(CNN) –– US President Joe Biden on Tuesday called the events in Ukraine the “beginning of a Russian invasion” and announced new sanctions against Russia. The move comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and ordered the entry of Russian troops.
The president presented what he called a “first tranche” of US sanctions against Russia, which include two financial institutions, Russian sovereign debt and – starting on Wednesday – Russian elites and their families.
Biden also announced that he would move additional troops and equipment to “strengthen” America’s allies in Europe. However, he made it clear that they would not be there to “fight Russia”.
The president mentioned the possibility that diplomacy could still defuse the crisis. In that sense, he said that the United States would remain open to talk with Russia and its partners to avoid an all-out war. “The United States and our allies and partners remain open to diplomacy, if it is serious,” he said. “When all is said and done, we will judge Russia by her actions, not her words.”
Still, Biden made clear his view that Putin was launching a bid to fundamentally redraw borders in Europe, violating international law and pressuring the West to respond.
“What in the name of the Lord does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory belonging to his neighbors? This is a flagrant violation of international law and calls for a strong response from the international community,” he said. Biden.
He added that Putin’s comments the day before “established a justification for taking more territory by force, in my opinion.”
The sanctions imposed by Biden on Russia
“I am announcing the first tranche of sanctions to impose costs on Russia in response to its actions yesterday,” he said. “These have been closely coordinated with our allies and partners, and we will continue to increase sanctions if Russia escalates” the conflict.
The president mentioned “full blocking sanctions on two large Russian financial institutions: VEB and its military bank.”
He also indicated that “comprehensive sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt will be implemented. That means we have cut off the Russian government from Western funding. It can no longer raise money from the West and it can no longer trade its new debt in our markets or in the European markets”.
In addition, Biden spoke of sanctions on Russia’s elites and their relatives. “They share the corrupt profits of the Kremlin’s policies and they should also share the consequences,” she argued.
And he also mentioned working together with Germany to ensure that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline doesn’t… go ahead.”
The president said his administration was using “every tool at our disposal” to limit the effect of sanctions against Russia on domestic gas prices. And he acknowledged that Americans will likely see rising prices at gas stations in the coming months.
“As I said last week, defending freedom will have costs, also for us and here at home,” Biden said. “We have to be honest about it. But while we do this, I will take strong action to ensure that the pain of our sanctions is directed at the Russian economy, not ours.”
The “beginning of an invasion”
Biden’s description of a Russian invasion of Ukraine immediately raises the stakes of his response. He and other top officials have vowed to impose dire economic consequences if Russian troops cross into Ukraine. Which even include members of Putin’s inner circle and Russian financial institutions.
US officials had already anticipated a set of sanctions against Putin’s inner circle and Russia’s financial system should an attack on Ukraine go ahead.
But Biden is also expected to reserve some of his strongest measures, hoping to use them in case Putin launches the kind of bloody and sustained attack that US officials have warned about for weeks.
Biden’s comments come amid a tightening of White House language on Russia’s actions Tuesday morning, when he began using the term “invasion.”
The White House declined to provide specific intelligence information that might better explain the change in tone.
“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion. Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine,” US Senior Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer said in an interview with “New Day.” CNN.
And he added that the sanctions imposed this Monday are the “beginning” of the United States response.
“An invasion is an invasion and that’s what’s happening,” Finer said. “I’m calling it an invasion,” she insisted.
Another senior US official, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that Russia’s actions “are the beginning of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine.”
“They are totally unprovoked and unwarranted,” Sherman said. “Moscow calls these troops ‘peacekeepers,’ but we all know that is a lie.”
That went further than US officials were willing to go on Monday night and reflected a growing sense among Biden’s team that a fuller assault on Ukrainian territory would soon begin. Officials said continued signs of Russian aggression overnight led to a change in tone.
Still, Finer noted that Russian troops have been operating in the two breakaway regions since 2014, when Russia began an incursion into Ukraine. In that sense, he suggested that the latest steps taken by Moscow were an extension of that.
“I think ‘latest’ is important here,” Finer said. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is happening. But, Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014.”
There are a considerable number of Russian soldiers near the borders with the newly recognized republics. But CNN has seen no social media videos or satellite images showing newly arrived Russian units inside the separatist-controlled regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.