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Lawmakers React as U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Russia to Target Banks, High-Tech Imports

People wait for buses at a bus station as they attempt to evacuate the city of Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday. Overnight, Russia began a large-scale attack on Ukraine, with explosions reported in multiple cities. Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images.

The United States and Western allies stepped up economic sanctions on Russia following its escalated attack on Ukraine, President Joe Biden said at the White House on Thursday.

Biden had for weeks pledged to impose significant sanctions on Russia if President Vladimir Putin followed through on plans to invade Ukraine. As the invasion ramped up early Thursday morning and Russian forces shelled Ukraine, Biden also increased sanctions.

“Putin is the aggressor,” Biden said. “Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

The sanctions mostly target Russia’s financial sector. The U.S. and allies will limit Russia’s ability to use international currency, including U.S. dollars, euros, pounds and yen. The U.S. Department of the Treasury will freeze roughly $1 trillion in assets held by Russian banks.

Biden also froze U.S. exports to Russia of products used for high-tech industries, part of an effort to degrade the Russian aerospace industry and military, he said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, at the direction of the president, authorized the deployment of 7,000 additional U.S. troops to Germany, according to a senior Defense official.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia, will be deployed.

The soldiers, who will leave in the next few days, are intended “to reassure NATO allies, deter Russian aggression and be prepared to support a range of requirements in the region,” according to the official.

Biden has said repeatedly that U.S. troops will not be deployed to Ukraine.

Global financial system

Russia will not be expelled from the global financial system known as SWIFT — a move some thought possible — because European allies did not support that plan, Biden said.

Other sanctions on Russia financial institutions were stronger than a removal from SWIFT, Biden said.

Assets from the four largest Russian banks that touch the U.S. financial system would be frozen, he said. Individual members of Russia’s elite class would also be sanctioned, with their U.S. assets frozen, Biden said.

Treasury also announced sanctions on the Belarusian defense sector and financial institutions. Belarus is a close ally of Russia and part of the invasion of Ukraine came across the Belarusian border.

Biden estimated sanctions from the U.S. and allies would halt roughly half of Russia’s high-tech imports.

“It will strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military,” he said. “It’ll degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program. It will hurt their ability to build ships, reducing their ability to compete economically. And it will be a major hit to Putin’s long-term strategic ambitions.”

Biden insisted that sanctions could be effective in curbing Russian aggression, although the threat of earlier sanctions seemed to do little to deter Putin.

“This is going to take time,” he said. Putin is “now going to see the effect of the sanctions … It will so weaken his country that he’ll have to make a very, very difficult choice.”

Republicans react

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that Congress should impose “truly devastating sanctions against the Kremlin and its enablers.”

The Kentucky Republican then called on the United States and the 29 other nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to “redouble our material support for Ukraine’s resistance” and “invest in the capabilities needed for long-term military competition with Russia and China.”

McConnell said the government funding package Congress is on track to pass before March 11 “will provide an opportunity to lead by example.”

Thursday’s sanctions package was tailored to allow energy payments to continue, Biden said, adding that they were targeted “to maximize a long-term impact on Russia and to minimize impact in the United States and our allies.”

Biden, whose approval rating has suffered during a period of economic inflation at home, said he was sensitive to costs, including spiking gas prices, to the American public of the “complete rupture” of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

“I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump,” he said. “But this aggression cannot go unanswered.”

Biden took questions from reporters but declined to answer why he hadn’t personally sanctioned Putin. He also declined to comment on U.S.-China conversations about the conflict.

Biden also said he would move to strengthen NATO allies near Ukraine and would authorize force if the conflict spilled into those countries.

In addition to forces deploying to Germany, Biden earlier this week ordered U.S. troops already stationed in Europe to the eastern edge of NATO territory in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

“If he did move into NATO countries, we will be involved,” Biden said.

Maryland leaders condemn invasion

Political leaders from Maryland of both parties strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.

On MSNBC, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) said Putin “has blood on his hands now.”

“This is an unprovoked, cold-blooded attack, and it’s essential now that the United States, together with our allies, impose the most punishing economic sanctions that we have – to make clear to Putin and others who are watching that you cannot invade a democracy, another country, and violate its sovereignty without paying any price,” he said.

Van Hollen said the U.S. must provide weapons to the Ukrainian resistance in coordination with America’s allies.

In a statement, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) called the invasion “a barbarous military assault from a deranged autocrat.”

“This unprovoked aggression demands a unified and resolute response from America and our allies. Putin and Russia must face devastating consequences,” said Hogan, who is said to be considering a White House bid in 2024. “If we fail to stand for freedom, Europe and the world will be a much darker and more dangerous place.”

Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, broke with former President Trump, who only this week called Putin “genius” and “very savvy.”

“Without provocation – and in a reprehensible violation of international law – Vladimir Putin has rejected diplomacy and chosen the path of brutal and senseless war with Ukraine,” the caucus co-chairs said in a statement. “By invading Ukraine, Putin has affirmed Russia’s status as a criminally rogue state, and launched an offensive against the entire world.”

“As missiles tear through Ukraine’s skies, and tanks begin to roll through its streets – the Free World must rise up in its defense,” they added.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D) called Putin “a dictator bent on the reimposition of the Soviet Union sphere of influence.”

“Today he has proven that he will spare nothing to meet this end,” he added.

Speaking on CNN in the early hours of the attack, Sen. Ben Cardin (D), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the invasion “an unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”

“We’ve seen it unfold. We know exactly what’s happening, and Mr. Putin is continuing to use his propaganda and lies to justify this grab of territory,” he said. “There is no justification for it.

Cardin predicted there will be “strong bipartisan support” in Congress for the “strongest possible reaction by the United States and our allies.”

Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called economic sanctions “necessary and just.”

“A pariah state working to upend the global world order and undermine democratic and human rights does not deserve the privilege of full participation in the international economy,” he said.


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Lawmakers React as U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Russia to Target Banks, High-Tech Imports