WASHINGTON — President Biden is set to announce sanctions this week against hundreds of members of the Russian lower house, according to a White House official familiar with the announcement, as leaders push for even tougher measures to punish President Vladimir V. Putin for his invasion of a month from Ukraine.
The announcement is expected to be made at a series of global summits in Europe on Thursday, where Biden will urge Western leaders to take even more aggressive economic action against Russia as his forces continue to destroy cities in Ukraine.
In Brussels, Biden and other leaders will announce a “next phase” of military aid to Ukraine on Thursday, new plans to expand and enforce economic sanctions, and an attempt to expand NATO defenses along the border with Russia. further strengthen, said Jake Sullivan. , the national security adviser to the White House.
“The president is traveling to Europe to ensure we remain united, to cement our collective resolve, to send a strong message that we are prepared and committed to this for as long as it takes,” Sullivan told reporters.
Officials declined to be specific about the announcements, saying the president will finalize details of new sanctions and other steps during his deliberations in Brussels. But Mr Biden faces a major challenge as he works to face Mr Putin’s war, which Mr Sullivan says “will not end easily or quickly”.
The sanctions against Russian lawmakers will affect hundreds of members of the State Duma, the country’s lower house, who requested anonymity to discuss diplomatic deliberations that have not yet been publicly acknowledged, the official said.
Earlier this month, the United States announced financial sanctions against 12 members of the State Duma. Thursday’s announcement goes well beyond those sanctions in what one senior official called a “very drastic” move.
The NATO alliance has already pushed the boundaries of economic sanctions imposed by European countries, which rely on Russian energy. And the alliance has largely exhausted most of its military options — aside from a direct confrontation with Russia, which Mr Biden said could lead to World War III.
That leaves the president and his colleagues with a relatively short list of announcements they can make Thursday after three consecutive closed-door meetings. Sullivan said there will be “new names, new targets” for sanctions within Russia. And he said the United States would make new announcements about efforts to help European countries get rid of Russian energy.
Yet the main aim of the summits — which met through diplomats in dozens of countries in just a week — may be a new public statement that Mr Putin’s invasion will not lead to snipers and dissension among allies.
Despite Russia’s intent to “divide and weaken the West,” Sullivan said, its allies in Europe and elsewhere have “remained more united, determined and focused than ever in recent memory”.
So far, that unit has done little to limit violence in Ukraine. The United States and Europe have already imposed the widest range of economic sanctions ever on a country of Russia’s size and wealth, and there are early signs that loopholes have softened some of the bite that sanctions against Russia’s central bank and major financial institutions were on his economy’s will.
Despite speculation that Russia may default on its national debt last week, it was able to pay interest on $117 million owed on two US dollar denominated bonds. And after the ruble initially plunged to record lows this month, it has since stabilized.
Russia was able to avert default for the time being due to an exception built into the sanctions that allowed it to continue making payments in dollars until May 25. That loophole protects foreign investors and gives Russia more time to devastate Ukraine without feeling the full wrath of the sanctions.
Meanwhile, although about half of Russia’s $640 billion in foreign reserves has been frozen, it has managed to rebuild them by continuing to sell energy to Europe and elsewhere.
“The fact that Russia is generating a large trade and current account surplus from energy exports means that Russia is generating a constant hard currency flow in euros and dollars,” said Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance. “If you look at sanction evasion or sanction effectiveness, this has always been a big loophole.”
The president is slated to leave Washington on Wednesday morning, ahead of Thursday’s summits with NATO, the Group of 7 Nations and the European Council, a meeting of all 27 leaders of the countries of the European Union. On Friday, Mr. Biden will go to Poland, where he will talk about the Ukrainian refugees who have flooded into the country since the start of the war. He will also visit US troops stationed in Poland as part of NATO forces.
Biden is expected to meet with President Andrzej Duda of Poland on Saturday before returning to the White House later that day.
