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Biden Says Russia's Actions Are Beginning of an 'Invasion,' Announces Sanctions

The president said there are over 150,000 Russian troops surrounding Ukraine.

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President Joe Biden speaks on Russia and Ukraine in the East Room of the White House.
Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced new sanctions against Russia for its moves against Ukraine, calling it the "beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine." The sanctions come as Russia authorized the deployment of troops into two Russia-backed regions in eastern Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin recognized them as independent entities

"This is a clear violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community," Biden said Tuesday.

Speaking from the White House, Biden said the "first tranche" of sanctions against Russia will target two financial institutions, Russian sovereign debt and Russian elites and their family members. He added that economic penalties would increase if Russia escalates its threat against Ukraine. 

The US sanctions follow rising tensions in recent weeks as diplomatic efforts to defuse the conflict failed to find a resolution. More than 150,000 Russian troops are surrounding Ukraine, Biden said, and Kyiv, Ukraine's capitol, could be a prime target.

Biden and NATO allies have said they're prepared to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia. On Tuesday, the European Union agreed to a package of sanctions against Russia, targeting banks that fund the country's military operations and banning trade between the EU and the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. Germany also halted approval of the Nord Stream 2, a key natural gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany. 

The Pentagon has put 8,500 US troops on high alert to bolster NATO's response force, and Biden on Tuesday reiterated that the US will provide defensive assistance to Ukraine and reinforce its NATO allies.

The conflict has already had global economic consequences, with the price of oil nearing $100 a barrel on Tuesday.

On Feb. 18, US officials also said they believe Russia was responsible for cyberattacks against Ukraine's banks and military earlier this month. They were the latest in a string of digital incursions that have been blamed on Russia, including attacks that defaced government websites and planted destructive malware on Ukrainian computer networks.

"This recent spate of cyberattacks in Ukraine are consistent with what a Russian effort would look like, and laying the groundwork for more disruptive cyberattacks accompanying a potential further invasion of Ukraine sovereign territory," said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser, during a briefing at the White House. 

The US and NATO in December rejected a Russian proposal that called for "a Cold War-like security arrangement," according to The New York Times, including demands for "ironclad" guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia never become members of NATO. The admission of either country would increase the military alliance's presence along Russia's border. 

Earlier in January, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pushed back on Russia's demands, saying the US would "not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's open door policy."

Russia invaded Ukraine – which was part of the Soviet Union until it declared independence in 1991 – back in 2014 before annexing Crimea. Russia has also backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, two regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia now recognizes as independent. Approximately 14,000 people have reportedly been killed in ongoing conflicts in eastern Ukraine.