Biden announces sanctions on Russia, US troop deployments to Baltic states

(Update 3: changes headline, re-ledes with Biden’s statement)

Washington, Feb 22 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a series of sanctions on Russia and the deployment of US troops to the Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – in response to the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Joining with measures adopted by US allies in the European Union, Biden said in a White House speech that the measures were “closely coordinated with allies and partners” and include a complete blocking of two Russian financial institutions, along with measures aimed at cutting off the Russian government from accessing Western debt, financing and markets, moves that would prevent Moscow from getting loans or financing from the West.

These measures – designed to impose “costs” on Russia and “respond” to its military and other actions in Ukraine – could be strengthened, if needed, depending on Russia’s actions going forward, Biden said.

The new sanctions follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of two pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

Washington will implement global sanctions on Russia’s “sovereign debt,” Biden said, adding that this means that the US and its allies have cut off the Russian government from Western financing.

In addition, starting Wednesday, Biden said that the US will impose sanctions on the Russian elite, along with their family members, arguing that since those people share in the Kremlin’s “corrupt gains” and should also share in the costs.

In the military realm, the president authorized the deployment of US troops and military equipment, which are already on European bases, to the Baltic nations, and although he did not provide any figures recent speculation is that those troop numbers will be relatively small.

“Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia,” Biden said. “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.”

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but all three Baltic republics, which used to be part of the former Soviet Union until they gained their independence, are.

On Tuesday, the Russian Duma officially approved the Kremlin’s recognition of independence for the breakaway and Russian-backed eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and authorized the sending of Russian troops and weaponry into the so-called Donbas region, ostensibly to “keep the peace.”

Hours earlier, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a press conference in Paris that the bloc’s foreign ministers agreed on sanctions against 27 individuals and entities who undermine Ukrainian integrity.

“This package of sanctions that has been approved by unanimity by the member states will hurt Russia, and it will hurt a lot,” Borrell said, adding that the package is only one part of the bloc’s response.

Also Tuesday, Germany suspended the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline deal, while the United Kingdom drew up fresh sanctions.

“Against the background of the escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the German government is halting the approval process for the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline until further notice,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a Berlin press conference.

“Without this certification, Nord Stream 2 cannot go into operation.”

The pipeline, which is operated by Russian energy giant Gazprom and has already been completed, will transport gas directly from Russia to the European Union via the Baltic Sea through German territory, bypassing Ukraine.

Scholz said that Putin’s recognition of the self-proclaimed people’s republics, which followed weeks of escalating military tensions, had forced Germany to reassess the situation.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that the UK would impose sanctions on five Russian banks as well as oligarchs Gennadiy Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg.

“This is the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do,” Johnson told MPs, adding that “we hold further sanctions at readiness to be deployed alongside the US and EU if the situation escalates still further.”

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