US calls Russia’s actions an invasion, threatens severe sanctions

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File photo: U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
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This image provided by The White House via Twitter shows President Joe Biden at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. Biden on Saturday again called on President Vladimir Putin to pull back more than 100,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine’s borders and warned that the U.S. and its allies would “respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs” if Russia invades, according to the White House sources

The White House signaled Tuesday that it considers Russia’s actions in Ukraine to be an invasion, and said a “severe response” is in the works.  

“I am calling it an invasion,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told CNN. He said, “sanctions on Russia will be rolling out in a matter of hours.”

Other Western allies joined the pushback on Moscow, with world leaders denouncing President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of two Ukrainian provinces as independent and ordering of troops there to “maintain peace.”

Here’s what you need to know on the crisis between Russia and Ukraine:

  • A US national security official called Putin’s actions ‘the beginning’ of ‘Russia’s latest invasion’ into Ukraine, adding that diplomacy is now more difficult.
  • The White House is expecting to lay out new sanctions on Wednesday in response to Putin’s actions, following a ban on investment in Russian-backed separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk.
  • Russian lawmakers have approved President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the independence of two eastern Ukraine provinces.
  • In a significant move, Germany will stop certification of the Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. 
  • The UN Security Council met late Monday in an emergency session, with many members condemning the Kremlin’s actions.

As the Kremlin laid the groundwork to roll the military into two breakaway regions, Germany announced it was preparing to bring the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to a grinding halt, a move it had previously been reluctant to make.

World leaders condemned Putin’s actions, and consequences from the U.S. were swift.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order in short order on Monday to sanction any Americans who invest in the eastern Ukraine regions, with a promise of more to come.

UK unveils sanctions on 5 Russian banks, 3 individuals

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new sanctions against five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals in the latest international backlash to Putin’s decision to send troops into eastern Ukraine.

In a speech to lawmakers Tuesday in the House of Commons, Johnson said Moscow’s actions “amount to a renewed invasion of that country.” The prime minister described the measures as “the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do,” adding the British government is prepared to impose more sanctions if the situation escalates further.

The measures target Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

Three “very high net worth” individuals were also hit: Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg. Any assets the individuals hold in the U.K. will be frozen, and they will be banned from traveling to the country, while all U.K. individuals and entities will be prohibited from having dealings with them, according to Johnson.

He added Western allies would continue to seek a diplomatic solution “until the last possible moment, but we have to face the possibility that none of our messages have been heeded and that Putin is implacably determined to go further in subjugating and tormenting Ukraine.”

US: Diplomacy now harder, but isn’t off the table

A White House national security adviser said Tuesday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made it harder to pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but the U.S. would not close the door on diplomacy.

Speaking to CNN’s Brianna Keilar, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said additional economic sanctions against Russia were forthcoming on Tuesday in response to what he described as “the beginning” of “Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine.” 

“What Russia has done has made a diplomatic path much harder to walk down and much less likely,” Finer told Keilar.

He said Russia’s action on Monday “has closed the door even further to diplomacy” as it moved closer to war.

“We are not going to slam that door shut. We continue to believe that is the best way for this conflict to de-escalate rather than Russia continuing down the path to war,” he said. “They have given every indication they are on a different course.”

– Rick Rouan

Germany halts Nord Stream 2

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his government would “reassess” the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which hasn’t begun operating yet.

The $11 billion, Russian-owned natural gas pipeline snakes westward from Russia to northeastern Germany for more than 700 miles under the Baltic Sea. The pipeline was launched in 2015 and follows a similar route to another pipeline, Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011.

Owned by Gazprom, a Russian state-controlled company, Nord Stream 2 was completed last year and has the capacity to handle 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year once it becomes operational. 

The decision is a significant move for the German government, which had long resisted pulling the plug on the project despite pressure from the United States and some European countries to do so.

Scholz said that the government had decided to “reassess” the certification of the pipeline, which hasn’t begun operating yet, in light of the latest developments.

Germany meets about a quarter of its energy needs with natural gas, a share that will increase in the coming years as the country switches off its last three nuclear power plants and phases out the use of coal. About half of the natural gas used in Germany comes from Russia.

Russian lawmakers formalize Putin’s actions

A day after Putin declared Moscow would recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russian lawmakers ratified the arrangement, allowing for the Kremlin to provide military support there.

Putin ordered troops Monday to “maintain peace” in the provinces shortly after recognizing the Russian-backed areas as independent, stoking fears that a Russian invasion could be coming soon. Convoys of armored vehicles were seen rolling across the separatist-controlled territories late Monday. It wasn’t immediately clear if they were Russian.

UN Security Council meets in emergency session

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Monday night at the request of Ukraine, the United States and six other countries, including Russia, which holds the rotating council presidency.

Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo opened the session late Monday with a warning that “the risk of major conflict is real and needs to be prevented at all costs.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Putin “has put before the world a choice” and it “must not look away” because “history tells us that looking the other way in the face of such hostility will be a far more costly path.”

Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador demanded that Russia cancel its recognition of the independence of the separatist regions in the east, immediately withdraw its “occupation troops” and return to negotiations.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said Putin acted in response to Ukrainian aggression. He said Russia was open to diplomacy but wouldn’t allow “a new bloodbath in the Donbas.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun called for restraint and a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

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