WASHINGTON – President Biden condemned Russia’s alleged annexation of captured Ukrainian territory on Friday and responded to Moscow’s latest escalation with a series of sanctions and a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin that the United States would defend “every inch” of NATO territory from a potential attack.
Hours after Mr Putin gave a speech asserting Russian control over four eastern Ukrainian regions, Mr Biden called the action a “fraudulent” violation of international law that showed “contempt for peaceful nations everywhere.”
“The United States will never recognize this, and frankly, the world will never recognize it,” Mr. Biden from the White House. “He cannot seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it. Simple as that.”
World leaders gathered around Mr. Biden in a strong collective condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Emmanuel Macron of France said Russia had committed a “serious violation of international law and Ukrainian sovereignty” and swore on Twitter to help Ukraine “restore its full sovereignty over its entire territory.”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, called Mr Putin’s move “an illegal and illegitimate land grab” and vowed to continue helping Ukraine until it defeated the aggressor.
Even among Russia’s traditional allies, no country came forward to recognize the annexation. Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, issued one announcement before Mr Putin’s speech calling for “respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to Russia’s claims by announcing that he was speeding up his country’s application to NATO. In a video, he accused the Kremlin of trying to “steal something that doesn’t belong to it.”
“Ukraine will not allow it,” he said.
But Mr Zelensky’s request to join the alliance received a less resounding response.
“Right now, our view is that the best way for us to support Ukraine is through hands-on support on the ground in Ukraine,” said Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser.
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The Biden administration’s new sanctions aim to further cripple Russia’s defense and technology sectors and other industries and cut off several top officials and their families from global trade. These officials include two governors of Russia’s central bank.
But with Russia already under massive Western sanctions, the measures may have less impact than the administration’s efforts to isolate Moscow globally with a new appeal to nations that have not taken a clear side in the conflict.
“I urge all members of the international community to reject Russia’s illegal attempts at annexation and to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” said Mr. Biden in a statement.
Mr. Biden’s warning to Mr. Putin comes amid strong suspicion by US officials that Russia was responsible for apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline that runs between Russia and Germany. The damage occurred near NATO countries in the Baltic Sea, but in international waters.
Mr. Sullivan told reporters at the White House that the United States had “raised our monitoring and surveillance of critical infrastructure in NATO territory.”
US officials have also long worried that Mr Putin could escalate the war with a conventional military strike against sites in eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, both NATO allies that serve as transit points for weapons to Ukraine, or with cyber attacks.
The new round of sanctions fulfills long-standing promises by the Biden administration to punish any move by Russia to annex captured Ukrainian territory. But the United States has struggled to expand its coalition of nations helping Ukraine, and several world powers, notably China and India, have maintained strategic partnerships with Russia and continue to enrich Moscow with energy purchases.
That could change if Mr. Putin decides to make his threats to use nuclear weapons more explicit. Mr. Putin has said Russia will take all available measures to protect its territory, and some analysts have said he may use that threat against Ukrainian military action in the territories he has illegally annexed. Sir. Mr Biden has strongly warned Mr Putin against using nuclear weapons, and some aides say they hope other world leaders convey the same message to Moscow.
After Mr. Putin ominously referred to the use of nuclear weapons in his speech, Mr. Sullivan told reporters that “there is a risk, given all the loose talk and nuclear saber-rattling from Putin,” that he could consider going nuclear. strike. Analysts say it would likely take the form of a relatively small tactical nuclear weapon, either on the battlefield or as a warning shot in an unpopulated area.
Despite Mr Putin’s latest move, the Biden administration is still holding back from the dramatic step of imposing sanctions on international purchases of Russian energy. U.S. officials are wary of skyrocketing energy prices, especially just before midterm congressional elections and as Europeans grow frustrated with home energy costs. Officials from the Group of 7 nations have discussed a price cap on purchases of Russian oil, but have not agreed on how to implement it.
The US and major European nations have announced boycotts of Russian oil and gas. But higher energy prices since Mr Putin’s invasion have boosted profits for Russian companies and the central government. Besides China and India, other nations have increased their purchases of Russian oil compared to last year, including Turkey, a NATO member.
U.S. officials say they hope that even if those countries do not formally agree to a price cap on Russian oil, all buyers can use a cap to negotiate much lower prices, which would drain Russia of revenue.
The sanctions announced on Friday added more names to the long list of Russian officials, companies and institutions that US agencies have punished in the first weeks of the war.
The Treasury Department said it was adopting sanctions against 14 Russian executives and firms and international companies, including those in China, Armenia and Belarus, for supplying the Russian military.
“This action sends a clear message that international suppliers of sanctioned Russian entities and Russia’s defense sector are at risk of sanctions,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement.
The Commerce Department added 57 entities from Russia and the Crimea region of Ukraine, which the Russian military forcibly occupied in 2014, to what it calls the entity list, aimed at severely restricting commercial transactions. US officials said they would try to ensure that business between foreign companies and those on the list is limited. The Department of Commerce now has 392 entities linked to Russia on the list.
Since the winter, the Biden administration has steadily announced travel and economic sanctions against many Russian political elites, but it targeted several of them on Friday. The State Department imposed visa restrictions on more than 900 Russian officials. And the Ministry of Finance puts almost 300 members of parliament on a sanctions list.
Finance Ministry officials also named several other prominent figures who were added to the list: Elvira Sakhipzadovna Nabiullina, the governor of the Central Bank of Russia; Olga Nikolaevna Skorobogatova, the first deputy director of the bank; Aleksandr Valentinovich Nova, a Deputy Prime Minister; and relatives of members of Russia’s National Security Council. US agencies had already put members of the Security Council on lists.
The movement against Ms. Nabiullina may be a sign that US officials are struggling to find new and meaningful targets for sanctions outside the international energy market. Mrs. Nabiullina has been praised by international economists and bankers for her policy-making, and some US officials had been reluctant to put her on a sanctions list.
Daniel Tannebaum, a former Treasury secretary and partner at Oliver Wyman, a management consultancy, said the sanctions announced on Friday were unlikely to change Mr Putin’s calculus. “I don’t think it will necessarily move the needle in terms of tightening the screws on Russia,” he said.
The Biden administration offered a resolution in the United Nations Security Council on Friday condemning the Russian territorial claim. Russia vetoed the measure, and U.S. officials said they planned to bring the measure before the full United Nations next week.
For months, US officials have been analyzing statements from major countries that have been neutral on the Ukraine war, or aligned with Moscow, for signs of daylight between them and Russia.
At the start of a summit meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, last month, Mr Putin acknowledged that Chinese President Xi Jinping had “questions and concerns” about the war. And U.S. officials say Beijing, Moscow’s most powerful partner, has refrained from providing material aid to Russia for the war.
But the officials also say they do not see a break in the strategic partnership.
“The Chinese are holding their line,” said Evan Medeiros, a Georgetown University professor who was senior director for Asia on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “And the Biden administration knows that Beijing will not carry any water for them on Russia.”
Alan Rappeport contributed with reporting.