Customers use a gas station. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — American service members will not deploy to Ukraine in the event of a “distinctly possible” Russian invasion, but strong economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies could reverberate and prompt energy price spikes, President Joe Biden said in a live address from the White House Tuesday.
Biden urged Russian President Vladimir Putin against an invasion of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that borders Russia, saying there would be strong economic sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institutions and most important industries, including the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia to Germany.
The Russian response to those sanctions could lead to a spike in U.S. fuel prices, Biden said.
“If Russia decides to invade, it will have consequences here at home,” Biden said. “I will not pretend this will be painless. There could be impact on our energy prices.”
Biden gave few details, but pledged to use “all the tools and authority” the administration has to reduce any disruption to energy consumers. The administration is “taking active steps to alleviate the pressure on our own energy markets,” the president said.
The administration would also work with Congress on additional measures to protect energy consumers, he said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing following Biden’s remarks that the administration would support any sanctions bill from Congress.
“Our view remains that a bipartisan effort would be the best effort forward,” she said.
A group of U.S. senators, including Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, released a rare joint statement Tuesday to deliver “a bipartisan message of solidarity and resolve to the people of Ukraine, and an equally clear warning to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.”
“Should Vladimir Putin further escalate his ongoing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia must be made to pay a severe price,” the senators said. “We are prepared to fully support the immediate imposition of strong, robust, and effective sanctions on Russia, as well as tough restrictions and controls on exports to Russia.”
Sens. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat; Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican; Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat; Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican; Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat; and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, were part of the group.
A diplomatic path to ending the conflict still exists, Biden said.
The U.S. has offered concessions in diplomatic talks to avoid a military confrontation, including new arms control measures, he said. He and Putin agreed to continue engaging in diplomacy, he said.
If Putin declines those offers in favor of an invasion, it would be “a war of choice” with a disastrous human toll in Ukraine and an immense cost to Russia’s standing in the international community, Biden said.
“If Russia attacks Ukraine, it will be met with overwhelming international condemnation,” he said. “The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction. Invading Ukraine will prove to be a self-inflicted wound. The United States and our allies and partners will respond decisively.”
International sanctions would be severe, Biden said, and Nord Stream 2 “will not happen” if Russia invades.
Psaki said sanctions would come after a Russian invasion, not preemptively.
“Our view remains that the crippling package of sanctions is an effective deterrent,” she said. “If you do that in advance, what is to stop them from moving forward?”
Diplomatic efforts continue
While diplomatic talks remain ongoing, more than 150,000 Russian troops are encircling Ukraine and Belarus, Biden said. The U.S. has not verified Russian claims that it has removed some units from the Ukraine border, he said.
Biden said the possibility of an invasion led to his decision to call for all Americans to leave Ukraine, and to temporarily move the embassy from the capital, Kyiv, to Lviv, a western city closer to Poland than Russia.
Tensions between the two former Soviet republics have grown as Ukraine has drifted toward NATO’s sphere of influence. Biden reaffirmed Tuesday that the U.S. does not have troops in the country and has no plans to establish missile sites there.
NATO has no known plans to offer Ukraine membership.
But countries must have the sovereignty to choose their own allies, Biden said.
Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed Tuesday to bolster NATO’s eastern flank and to impose sanctions on Russia in case of an invasion, according to a White House readout of a call between the two leaders.
While the U.S. has no plans to respond militarily to an invasion of Ukraine, any aggression toward NATO members, including Ukraine neighbors Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, would be met “with the full force of American power,” Biden said.
“We are not seeking direct confrontation with Russia, though I’ve been clear that if Russia targets Americans in Ukraine, we will respond forcefully,” he said. “If Russia attacks the United States or our allies through asymmetric means, like disruptive cyber-attacks against our country’s critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond.”
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