The Biden administration on Sunday once again rejected pleas from the Ukrainian government to impose sanctions on Russia before an invasion begins.
The latest rejection was delivered by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on CNN’s Sunday show State of the Union.
“When it comes to sanctions, the purpose of those sanctions is to deter Russian aggression, so if they’re triggered now, you lose the deterrent effect,” Blinken argued.
“All of the things that we’re doing, including building up in a united way with Europe, massive consequences for Russia, is designed to factor into President Putin’s calculus and to deter and dissuade them from taking aggressive action, even as we pursue diplomacy at the same time,” he said.
CNN host Dana Bash asked Blinken if Russia “seizing or recognizing” the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine – fulfilling a major goal of Russia-backed separatist fighters by either absorbing the area into Russia or breaking it off from Ukraine as an independent state – would “qualify as an invasion” and trigger “the crippling sanctions you’re threatening.”
This was an oblique reference to the astonishing moment in last week’s White House press conference in which President Joe Biden suggested America might not respond to a “minor incursion” by Putin. Biden’s bizarre comment sent the entire world into red-alert status and drove Ukrainians to panic and despair.
Blinken continued the administration’s efforts to clean up the “minor incursion” debacle.
“If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, a severe, and a united response from us and from Europe,” he said.
“And again, there are other things that Russia could do that fall short of actually sending additional forces into Ukraine, and again, across the board we’re prepared with Europe for a swift and calibrated and very united response. We’re looking at every single scenario, preparing for every single one,” he added.
Appearing on the same show, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said sanctions should be imposed immediately as the Ukrainian government has requested.
“When it comes to pushing back against Russia, we need to show strength and not be in a position of doctrine of appeasement, which seems to be how President Biden has worked his administration. So, we do need to go ahead and impose sanctions on Russia now. We need to show them that we mean business and we will be there for Ukraine should they invade,” Ernst said.
“Once an invasion happens, lives are lost. You can’t go back from that. So those sanctions need to be put in place now. They could be expelled from the SWIFT banking system. Certainly, we need to make sure that any defensive aid is in the hands of the Ukrainians, as well as much lethal aid as we can provide at this time,” she said.
SWIFT is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a network employed by banks to transfer money between countries. Locking Russia out of SWIFT would make it very difficult for Russian companies to conduct international business, including the sale of oil, unless an alternative payment system was created.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made his second request for immediate sanctions from the Biden administration on Thursday. Zelensky warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin might conclude he can “tough out” sanctions imposed after an invasion of Ukraine begins.
“Sanctions are considered to be a preventive tool because they can be applied and then lifted. If there is an invasion by Russia, do you introduce powerful sanctions after we might have already lost several territories? Once you introduce sanctions, what will Russia do?” Zelensky asked.