Remarks on Russia's Actions in Ukraine
Trying to make up your mind, huh? [Laughter]
Well, good afternoon. Yesterday Vladimir Putin recognized two regions of Ukraine as independent states, and he bizarrely asserted that these regions are no longer part of Ukraine and their sovereign territory. To put it simply, Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine.
Last night, Putin authorized Russian forces to deploy into the region—these regions. Today he asserted that these regions are—actually extend deeper than the two areas he recognized, claiming large areas currently under the jurisdiction of the Ukraine Government.
He's setting up a rationale to take more territory by force, in my view. And if we listen to his speech last night—and many of you did, I know—he's setting up a rationale to go much further.
This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as he indicated and asked permission to be able to do from his Duma. So let's begin to—so I'm going to begin to impose sanctions in response, far beyond the steps we and our allies and partners implemented in 2014. And if Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as—with sanctions.
Who in the Lord's name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors? This is a flagrant violation of international law, and it demands a firm response from the international community.
Over the last few months, we've coordinated closely with our NATO allies and partners in Europe and around the world to prepare that response. We've said all along and I've told Putin to his face a month—more than a month ago that we would act together and the moment Russia moved against Ukraine.
Russia has now undeniably moved against Ukraine by declaring these independent states. So today I'm announcing the first tranche of sanctions to impose costs on Russia in response to their actions yesterday. These have been closely coordinated with our allies and partners, and we'll continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates.
We're implementing full blocking sanctions on two large Russian financial institutions: V.E.B. and their military bank. We're implementing comprehensive sanctions on Russian sovereign debt. That means we've cut off Russia's Government from Western financing. It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or European markets either.
Starting tomorrow [today]* and continuing in the days ahead, we will also impose sanctions on Russia's elites and their family members. They share in the corrupt gains of the Kremlin policies and should share in the pain as well.
And because of Russia's actions, we've worked with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 will not—as I promised—will not move forward.
As Russia contemplates its next move, we have our next move prepared as well. Russia will pay an even steeper price if it continues its aggression, including additional sanctions.
The United States will continue to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine in the meantime. And we'll continue to reinforce and reassure our NATO allies. Today, in response to Russia's admission that it will not withdraw its forces from Belarus, I have authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic allies: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.
Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.
We still believe that Russia is poised to go much further in launching a massive military attack against Ukraine. Hope I'm wrong about that—hope we're wrong about that. But Russia has only escalated its threat against the rest of Ukrainian territory, including major cities and including the capital city of Kiev.
There are still well over 150,000 Russian troops surrounding Ukraine. And as I said, Russian forces remain positioned in Belarus to attack Ukraine from the north, including war planes and offensive missile systems.
Russia has moved troops closer to Ukraine's border with Russia. Russia's naval vessels are maneuvering in the Black Sea to Ukraine's south, including amphibious assault ships, missile cruisers, and submarines.
Russia has moved supplies of blood and medical equipment into position on their border. You don't need blood unless you plan on starting a war.
And over the last few days, we've seen much of the playbook that Secretary Blinken laid out last week at the United Nations Security Council come to pass: a major increase in military provocations and false-flag events along the line of contact in the Donbas; dramatically staged, conveniently on-camera meeting of Putin's Security Council to grandstand for the Russian public; and now political provocation of recognizing sovereign Ukrainian territory as so-called independent republics in clear violation, again, of international law.
President Putin has sought authorization from the Russian Parliament to use military force outside of Russian territory. And this set the stage for further pretexts and further provocations by Russia to try to justify further military action.
None of us—none of us—should be fooled. None of us will be fooled. There is no justification. Further Russian assault into Ukraine remains a severe threat in the days ahead. And if Russia proceeds, it is Russia, and Russia alone, that bears the responsibility.
As we respond, my administration is using every tool at our disposal to protect American businesses and consumers from rising prices at the pump. As I said last week, defending freedom will have costs for us as well, here at home. We need to be honest about that. But as we will do—but as we do this, I'm going to take robust action and make sure the pain of our sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy, not ours.
We are closely monitoring energy supplies for any disruption. We're executing a plan in coordination with major oil-producing consumers and producers toward a collective investment to secure stability and global energy supplies.
This will be—this will blunt gas prices. I want to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump. This is critical to me.
In the last few days, I've been in constant contact with European leaders, including with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy. Vice President Harris met in person with the leaders in Germany over the weekend at the Munich Conference, including President Zelenskiy.
At every step, we have shown the United States and our allies and partners are working in unison, which he hasn't been counting on—Mr. Putin. We're united in our support of Ukraine. We are united in our opposition to Russian aggression. And we're united in our resolve to defend our NATO alliance. And we're united in our understanding of the urgency and seriousness of the threat Russia is making to global peace and stability.
Yesterday, the world heard clearly the full extent of Vladimir Putin's twisted rewrite of history, going back more than a century, as he waxed eloquently, noting that—well, I'm not going to go into it, but nothing in Putin's lengthy remarks indicated any interest in pursuing real dialogue on European security in the year 2022.
He directly attacked Ukraine's right to exist. He indirectly threatened territory formerly held by Russia, including nations that today are thriving democracies and members of NATO. He explicitly threatened war unless his extreme demands were met.
And there is no question that Russia is the aggressor. So we're clear eyed about the challenges we're facing. Nonetheless, there is still time to avert the worst-case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people if they move as suggested.
The United States and our allies and partners remain open to diplomacy if it is serious. But when all is said and done, we're going to judge Russia by its actions, not its words. And whatever Russia does next, we're ready to respond with unity, clarity, and conviction.
We'll probably have more to say about this as we—if it moves on. I'm hoping diplomacy is still available.
Thank you all very much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:22 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Russia's Actions in Ukraine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354581