White House officials said a key part of the announcements in Brussels would be new enforcement measures to ensure Russia cannot evade the intended impact of sanctions.
“That announcement will not just focus on adding new sanctions,” Mr Sullivan said, “but on ensuring that there is a concerted effort to crack down on sanctions evasion, on any attempt by a country to help Russia essentially undermine, weaken, or circumvent sanctions.”
He later added, “So stay tuned there.”
Sanctions experts have suggested Western allies could allow Russia’s energy exports to continue but are insisting that payments be held in escrow accounts until Mr Putin stops the invasion. That would be borrowed from the playbook the United States used with Iran when it allowed some oil exports, but required the revenue from those transactions to be in accounts that could only be used to fund bilateral trade.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Russia’s shrinking power. The Pentagon said Russia’s “combat force” in Ukraine has fallen below 90 percent of its original strength. The assessment reflects the significant losses suffered by Russian troops at the hands of Ukrainian soldiers.
The United States and Europe could also extend sanctions against Russia’s financial sector and target the major energy companies, Gazprom and Rosneft, without banning oil and gas exports. Such a move would hinder future energy exploration projects and damage production capacity in the longer term, US officials said.
Biden administration officials have said they have drafted sanctions against Russia to allow energy exports to continue, acknowledging Europe’s reliance on Russian oil and gas and claiming market disruption could have a negative effect on the world economy.
In recent days, European leaders have come under increasing pressure from the US administration and a core group of hardliners within their ranks – including Poland and the smaller Baltic states – to impose an oil embargo on Russia.
But ahead of Thursday’s meetings, European Union leaders appeared not to be heading for such a move, which would hit Germany, the bloc’s de facto leader and largest economy, the hardest.
Germany’s opposition to an oil embargo is based, according to European Union diplomats, on the argument that such a move would harm European economies more than Russia. Hungary, a small EU country that is hugely dependent on Russian oil, is backing Germany alongside Bulgaria. And the Netherlands, which also holds sway in the bloc, supports Germany, fearing loss of revenue from the main port of Rotterdam if Russian fuels come under sanctions.
Instead, some EU countries suggest that the bloc should look more closely at the sanctions against Russian coal, another major export that has so far evaded European sanctions and on which Germany and Poland mainly depend. Coal, diplomats said, would be an easier fuel to agree to block, as the European Union as a whole should have largely dumped it, as part of its green energy transition agenda.
Biden’s presence at the EU leaders’ summit could force more consensus among Europeans, but diplomats said a breakthrough on a Russian oil embargo was unlikely.
The day of the summits was Mr Biden’s idea. He had finished it only ten days ago, aides and diplomats said, hoping to put on a show of the West’s enduring unity and send a message to Russia.
Initially, several of America’s closest allies were concerned: Summits usually have months of preparation and end with a series of concrete actions agreed long in advance, announced as if leaders debated and agreed upon them at the meeting. But the lack of time led to a struggle to agree on sanctions, long-distance cuts from Russian energy and weapons pledges to the Ukrainians.
A senior government official said that for Mr Biden, the meeting itself was the symbol. He brings together the 30 nations of NATO to express solidarity and disgust. At best, Russia could rally Belarus and perhaps India and China, and the latter two have not condemned or endorsed Mr Putin’s actions.
In Poland, Mr Biden’s last stop, he will have a chance to be among the refugees. White House officials think this will be a powerful picture: At a time when Mr. Putin is bombing buildings and causing death from the sky as schools, arts centers and shopping centers collapse, Mr. Biden will promise help and, for some, refuge take in the United States.
The most critical of the meetings, however, will be at NATO. Despite all the signs of unity, there is nervousness about Putin’s next move and what will happen if he uses chemical or biological weapons. And so far, officials say, while those possibilities have been debated, there’s been no consensus on how the West would respond — a question Mr. Biden and his aides will have to answer behind closed doors.
David E. Sanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels, and Alan Rappeport from Washington.