WASHINGTON — White House officials said on Monday that President Biden would impose economic sanctions on the two separatist regions of Ukraine that President Vladimir V. Putin recognized as independent, but stopped short of imposing any penalties directly on Russia.
A senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said President Biden is still assessing Russian actions in the wake of Mr. Putin’s decree ordering troops into the separatist regions.
The official did not rule out imposing severe sanctions on Russia, but said the United States will “assess what Russia does and not focus on what Russia says.”
The official condemned Mr. Putin’s hourlong speech on Monday, calling it “an attack on the very idea of a sovereign and independent Ukraine.” In his speech, Mr. Putin claimed that Ukraine owes its statehood to the Soviet Union.
The limited nature of the initial sanctions appeared intended to allow the United States and its European allies to hold in reserve the more aggressive sanctions they have threatened to impose on Moscow if Mr. Putin sends Russian armed forces into Ukraine, and to allow for the increasingly slim possibility of a diplomatic solution.
The European allies condemned the Russian action as a violation of international law and said they supported enacting sanctions. But the relative restraint of the American steps could also reflect debates among the allies over what actions by Russia should trigger the fuller sanctions and the difficulty of developing a unified and proportional response to incremental steps by Mr. Putin.
In a statement, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, called Mr. Putin’s move a “blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments” and said that Mr. Biden would soon issue an executive order prohibiting investment, trade and financing with people in the two regions of Ukraine.
“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 in the statement.
But there was pressure on Mr. Biden from members of both parties to act swiftly and aggressively with a fuller range of sanctions.
Representative John Garamendi, a Democrat from California who is in Brussels for talks with allies, said on CNN that “it’s time to ramp up the sanctions” and that Europe would support stronger measures.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, wrote on Twitter that “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 added: “His decision should immediately be met with forceful sanctions to destroy the ruble and crush the Russian oil and gas sector.”
The reaction from the Biden administration echoed responses from European allies to the hourlong performance by Mr. Putin, who angrily aired decades of Russian grievances about Ukraine, NATO and the United States.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, lashed out at Mr. Putin, saying on Twitter that Russia’s recognition of the two territories “is a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the #Minsk agreements.”
In a joint statement with the European Council president, Charles Michel, the pair of leaders wrote that the European Union will “react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act,” and that it “reiterates its unwavering support to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”
White House officials said that Mr. Biden spoke with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, for about 35 minutes following the conclusion of Mr. Putin’s speech. Ms. Psaki did not provide any details about the call, but said that the United States is “continuing to closely consult with allies and partners, including Ukraine.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism