VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV, JURAS KARMANOV, AMER MADHANI and ERIC TAKER
MOSCOW (AP) – A East-West meeting over Ukraine sharpened on Tuesday when Russian lawmakers allowed President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside his country, and US President Joe Biden and European leaders responded by imposing sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banks.
Both leaders signaled that there could be even more confrontation ahead. Putin has not yet released a force of 150,000 troops assembled from three sides of Ukraine, while Biden has refrained from even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia, but said they will move forward if there is further aggression.
The measures, accompanied by the redeployment of additional US troops to the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia, came as Russian troops entered rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin said he recognized independence separatist regions contrary to the demands of the United States and Europe.
Speaking at the White House, Biden said the Kremlin had grossly violated international law in what it called “the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” He warned of additional sanctions if Putin goes further.
“We are united in supporting Ukraine,” Biden said. “We are united in our opposition to Russian aggression.” When it comes to Russian statements of justification or grounds for invasion, Biden said: “None of us should be deceived. None of us will be deceived. There is no excuse. “
Hopes for a diplomatic solution to the threat of invasion, which U.S. officials for weeks had shown to be almost inevitable, seemed to have evaporated. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken canceled plans to meet with his Russian counterpart in Geneva on Thursday, saying it would not be productive and that Russia’s actions showed Moscow’s lack of seriousness toward a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Western countries sought to represent a united front, as more than two dozen members of the European Union unanimously agreed to impose their own initial sanctions against Russian officials. Germany has also said it is suspending the certification process of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline by Russia, a lucrative deal Moscow has long sought but has criticized the United States for increasing Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.
Meanwhile, the United States has cut off the Russian government from Western finances by imposing sanctions on two of its banks and blocking trade in loans in US and European markets. The administration’s actions have hit civilian leaders in Russia’s leadership hierarchy and two Russian banks considered particularly close to the Kremlin and the Russian military, with assets of more than $ 80 billion. This includes the freezing of all assets of these banks under US jurisdiction.
Biden, however, restrained some of the broadest and toughest financial sanctions the U.S. has envisioned, including sanctions that would tighten the containment that Germany has invested in any launch of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; a ban on exports that would deny Russia high-tech U.S. for its industry and military; and broad bans that could hurt Russia’s ability to do business with the rest of the world.
Biden said he was sending additional US troops to the Baltics, although he described the deployment as purely “defensive”, saying: “We do not intend to go to war with Russia.” According to a senior defense official, the United States is sending about 800 infantry troops and 40 attack aircraft to NATO’s eastern flank from elsewhere in Europe. In addition, the contingent of F-35 attack fighters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will be redeployed.
Earlier on Tuesday, members of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country, effectively formalizing the deployment of Russian troops in rebel regions, which killed nearly 14,000 people in an eight-year conflict.
Shortly afterwards, Putin set out three conditions to end the crisis that threatened to plunge Europe back into war, raising the specter of mass casualties, energy shortages on the continent and global economic chaos.
Putin said the crisis could be resolved if Kiev recognizes Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed after its capture of Ukraine in 2014, abandons its NATO bid and partially demilitarizes. The West regarded the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law and had previously categorically rejected Ukraine’s non-admission to NATO forever.
Asked whether he had brought Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, Putin said: “I did not say that troops are going there right now.” He added that “it is impossible to predict a specific model of action – it will depend on the specific situation that will develop on the ground.”
The EU has announced initial sanctions against 351 Russian lawmakers who voted to recognize Ukraine’s two separatist regions, as well as 27 other Russian officials and institutions from the defense and banking sectors. They also sought to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.
With rising tensions and a more likely large-scale conflict, the White House began calling Russia’s location in the region known as the Donbass an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term – a red line that Biden said would lead to tough sanctions.
“We believe this is the beginning of the invasion, Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine,” said John Feiner, chief deputy national security adviser on CNN. “Invasion is invasion, and that’s what’s happening.”
The White House announced limited sanctions against rebel regions Monday night shortly after Putin said he was deploying troops. A senior Biden administration spokesman, who briefed reporters on the sanctions, said “that Russia has occupied these regions since 2014” and that “the transition of Russian troops to the Donbass will not in itself be a new step.”
Western leaders have long warned that Moscow will seek cover for the invasion – and this is the reason that emerged on Monday, when Putin recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist republics. The Kremlin then raised rates even further, saying the recognition extends even to much of the two regions, which are now under Ukrainian rule, including the main port of the Sea of Azov, Mariupol. However, he added that the rebels should eventually negotiate with Ukraine.
Condemnation from all over the world was swift. In Washington, lawmakers from both parties in Congress have vowed to continue U.S. support for Ukraine, even as some have called for faster and even tougher sanctions against Russia. The senators considered a package of sanctions, but postponed it because the White House was sticking to its strategy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will consider severing diplomatic relations with Russia, and Kyiv has recalled its ambassador to Moscow.
If Putin advances further into Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has insisted that the West take one step. “If Russia decides to use force against Ukraine again, there will be even stronger sanctions, even higher prices,” he said.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said that the United Kingdom will impose sanctions against five Russian banks and three wealthy people. He warned that a full-scale offensive would bring “further powerful sanctions”.
Zelensky said he was calling on some of the country’s military reservists, but added that full military mobilization was not necessary.
Addressing the people, Zelensky said that his decree applies only to those assigned to the so-called operational reserve, which is usually involved in long-term hostilities and covers a “special period of time”, without specifying what it means.
“Full mobilization is not needed today. It is necessary to promptly replenish the Ukrainian army and other military formations, ”he said. Chairman of the National Security and Defense Council Alexei Danilov earlier this year said that Ukraine could call up to 2.5 million people.
This was reported by Karmanov from Ukrainian Kiev. Madhani and Tucker reported from Washington. Jill Lawless in London; Lorne Cook in Brussels; Barry Hatan in Lisbon, Portugal; Dasha Litvinova in Moscow; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Ellen Nickmeyer, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Zick Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to correct the fact that Mariupol is on the Azov Sea, not the Black Sea.
Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis in the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine