Biden signs order targeting anyone doing business in Putin-recognised Ukraine separatist areas

Move follows announcement by Russian president that he is recognising Donetsk and Luhansk

‘Ukraine was created by Russia’: says Putin while addressing the nation
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President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Monday prohibiting investment in areas of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin recognises as separatist states.

The order came after Mr Putin signed a decree recognising the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s east as independent entities.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House had anticipated such a move and that Mr Biden’s executive order would prohibit new investment, trade and financing by Americans to, from and in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

The order would also prohibit “the importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from the Covered Regions,” as well as “the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a United States person, wherever located, of any goods, services, or technology” to the regions.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr Biden said he is “also creating the authority to impose sanctions on persons determined to operate or have operated since the date of the order in the Covered Regions,” as well as leaders, officials, senior executive officers or members of the board of directors of an entity operating in the regions, among other groups of people.

Ms Psaki added that the Treasury and State Departments will have additional details on the sanctions and that additional measures will be announced.

“To be clear: these measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine,” Ms Psaki said.

Additionally, a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Mr Biden’s orders said Monday’s actions were only an opening salvo in the west’s response to Mr Putin’s actions.

“We will take further measures tomorrow to hold Russia accountable for this clear violation of international law and Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as of Russia's own international commitments,” the official said.

While Mr Biden and Mr Putin had agreed to have a meeting on the condition that Russia would not further invade Ukraine, the official implied such a meeting will no longer be possible if Russia continues on the path it is on.

“We were open to further engagements between the two leaders if we thought it made sense and could have a beneficial impact on the crisis, but there were a number of predicates to a meeting like that, one critical one being that Russia does not take further military action inside Ukraine,” the official said.

“I certainly can't commit to a meeting that has as a predicate that Russia won't take military action when it looks imminently like they will.”

In a statement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday that he had spoken with Mr Biden and that he also planned to speak with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson condemned the Russian aggression as “a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine”.

But in an incendiary speech that same day, Mr Putin claimed eastern Ukraine was part of “ancient Russian lands” that were now “managed by foreign powers”. The Russian president added that “the responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodbath will be on the conscience of the regime that is ruling in Kiev”.

Russia has amassed thousands of troops as well as military equipment on Ukraine’s border.

In a similar vein, US members of Congress and senators condemned Mr Putin’s actions. Republican Sen Lindsey Graham called for swift actions.

“Putin’s decision to declare eastern Donetsk and Luhansk as independent regions within Ukraine is both a violation of the Minsk Agreements and a declaration of war against the people of Ukraine,” he tweeted. “His decision should immediately be met with forceful sanctions to destroy the ruble and crush the Russian oil and gas sector”.

In reaction, the senior White House official said Mr Putin’s remarks were not merely “a speech about just Russian security” but “an attack on the very idea of a sovereign and independent Ukraine”.

“He made clear that he views Ukraine historically as part of Russia, and he made a number of false claims about Ukraine's intention that seem designed to excuse possible military action,” the official said. “This was a speech to the Russian people to justify a war — in fact, he once again explicitly threatened one.”

The official said Mr Biden would “continue to pursue diplomacy until the tanks roll” but was “under no illusions about what is likely to come next”.

But the official, who briefed reporters late Monday on condition of anonymity, was noncommittal when asked whether the explicit presence of Russian troops in the separatist regions would trigger the sanctions package Ms Psaki had referred to as “swift and severe”.

Asked about an order issued by Mr Putin directing troops into the Donbass for so-called peacekeeping operations, the official said Russia had “occupied” the separatist regions “throughout most of the last eight years”.

“It has been Russia's position that there are not Russian forces presence in this part of the Donbass the reality as we pointed out on a number of occasions over these past years, has been quite different. There have been Russian forces present in these areas throughout,” they said, adding the caveat that the US would be “carefully observing and assessing Russian actions” before “responding accordingly”.

“We will observe and assess what actions Russia actually takes and respond accordingly. We have already said we're going to take additional sanctions actions tomorrow, and if Russia takes further actions, I suspect there will be further responses to those actions,” the official said. “That's how we’ve handled this up till now, and that is how we will continue to handle things going forward”.

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