At a 'Dangerous Moment' for World Order, President Biden Says U.S. Will Oppose Putin's 'Sinister Vision'

Joe Biden on Thursday announced a new round of severe economic punishments against Russia, after they invaded Ukraine, but reiterated that American forces would only be deployed to support NATO

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty; Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

In a speech from the White House on Thursday, President Joe Biden described Europe — and, perhaps, the larger international system — as balanced on the precipice of whatever Vladimir Putin decides to do next.

"Without provocation, without justification, without necessity: This is a premeditated attack," Biden said of Putin's decision to launch a widespread offensive on Ukraine.

It could not pass without a response, the president said.

Speaking to the American people from the East Room, Biden announced another in a wave of what he intended to be ever-tightening, ever-more-punishing economic measures against Russia.

Among the new penalties are sanctions on major financial institutions, debt and equity limits on Russian businesses, a ban on certain important exports to Russia and more.

Biden also reiterated that at no point would U.S. troops be deploying to Ukraine. And he spoke of what he called an increasingly united NATO alliance, with the member countries prepared if — in a worst-case scenario — Russia moved further west into Poland and one step closer toward world war.

That was not impossible, Biden warned Thursday.

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

"The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power," Biden said. He said there was going to be a NATO summit on Friday.

After Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine this week and started the first major conflict on the continent in decades, the Russian president has cast himself in simultaneous starring roles on the world stage.

To much of Europe, the U.S. and other leading countries around the globe, Putin is a menace, a pariah or a villain; a military leader of uncertain motives; a dreamer of the kinds of empires that fell apart by the end of the last century.

He is also, as Biden and other western leaders see it, a consequential security risk to a post-Cold War order that has largely prevented enormous warfare.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Putin says he is a savior of what he insists is Russia's true place in the world, aligned against the threat of NATO, and that he is rescuing Ukrainians from a government somehow full of neo-Nazis and was extending support for two separatist territories in Ukraine who yearn to be free.

Ukraine's leaders, publicly, say they will not bend to efforts to carve up and control their country.

Biden, in his speech on Thursday, spoke derisively of what he called barely veiled tricks and diversions by the Kremlin.

It was a "dangerous moment," Biden said. The invasion that began this week revealed the truth of what the U.S. had been warning of for weeks, he said.

"Now the entire world sees clearly what Putin and his Kremlin allies are really all about," he said.

"It was always about naked aggression, about Putin's desire for empire by any means necessary," he continued.

"Putin's actions betray [a] sinister vision for the future of our world," he said.

"But it is a vision," Biden went on "that the United States … will oppose" with other major countries.

Between "democracy" and "autocracy," "sovereignty" and "subjugation," Biden said he believed "freedom will prevail."

In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters after his speech, Biden said he had no plans to talk with Putin and did not believe the Russian leader intended to stop his aggression with Ukraine.

"He wants to in fact re-establish the former Soviet Union. That's what this is about," Biden contended.

He went on: "I think [Putin's] ambitions are completely contrary to the place where the rest of the world has arrived."

Putin's goals in invading Ukraine remain unclear, though he insisted in an appearance this week that Ukraine is historically a part of Russia — a self-serving reading of the past.

Putin has also long criticized what he says is the threat of NATO in Europe, aligned against Russia.

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sergei Guneyev/TASS/Getty

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Biden was pressed about what he saw happening in the next several weeks and whether escalating economic punishment would be enough, given that previous sanctions had not ensured peace.

Biden said he intended the sanctions would "so weaken [Russia]" that Putin would "have to make a very, very difficult choice." Biden also said sanctioning Putin himself was on the table.

Though he spoke of NATO unity in facing Russia and touted how many countries had gathered in support of economic sanctions, Biden hinted at some divides.

Europe had not agreed to punish Russia by cutting the country out of SWIFT, a global financial system, he said. He also said he was planning to meet with India later Thursday to get on the same page about certain issues. He said he was not prepared to comment on China's role.

Biden said he was also sensitive to how the economic effects of war and sanctions against a major energy supplier would ripple out to everyday Americans — including, say, at the gas pump.

Pressed by a reporter on how long there might be economic disarray from the crisis, he said he was optimistic if the tide could be turned.

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

Biden was asked: Had he erred in calculating what Putin, whom he has called a "worthwhile adversary," would do next?

"At the time, he was — I made it clear — an adversary, and I said he was worthwhile," Biden acknowledge. "I didn't underestimate him."

Traffic jams are seen as people leave the city of Kyiv, Ukraine
Traffic jams are seen as people leave the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday. AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

How We Got Here

Biden's remarks on Thursday came about after he denounced Russian leader Vladimir Putin late Wednesday night, shortly after the politician shared a televised address announcing a "special military operation" in the Donbas area of Ukraine.

The location is a separatist region in the country, which Putin, 69, said this week should be independent — a move rejected by the U.S. and Ukraine.

In his address, Putin said that the operation is to "demilitarize" Ukraine and that Ukrainian servicemen who put down their arms will be able to safely leave the combat zone, per the Associated Press.

Putin also issued a warning to anyone who tried to intervene, saying they "must know that Russia's answer will be immediate, and will lead to such consequences as you never experienced in your history," according to The New York Times.

In his Wednesday statement, Biden began, "The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces."

"President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering," Biden's statement continued. "Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable."

The president went on to write that he would address the nation the following day as he monitored the situation overseas. "Tomorrow, I will meet with my G7 counterparts in the morning and then speak to the American people to announce the further consequences the United States and our Allies and partners will impose on Russia for this needless act of aggression against Ukraine and global peace and security," wrote Biden.

The 46th president concluded: "We will also coordinate with our NATO Allies to ensure a strong, united response that deters any aggression against the Alliance. Tonight, Jill and I are praying for the brave and proud people of Ukraine."

Earlier in the week, Biden said his administration will impose new sanctions on Russia that have been "closely coordinated with our allies and partners" and will go "far beyond" steps implemented in years past.

The exact scale and nature of such sanctions remain to be seen, and not every country aligned against Russia agrees on the best punishment. NATO, the Western alliance that has maintained the balance of power in Europe since the Cold War — and which Putin calls a security threat to Russia — is responding in force to the region around Ukraine.

The new measures come after the Biden administration banned American economic activity in the disputed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, and Germany announced that it will halt the certification of Nord Stream 2, a major natural gas pipeline that links the country with Russia via the Baltic Sea, in response to Putin's decree and decision to move troops into Ukraine.

"If Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further with sanctions," Biden said previously, before describing the "first tranche" of measures, which target Russian financial institutions, its sovereign debt and the country's elites and their family members.

In his remarks, Biden promised to take "robust action so that the pain of our sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy and not ours." However, he conceded that "defending freedom will have costs for us as well here at home" and added, "We need to be honest about that."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

Related Articles