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Biden says considering imposing direct sanctions on Putin

US President Joe Biden (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP file photos)

US President Joe Biden has said he would consider imposing direct economic sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin if he orders an invasion of Ukraine.

Biden on Tuesday said there were no plans to send American troops to Ukraine, but said he would consider imposing economic sanctions personally targeting Putin and that there would be "enormous consequences" if Russia invaded.

“There is not going to be any American forces moving into Ukraine,” he told reporters.

Reporters asked Biden on Tuesday if he would see himself personally sanctioning Putin if he invaded Ukraine.

“Yes,” he said. “I would see that.”

The United States claims that Russia has been amassing thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine to attack Ukraine. Moscow has rejected the allegations and said the troop build-up is defensive.

Washington has insisted upon expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, and the nations of the defunct Warsaw Pact, since the Cold War ended. Russia has vowed to counter any such Western attempts.

On Monday, the US and NATO said they were preparing thousands of troops to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe to counter the threat of a “Russian invasion.”

Biden: ‘We have a sacred obligation’

Speaking in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Biden told reporters that the 8,500 troops put on high alert to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe “are part of a NATO operation, not a sole U.S. operation.”

“I made it clear to President Putin that we have a sacred obligation, Article 5 obligation to our NATO allies. And that if, in fact, he continued to build up and/or was to move, we would be reinforcing those troops,” Biden said.

“I’ve spoken with every one of our NATO allies … and we’re all on the same page,” he added. “We’ve got to make it clear that there’s no reason for anyone, any member of NATO, to worry whether or not … we, NATO, would come to their defense.”

This comes after US officials said Monday the Pentagon was preparing up to 8,500 US troops to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe. 

“The United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us, our allies, or partners,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “has placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the [NATO Response Force] or if other situations developed,” at the direction of Biden.

“All told, the number of forces that the secretary has placed on heightened alert comes up to about 8,500 personnel,” Kirby said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the United States has a responsibility to contribute to the NATO Response Force and that “our commitment to our NATO partners and allies is ironclad.”

“The aggressive behavior here is on the part of the Russians,” Psaki said. “This is a defensive alliance, not an offensive alliance. And what we’re doing here is not making a decision … to deploy, but just to be ready.”

On Monday, Biden claimed he shared “total unanimity” with European leaders against Russia amid Washington’s claims that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine, despite reports that many European states – including the two most powerful countries on the continent, Germany and France – appear resistant to the continuous NATO expansion to Russia’s borders.

UK prepares ‘a hard-hitting package of sanctions’

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday called on European allies to have sanctions ready to go if Russia invades Ukraine.

“We have a hard-hitting package of sanctions ready to go and what I think it would be fair to say is we want to see our European friends ready to deploy that package as soon as there should be any incursion at all by Russia into Ukraine,” Johnson said in a statement to parliament.

"It is absolutely vital that... the West is united now, because it is our unity now that will be much more effective in deterring any Russian aggression," Johnson told parliament, urging "our European friends" to be ready to deploy sanctions as soon as there was any invasion.

Russia said it was watching US-led provocations with "great concern.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the crisis was being driven by American and NATO actions, not by Russia’s moves.

Meanwhile, an American aircraft loaded with military equipment and munitions landed in Ukraine, carrying the third such arms shipments supplied to Kyiv amid escalating tensions between the West and Russia.

The United States has committed more than $650 million in security assistance to Ukraine in the past year and more than $2.7 billion in total since 2014, when the then-Ukrainian territory of the Crimean Peninsula voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty.

The second batch of US military equipment had arrived in Kyiv on Sunday.

Several NATO members such as Britain, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands have already sent consignments of weapons and warships to the region amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

Western governments accuse Russia of planning an invasion of Ukraine. Moscow rejects the allegation and insists that its border deployments are defensive in nature.

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