U.S. President Joe Biden met with G7 allies Thursday to hammer out a raft of new sanctions against Russia after it invaded Ukraine, and was shortly to speak to the American people on a crisis that he warns will cause “catastrophic loss of life.”
After a virtual, closed-door meeting which lasted an hour and 10 minutes, the group of rich Western democracies — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — said in a joint statement that Russia posed “a serious threat to the rules-based international order.”
It said the seven industrial powers were “ready to act” to minimize disruptions to world energy markets as a result of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine and with sanctions already targeting a major pipeline from heavyweight energy producer Russia.
Before the G7 gathering, Biden first huddled with his National Security Council in the Situation Room, the White House said. His speech to the nation was scheduled for 12:30 pm (1730 GMT).
For weeks, as Russia built up tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons on Ukraine’s border, Biden has led NATO and other European allies in trying to craft a package of what Washington says are “unprecedented” sanctions as a deterrent.
Now that the deterrent has failed, the goal is to “hold Russia accountable,” Biden said in his first comments late Wednesday in Washington, after Russian missiles began to rain down. Biden said US allies would “respond in a united and decisive way.”
Biden also held a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, saying afterwards that he had promised to “provide support and assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”
A first round of Western sanctions was unleashed on Tuesday, after Putin announced he would send troops as “peacekeepers” to two small areas already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
The U.S. government joined European allies in imposing sanctions on two Russian banks, Moscow’s sovereign debt, several oligarchs and other measures.
On Wednesday, as the Russian invasion force became clearly primed to attack, Biden announced he was imposing sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany — one of Moscow’s highest-profile geopolitical projects.
Germany had earlier announced it would block the pipeline from opening for deliveries.
Now, US officials are teeing up tougher new sanctions that could include targeting bigger banks, more oligarchs close to Putin and, crucially, a ban on exports to Russia of high-tech equipment and components.
It was not clear how many of these measures would be announced Thursday.
– ‘Cut off’ Russian economy –
Germany’s vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, signaled Thursday there would be a “strong sanctions package” that will “cut off the Russian economy from industrial progress, will attack and freeze assets and financial holdings, and will dramatically limit access to the European and American markets.”
“No Russian financial institution is safe,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday, hours before the invasion was launched.
Some measures also risk serious economic fallout for Western countries and could imperil the global economy recovery after the Covid pandemic. Already stock markets are tumbling and oil prices are soaring over $100 a barrel.
Among the more controversial sanctions would be directly targeting Putin, who is widely reported to have amassed a vast, secret fortune during his two decades running Russia.
Arguably the highest stakes sanction would be cutting Moscow off from the SWIFT international banking network. This would at least for some time disconnect Russia from basic commerce, hugely disrupting the economy, but it would also carry considerable potential aftershocks to the wider, U.S.-led financial system.
Zelensky, speaking as Russian troops broadened their attack on his country, appealed directly for Moscow to be yanked from SWIFT.