been agreed to in recent weeks by the leading members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Explaining that stance Monday evening, a senior administration official told reporters that it considered Russian tanks storming into the Donbas vicinity of Ukraine not to be a provocation worthy of the administration’s most aggressive possible response. “Russia has had forces in the Donbas vicinity for the past eight years,” the senior administration official said.

Implying that Putin’s actions did not however cross the proverbial red line triggering the more harsh package of sanctions, the administration official said the White House would instead calibrate its response to Russia’s actions, not Putin’s words.

On Monday, Putin recognized two separatist-held enclaves in Ukraine as independent breakaway republics and ordered troops into those areas. He told his nation in a rambling speech Monday night that Ukraine was a Bolshevik-constructed amalgam produced thoroughly by Russia. “Ukraine was never a true nation,” he said.

Given the ambiguity of Putin’s strategy and end goals, Washington looked to be leaving the door open to a diplomatic solution. As of Tuesday morning, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken nevertheless planned to fly to Geneva later this week for more talks with his Russian style, Sergei Lavrov.

But the administration’s rhetoric was stronger on Tuesday than it had been during the first hours of the crisis.

“An invasion is an invasion and that is what is underway,” Jonathan Finer, a deputy national security advisor to Biden, told CNN. Finer also acknowledged that Russia “closed the door already further to diplomacy by the way that they have conducted their business yesterday,” and that a diplomatic resolution to the crisis now seemed “much less likely.”

Germany took a major step Tuesday toward punishing Putin, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz announcing that he has halted the time of action of certifying the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, a nevertheless incomplete project that Putin has desired to gain greater leverage over Europe.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki applauded Scholz in a tweet: “@POTUS made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward. We have been in close consultations with Germany overnight and welcome their announcement. We will be following up with our own measures today.”

U.S. financial markets dropped quickly after the news from Berlin, clarifying how Americans and others around the world are likely to be affected by the conflict and its effect on energy markets.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s national security council, responded to Germany’s move in a tweet aimed at European consumers: “Welcome to the brave new world where Europeans are very soon going to pay €2.000 for 1.000 cubic meters of natural gas,” he tweeted.

British chief Minister Boris Johnson also took action on Monday, slapping sanctions on five Russian edges and three wealthy oligarchs, individuals who have thorough financial interests in energy and infrastructure, and who have already been sanctioned by Washington.

consequently far, Republicans and Democrats alike have mostly backed Biden’s efforts to deter Putin. Now that those efforts seem to have failed, lawmakers in both parties have begun pushing the White House to respond with more vigor.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who led a bipartisan delegation to last weekend’s Munich Security Conference, said in a statement that Putin’s actions amounted to a declaration of war on Ukraine that “should closest be met with forceful sanctions to destroy the ruble and grind the Russian oil and gas sector.”

Numerous Democrats echoed that point of view. Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called in a statement for “crushing sanctions” if Russia goes further. “There must be tangible, meaningful and substantial costs for Russia in response to this unjustified act.”

Rep. John Garimendi (D-Walnut Grove), a member of the House Armed sets Committee, said in an interview on CNN that “it’s time to ramp up the sanctions.”

Given that Putin views Ukraine’s independence after the fall of the Soviet Union as a tragedy of Russian history — articulated clearly in his speech Monday — many analysts surprise if already the most serious of financial sanctions will be enough to dissuade him from a brazen effort to reconquer the former Soviet republic.

Putin knows that the U.S. and its NATO allies will almost certainly not send troops to defend Ukraine. He has also worked to inoculate Russia’s economy against the unavoidable sanctions that will consequence from a prolonged invasion by building its money reserves and establishing deeper economic ties with Beijing.

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