Washington — President Biden signed an executive order Monday imposing sanctions that target two Russia-backed breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine in a swift response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to .
The order bars "new investment, trade and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in" the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, located in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The order also provides authority to impose sanctions on "any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine," Psaki said, adding the administration will later "announce additional measures related to today's blatant violation of Russia's international commitments."
"To be clear: these measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine," she said.
The Biden administration had warned that a move by Putin to formally recognize Luhansk and Donetsk as independent would be met with a "swift and firm response" from the U.S. and its allies.
Shortly after Putin's announcement, which he revealed in a speech during a public meeting of his security council, Mr. Biden convened a secure call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The call between the three leaders lasted roughly 30 minutes, the White House said, and came after the president had spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for about 35 minutes.
Mr. Biden called Zelensky to "reaffirm the commitment of the United States to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and "strongly condemned" Putin's recognition of the disputed territories, the White House said.
Condemning Putin's announcement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called his move to recognize the two territories "a clear attack on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and "yet another example of President Putin's flagrant disrespect for international law and norms."
A senior Biden administration official told reporters Monday that Putin's announcement "wasn't just a speech about Russia's security — it was an attack on the very idea of a sovereign and independent Ukraine." Putin, the official continued, "made clear that he views Ukraine historically as part of Russia…This was a speech to the Russian people to justify war."
The official noted, "In the last hour, we've seen Russian order troops to deploy into the [DNR and LNR] for so-called peacekeeping functions."
And the official identified several examples of false claims by Russia: explosions in Eastern Ukraine that Russian state media happened to be in place to cover in the middle of the night, as well as videos of alleged emergency evacuation calls — whose metadata show they had been created days before their release.
"We will continue to pursue diplomacy until the tanks roll," the official said, "but we're under no illusion about what is likely to come next and we are prepared to respond decisively when it does."
Asked whether the "swift and severe sanctions" threatened by the Biden administration would not be imposed until the first tanks are rolling into Ukraine, the official said actions the U.S. take would be focused on responding to Russian action: "We are going to be looking very closely at what they do over the coming hours and days and our response will be measured according again to their actions."
The senior administration official offered a caveat that "Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step," since it has had a military presence in the region for eight years. Though Moscow has denied this is the case, "Russia now looks like it's going to be operating openly in that region," the official said.
It was not clear whether the Biden administration would view this as an "invasion," though the official said steps would be taken by the U.S. in response to this kind of movement.
In addition to the forthcoming penalties from the U.S. on the two regions, the European Union also said it intends to impose sanctions "against those involved in this illegal act."
"This step is a blatant violation of international law as well as of the Minsk agreements," European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
Russia has massed roughly 190,000 forces near the Ukrainian border, and Mr. Biden on Friday said he is "convinced" Putin has decided to invade. Top Biden administration officials, though, have been pushing Moscow to pursue a diplomatic route rather than war.
But Putin's move Monday signals the Russian leader isn't interested in negotiating with the West to reach a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.
Blinken warned last week that recognizing Luhansk and Donetsk as independent would "undermine Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial independence" and be a "gross violation of international law." Such a move, he continued, would "necessitate a swift and firm response from the United States in full coordination with our allies and partners."
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