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Biden announces new sanctions on Russia as attack on Ukraine unfolds

The new penalties target a larger group of Russian banks and aim to starve Russia of access to technology imports.

WASHINGTON (CN) — U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a new set of sanctions, clamping down on Russian banks and Russian elites and limiting access to technology commerce Thursday, in response to the Kremlin's large-scale attack on Ukraine.

Aimed at starving Russia's economy, the new penalties add four state-run banks to the list of Russian banks already blocked from doing business with or accessing their assets in the U.S. Further restrictions against Russian oligarchs are included as well, along with new limits on the Kremlin's access to high-tech imports.

Biden said U.S. allies are working to limit Russia's ability to do business not only in U.S. dollars but also euros, yen and the British pound in an attempt to siphon Russia off from the global economy.

Russia’s military launched a multipronged attack on Ukraine at dawn Thursday, closing the door on weeks of diplomatic talks aimed at deterring the invasion.

"Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences," Biden said of the Russian president.

Reports from the ground told of bombed airports, Russian tanks headed for the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and missile strikes throughout the country, as troops began a three-sided attack on the former Soviet nation.

"He rejected every good faith effort the United States and our allies and partners made to address our mutual security concerns through dialogue to avoid needless conflict and avert human suffering," Biden said.

Russian President Vladmir Putin's invasion threatens to collapse the democratic government of Ukraine and dismantle the security agreements of the post-Cold War era, while leaving mass casualties in its wake.

"This is a dangerous moment for all of Europe, for the freedom around the world. Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold the global peace. But now, the entire world sees clearly with Putin and his Kremlin allies are really all about," Biden said.

Sanctions limiting Russia's ability to import technology resources hope to prevent the Kremlin from accessing resources critical to expanding their military developments.

"We estimate that we'll cut off more than half of Russia's high-tech imports. It'll take a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It'll degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program. It'll hurt the ability to build ships, reducing their ability to compete economically. And it will be a major hit to Putin's long-term strategic ambitions," Biden said.

In addition to the penalties unveiled Thursday, Biden approved a smaller set of sanctions earlier this week targeting two of Russia’s state-owned banks, a group of Russian officials, the country’s sovereign debt and the company in charge of the Nord-Stream 2 pipeline, a gas program connecting Russia and Germany.

Germany has indefinitely suspended certification of the project, which is finished but had not started operating.

Biden's announcement comes after meetings with the United Nations National Security Council and G7 leaders about the invasion.

NATO has ramped up shipments of military equipment to Ukraine, and the European Union is preparing a large package of sanctions against Russia focused on punishing its key economic sectors, blocking technology access and banning Russian banks from trading in Europe.

“We are facing an unprecedented act of aggression by the Russian leadership against a sovereign, independent country,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said. “Russia's target is not only Donbas, the target is not only Ukraine, the target is the stability in Europe and the whole of the international peace order and we will hold President Putin accountable for that.”

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a freeze on all Russian banking assets, sanctions he said are meant to keep Russia from profiting off the U.K. market.

Johnson is also pushing for sanctions that would lock the Kremlin out of SWIFT, an international payment system. The U.S. has been hesitant about backing such a policy, with some analysts warning that cutting off Russian access could shock the system and pivot countries to rely on blockchain-based programs rather than systems relying on the U.S. dollar.

"Right now, that's not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take," Biden said of SWIFT sanctions.

Sanctions from countries across the world have already taken a toll on the Russian economy, with the Russian ruble hitting an all-time low on Thursday, and Biden said sanctioning Putin himself is not off the table.

The president reiterated that he will not send U.S. forces into Ukraine, but has deployed troops to neighboring NATO nations. During his speech Thursday, Biden announced the deployment of troops to Germany.

"Our forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine or forces that are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the East," Biden said.

Biden expressed confidence that international unity behind sanctioning can weaken Putin's resolve.

"The notion that this is going to last for a long time is highly unlikely as long as we continue to stay resolved and imposing the sanctions we're going to impose on Russia, period," Biden said.

Last week, Biden publicly warned that Putin would accuse Ukrainians of militarizing in the Donbas region, despite no evidence for these claims, using this so-called "false flag" operation as pretext for a Russian invasion under the guise of protecting civilians.

Putin laid the groundwork for the invasion Monday when he recognized separatist regions within Ukraine as independent republics and authorized the deployment of troops to the regions. In much of the way Biden had described and U.S. officials had expected, Putin later attempted to justify an invasion of Ukraine by falsely asserting that the Russian attacks were a mere means of “demilitarizing” parts of Ukraine to protect civilians.

Prefacing his missile attacks this morning, Putin depicted NATO and a potential Ukrainian entrance into the alliance as a threat to Russia. He then issued dire warnings about how the U.S. and its allies respond to the invasion.

“Whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history,” Putin said in the televised address.

Biden stressed that the invasion was a war of choice, and NATO nations are united in support of Ukraine with plans to meet on Friday.

"The history of this era is written," Biden said. "Putin's choice to make a totally unjustifiable war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger. Liberty, democracy, human dignity — these are the forces far more powerful than fear and oppression. They cannot be extinguished by tyrants like Putin and his armies. They cannot be erased from people's hearts and hopes by any amount of violence and intimidation. They endure in the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation. Make no mistake, freedom will prevail."

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