1 of 6 | President Joe Biden announces new sanctions against Russia during an update on the situation regarding Russia and Ukraine at the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Declaring Russia's recent actions in Ukraine constitute an "invasion," U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a series of punitive sanctions aimed at Russian banks and individuals.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin's recognition of two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as independent countries and his decision to send in Russian troops as "peacekeepers" on Monday amounted to an "invasion" of Ukraine, requiring a strong response.
"Yesterday, Vladimir Putin recognized two regions of Ukraine as independent states, and he bizarrely asserted that these regions are no longer a part of Ukraine and their sovereign territory," he said. "To put it simply, Russia announced it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine."
"Who in the Lord's name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbors?" Biden asked. "This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community."
Biden noted Putin's assertions that the rightful territory of the self-declared states of Donetsk and Luhansk "actually extend deeper than the two areas he recognized, claiming large areas currently under the jurisdiction of the Ukraine government."
This, the president said, amounts to "a rationale to take more territory by force, in my view ... [Putin is] setting up a rationale to go much further. This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine."
In response, Biden announced new sanctions on two large Russian financial institutions -- VEB and the nation's military bank -- and introduced "comprehensive sanctions" on Russia's sovereign debt under which Moscow will be unable to raise money or trade in its new debt in U.S. or European markets.
The sanctions will also apply to Russia's top leaders and their family members who, Biden said, "share in the corrupt gains of the Kremlin policies and should share in the pain as well."
Finally, he said, "We've worked with Germany to ensure that Nord Stream 2 [gas pipeline between Russia and Germany] will not ... move forward."
The pro-Russia, separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk seceded from Ukrainian rule in 2014 and declare themselves "people's republics."
Earlier Tuesday, the White House said the troop movements into the regions were the beginning of an invasion, The Washington Post reported.
Documents show that the independence declarations were approved for a 10-year period, which is enough time for Russia to build military bases in Donetsk and Luhansk and jointly patrol their borders with Ukraine, the Post reported Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday canceled a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov scheduled for Thursday in response to Putin's actions.
"Now that we see the invasion is beginning and Russia has made clear its wholesale rejection of diplomacy, it does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time," Blinken said in remarks at the State Department. "I consulted with our allies and partners -- all agree."
Blinken said the United States remains committed to diplomacy "if Russia is prepared to take demonstrable steps to provide the international community with any degree of confidence that it's serious about de-escalating" but said the nation and its allies "are united in the face of Russian aggression."
"We will proceed, in coordination with allies and partners, based on Russia's actions and the facts on the ground. But we will not allow Russia to claim the pretense of diplomacy at the same time it accelerates its march down the path of conflict and war," he said.
Tensions have been escalating for weeks amid Moscow's military buildup of more than 150,000 troops close to the Ukrainian border. Part of the reason behind Moscow's actions is concern about Ukraine -- which was a part of the former Soviet Union -- joining NATO. Putin has said that such a move would be a threat to Russian security. U.S. and other Western officials have said Ukraine has a right to decide what to do about its own defense.
Earlier this week, there were reports that Biden and Putin could meet again soon to try and find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. The Kremlin said those reports had been "premature."