The Russian president has been unswayed by moral and political threats. Now Biden is going for the money.
Over the past few weeks, global attention turned to Ukraine and Russia as many worried war lingered on the horizon. On Thursday, the decades-long conflict between Russia and Ukraine boiled over. In the early hours of the morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin began a military invasion of Ukraine, leaving behind scenes of violence and fear. Now, President Biden has announced even more sanctions against Russia, declaring, “America stands up to bullies.”
At the start of this year, Russia began the largest build-up of its military forces since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. While Russia has had military presence in the Moscow-backed separatist regions within eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, for years, an estimated 200,000 troops were built up on its western border with Ukraine over the last few weeks.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last month, “We are not sitting still. Even as we are engaged in diplomacy we are building up defense,” he said. “There will be massive consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine again. Ultimately, we’ve given Russia two paths. It has to choose.”
And, well, Russia chose.
Following reports of missile attacks taking place across Ukraine, including in its capital city, Kyiv, Biden held a press conference Thursday afternoon from the White House. The United States already introduced sanctions against Russia on Tuesday after Putin moved troops into eastern Ukraine. But in his press conference, Biden introduced harsher measures with the ultimate goal of economically pressuring Putin into compliance.
“We have purposefully designed these sanctions to maximize the longterm impact on Russia and minimize the impact on the United States and our allies,” Biden said. The new sanctions not only restrict which goods can be exported from the U.S. to Russia, but they also target Russian banks and elites with ties to Putin.
Ahead of the press conference, Biden met with the Group of Seven leaders, and he said during the speech that the U.S. isn’t taking these actions alone. “We will limit Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds, and yen,” he said. “We are going to stunt the ability to finance and grow the Russian military.”
While Biden has introduced stronger sanctions, he still has options left if Putin seems unbothered — like kicking Russia off of SWIFT. It’s a Belgian financial messaging system that links up over 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries and territories. Per NBC News, financial experts have described barring Russia from SWIFT as a “nuclear” option because it could impact the global economy as a whole.
Throughout his speech, Biden maintained that the U.S. forces “are not and will not be engaged in the conflict with Russia.” But he’s kind of playing a game of semantics. While Biden isn’t declaring war on Russia, he did say that “the U.S. will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of our power.” Currently, American troops and aircrafts are heading to border areas in the Baltics “to support key NATO allies.”
That brings us to the awkward part. So far, Biden is hellbent on portraying Russia as the only aggressor, telling reporters, “America stands up to bullies. We stand up for freedom.” Obviously, Russia doesn’t have clean hands. But if you know anything about U.S. history, then the whole “protecting freedom” refrain should alert you to the fact that there’s a little more going on.
It’s difficult to summarize everything that’s happened in Ukraine to date. But Russia is far from the only aggressor. Biden’s attempts to use this narrative are only meant to remove Ukraine from its political context and erase history. Throughout the years, the United States and NATO have mostly engaged Ukraine as a way to attack and isolate Russia by any means necessary. As the magazine The Progressive reported earlier this month, that included backing a coup led by the neo-Nazi Right Sector militia back in 2014.
The conduct of the U.S. and NATO in Ukraine and eastern Europe more broadly helped set the stage for today. While Putin is certainly responsible for the violence coming out of Ukraine, so too are the U.S. and NATO for at times treating Ukraine as a political plaything for world powers. Consider that while touting the new sanctions package Thursday and saying the moves “exceed anything that’s ever been done,” Biden also said this: “Let’s have a conversation in another month or so” to see how the sanctions are working.
Meanwhile, dozens already have been killed or wounded in Ukraine.