US to announce sanctions against Russia in coordination with allies: White House

Pro-Russian activists celebrating in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Feb 21, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES/REUTERS) - The United States will announce new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday (Feb 22) in response to Moscow’s decision to recognise two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent and send “peacekeeping” forces there, the White House said on Monday.

“We plan to announce new sanctions on Russia tomorrow in response to Moscow’s decisions and actions today,” a White House spokesperson said. “We are coordinating with allies and partners on that announcement.”

US President Joe Biden had earlier signed an executive order to prohibit trade and investment between US individuals and the two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine.

Included is the prohibition of “new investment” by an American, wherever located, and the “importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from the covered regions”.

White House officials earlier said Biden would impose economic sanctions on the two separatist regions but not directly on Russia.

The limited nature of the sanctions appeared intended to allow the United States and its European allies to hold in reserve the more aggressive sanctions they have threatened to impose on Moscow if President Vladimir Putin sends Russian armed forces into Ukraine, and to allow for the increasingly slim possibility of a diplomatic solution.

But just hours after Putin recognised the breakaway regions, he ordered Russia's military to "maintain peace" in the area. 

In two official decrees, Putin instructed the defence ministry to assume "the function of maintaining peace" in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Moscow provided no details or date for any deployment, with the order saying only that it “comes into force from the day it was signed”.

“We are going to assess what Russia’s done,” a senior US official had earlier told reporters, saying that Russian forces have been covertly in the separatist areas for eight years.

“Russian troops moving into Donbass would not be a new step,” he said. “We’ll continue to pursue diplomacy until the tanks roll.”

The US's European allies condemned the Russian action as a violation of international law and said they support enacting sanctions. But the relative restraint of the US steps could also reflect debates among the allies over what actions by Russia should trigger the fuller sanctions and the difficulty of developing a unified and proportional response to incremental steps by Putin.

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Still, the reaction from the Biden administration echoed responses from European allies to the hour-long performance by Putin, who angrily aired decades of Russian grievances about Ukraine, Nato and the United States, vowing that "responsibility for the possibility of a continuation of bloodshed will be fully and wholly on the conscience of the regime ruling the territory of Ukraine".

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lashed out at Putin, saying on Twitter that Russia's recognition of the two territories "is a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the #Minsk agreements".

In a joint statement with European Council President Charles Michel, the pair of leaders wrote that the European Union will "react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act", and that it "reiterates its unwavering support to Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders".

US President Joe Biden signs an executive order to prohibit trade and investment between US individuals and the two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine on Feb 21, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

White House officials said that Biden spoke with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, for about 35 minutes following the conclusion of Putin's speech. White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not provide any details about the call, but said that the United States is "continuing to closely consult with allies and partners, including Ukraine".

In the United States, lawmakers from both parties reacted swiftly to Putin's speech and his recognition of the two Ukrainian regions.

"His decision should immediately be met with forceful sanctions to destroy the ruble and crush the Russian oil and gas sector," South Carolina's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a longtime hawk on Russia, wrote on Twitter shortly after Putin concluded his remarks.

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