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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Biden condemns Putin’s actions in Ukraine

The prayers of the 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, said President Biden in a statement.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to declare two breakaway areas in eastern Ukraine independent and send soldiers there has been widely criticized as a serious escalation and a violation of international law. Areas across Ukraine were under attack on Thursday morning. President Biden condemned President Vladimir Putin’s actions, saying he would speak to the American people on Thursday.

However, in the United States, where President Joe Biden has begun slapping sanctions on Russian banks and “elites,” there is no clear agreement on how the government should react to Russia’s move.

Hawkish lawmakers are calling for the most serious US sanctions to be unleashed now, while others argue that Washington should hold on to the most severe penalties to deter potential further aggression by Moscow.

Read more: Turkey’s UN envoy calls for restraint amid Ukraine crisis

Why imposing sanctions is a problematic stance?

Matthew Pauly, an associate professor of history at Michigan State University, said incremental sanctions “might be sensible because such an approach would create a sliding penalty scale and offer a disincentive for future, more expansive Russian moves”.

But gradual penalties come with their own set of problems, Pauly said.

“Incremental sanctions might also invite Russia to test Ukrainian and Western resolve in stages, in hope of fracturing Kyiv’s support,” he told Al Jazeera in an email earlier this week. “The application of ‘massive,’ comprehensive sanctions now might remove a deterrent to a full-scale Russian war against Ukraine.”

Read more: Russia at the Gates: Another Sarajevo waiting to happen in Ukraine?

For now, Biden seems to favour gradual sanctions. On Monday, after Putin recognised the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), Washington imposed measures targeting trade in the two territories.

US vs Russia

The following day, Biden announced sanctions against two Russian banks, the country’s sovereign debt and several individuals described as part of Putin’s inner circle. “If Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as with sanctions,” Biden said on Tuesday.

Still, some Congress members are calling for tougher penalties against Russia now.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton called for “punishing sanctions” on Russia’s oil and gas sector and on critical industries, while key Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called Biden’s sanctions “woefully inadequate”.

As of now, Russian forces have attacked Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin announced he had authorized a “special military operation” in the country’s east on Thursday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declared martial law throughout the country, saying Ukraine will “win”.