Hours after Russian shells and missiles began falling across Ukraine in a full-scale invasion, US President Joe Biden announced further economic sanctions on Russia, while falling short of some measures Ukrainian authorities had hoped for.
“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences," Biden said on Thursday afternoon.
The sanctions, coordinated with NATO allies, aim to “limit Russia's ability to do business in pounds, dollars, euros, and yen,” Biden said. That will include blocking four more major Russian banks, freezing their assets in the US, and adding to the list of sanctioned Russian political elites.
That fell short of what Ukrainian authorities had been pushing for — on Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that he expected NATO to ban Russia from the major worldwide banking transfer system, SWIFT, as part of Thursday’s expanded sanctions.
“I will not be diplomatic on this,” Kuleba wrote. “Everyone who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from SWIFT has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children will be on their hands too.”
Biden defended the NATO decision not to exclude Russia from SWIFT on Thursday.
“The sanctions we’ve imposed exceed SWIFT. The sanctions we’ve imposed exceed anything that’s ever been done,” he said, adding that the move remains an option but “right now, that's not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.”
Biden’s remarks also did not address how the US and allies plan to deliver aid and support to Ukrainians given the logistical hurdles of airports and major roads under attack.
On Thursday morning in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, people hid in bomb shelters and subway stations, while residents of other cities woke up to blasts and air raid sirens, as Russia pounded locations across Ukraine with cruise missiles and tank fire. In the week leading up to Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country, civilians living in regions on the front lines in Eastern Ukraine bore the brunt of escalating Russian attacks.
Emine Dzheppar, Ukraine’s first deputy foreign minister, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday afternoon she was particularly concerned that the US did not appear to have a plan for how to get aid to Ukrainian civilians and arms to help build a Ukrainian insurgency as Biden has promised, given that airports have been attacked by Russian forces and roads into the country are being blocked.
Biden’s speech on Thursday reiterated his commitment to “support the Ukrainian people” but did not address the specific concerns about how that aid would reach those on the ground.
“I spoke last night to President Zelensky of Ukraine. And I assured him that the United States together with our allies and partners in Europe will support the Ukrainian people, as they defend their country,” Biden said. “We'll provide humanitarian relief to ease their suffering in the early days of this conflict.”
Biden’s response on Thursday repeatedly highlighted the US’s coordination with NATO allies, including moving more Europe-based US troops to Germany to defend those allies.
He reiterated that he has no intentions to speak with Putin directly at this point in the conflict.
Early on Thursday morning in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation to force Ukraine’s government and troops to surrender. Shortly after Putin’s speech Ukrainian officials reported missiles and shelling starting across the country. By nightfall, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had laid out their demands: Ukraine must agree to give up all weapons on its territory and guarantee its neutral status.
As the attack unfolded, Biden issued a statement calling the operation an “unjustified attack by Russian military forces” and promised that the United States and its allies would respond in a “united and decisive way.”
“The world will hold Russia accountable,” Biden said.
US officials had repeatedly said they would impose significant sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. On Tuesday, Biden acknowledged that Putin moving troops into Eastern Ukraine was “the beginning of an invasion,” and announced an initial round of penalties: fully blocking two major Russian financial institutions, sanctions on Russian foreign debt — effectively cutting off the government from Western financing — and sanctions on Russian political elites. The moves also included Germany withholding approval of the Nord Stream Two, a gas pipeline that the Russian energy industry had been banking on as an important source of income.
Thursday’s sanctions follow broad economic and trade sanctions against Russian financial institutions and moves to block new US investments in two regions of Eastern Ukraine, which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
During a Thursday morning speech announcing the invasion, Putin warned against interference. “To anyone who would consider interfering from outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history,” he said.