WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Joe Biden hit Russia with a wave of sanctions on Thursday (Feb 24) after Moscow invaded Ukraine, measures that impede Russia's ability to do business in the world's major currencies along with sanctions against banks and state-owned enterprises.
During White House remarks and answers to reporters’ questions, Biden described Russian President Vladimir Putin as an aggressor with a "sinister vision of the world" and a misguided dream of recreating the Soviet Union.
But he held back for now from imposing sanctions on Putin himself and from disconnecting Russia from the Swift international banking system, amid differences between the United States and its allies over how far to go at this juncture and criticism at home that he should have done more.
Biden said there is now a complete rupture in US-Russian relations if Moscow continues on the path it is on, and that more sanctions are being planned.
Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders on three sides on Thursday after Moscow mounted an assault by land, sea and air, prompting tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
"This is a premeditated attack," Biden said. "Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences."
Biden said the sanctions were designed to have a long-term impact on Russia and to minimise the impact on the United States and its allies. And he said Washington was prepared to do more.
The steps included targeting five major Russian banks, including state-backed Sberbank and VTB, as well as members of the Russian elite and their families.
Sberbank, Russia’s largest lender, will no longer be able to transfer money with the assistance of US banks.
The sanctions are aimed at limiting Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen, Biden said.
The White House also announced sweeping export restrictions against Russia aimed at restricting its access to global exports of everything from commercial electronics and computers to semiconductors and aircraft parts.
Biden said Nato would meet on Friday to map out further measures and reiterated that the US would not engage in war with Russia.
However, Biden said the United States would meet its Article 5 commitments, in which Nato members agree an armed attack against one of them in Europe or North America will be considered an attack against them all.
Since Ukraine is not a Nato member, those protections do not apply.
Biden said this was "a dangerous moment for all of Europe" and that he had authorised troops that had been placed on standby to deploy to Germany.
He declined to comment on whether he would urge China to join the West’s drive to isolate Russia.
"Putin's aggression against Ukraine will end up costing Russia dearly," Biden said. "Putin will be a pariah on the international stage."
Biden met with his counterparts from the Group of Seven (G-7) allies earlier on Thursday to map out more severe measures against Russia after Putin launched the attack.
Biden met with his counterparts from the Group of Seven allies earlier on Thursday to map out more severe measures against Russia after Putin launched the attack.
Biden, who spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky late on Wednesday, also convened his National Security Council on Thursday to discuss the situation.
His announcement represented the second major tranche of sanctions against Russia since Putin earlier this week declared two breakaway regions of Ukraine independent and sent troops there.
The US had warned it would initiate waves of sanctions against Moscow if it further invaded Ukraine, and Russia's full-on military assault launched on Thursday led to the latest round of Western penalties.
Britain unveiled new measures targeting banks, members of Putin's inner circle and the very wealthy who enjoy high-rolling London lifestyles. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that leaders had agreed to work together to "maximise the economic price" Putin will pay.
On Wednesday, Washington imposed sanctions on the company in charge of building Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and on Tuesday it sanctioned two large Russian financial institutions and Russian sovereign debt along with some members of the Russian elite and their family members.
Biden had faced political pressure at home to impose sanctions before Putin invaded. The White House has held open the door to diplomacy, even agreeing in principle earlier to a summit between the president and Putin if Russia did not invade.
The president now becomes the face of the Western response to Russian aggression at a time when he is battling low poll numbers at home, rising inflation that could be exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict, and looming midterm elections that could hand control of the Senate and House of Representatives from his fellow Democrats to Republicans.
The White House has warned Americans that the conflict could lead to higher fuel prices in the United States, though it is taking measures to help soften that blow. US officials have been working with counterparts in other countries on a combined release of additional oil from global strategic crude reserves, two sources said on Thursday.
Biden warned oil and gas companies not to "exploit" this moment to raise prices.
Members of Congress from both parties urged the White House to move swiftly on tougher actions against Russia, including providing military aid to Ukraine, imposing stringent sanctions and export controls and ousting Russia from international organisations.
"This unprovoked attack has brought into sharp focus the need to expel the current Kremlin leadership from the international community," said Senator Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the foreign relations committee.
"Today must mark a historical shift in how the world views and deals with the despot in Moscow."