(Washington) Rarely has the speech of an American president been so awaited: Joe Biden must address the Americans on Thursday, a few hours after Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine, and announce massive reprisals against the Russian economy.
He will speak at 1:30 p.m.
In a first nocturnal reaction to the announcement by the Russian president of the launch of a “military operation” against Ukraine, the American president had denounced, by press release, “a premeditated war which will cause catastrophic human suffering and loss”.
Joe Biden, who has ruled out any American military intervention, urgently gathered his national security advisers Thursday morning in the famous “Situation Room” of the White House.
Then he held, from 9:17 a.m. to 10:27 a.m. a virtual meeting with the heads of state and government of the G7, in order to coordinate the response of the major Western democracies.
The president and his counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as representatives of the European Union and NATO, denounced, in a press release, “ a serious threat to the international order”.
Short and long term penalties
The United States had already unveiled Tuesday, then Wednesday, the first salvoes of economic reprisals, in response to Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize the independence of the secessionist territories in eastern Ukraine.
The Americans intend both to shake Russia in the short term by drying up its financial flows, and to undermine the long-term industrial diversification projects of a country ultra-dependent on its sales of hydrocarbons.
All while tapping into the wallets of the Russian oligarchs, who have invested their immense fortunes abroad and who spend lavishly in resorts around the world.
Are already sanctioned by Washington: the company in charge of operating the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline-i.e. 11 billion dollars of investment which now lies “at the bottom of the sea”, to use a terminology dear to the American administration.
But also two Russian public banks (Vnesheconombank, VEB, and Promsvyazbank, PSB), and five oligarchs close to the Russian president, who see their assets frozen and find themselves prohibited from any transaction with American entities.
The Americans have also already decided to cut off the Russian government’s access to the international sovereign debt market.
But Joe Biden assured that the world’s leading economic power still had dry cartridges.
And his spokeswoman Jen Psaki revealed a track on Wednesday: “There are other financial institutions, for example the two largest Russian banks, which are not part” of the sanctions already announced.
In this case Sberbank and VTB Bank, two establishments which together hold “750 billion dollars in assets, half of the Russian banking system”, State Department spokesman Ned Price recalled on Wednesday.
The American president has, moreover, already made it known that he does not rule out financially sanctioning Vladimir Putin himself, and that he is also considering banning the export of American technologies to Russia.
The United States has also hinted that it could cut off Russia’s access to transactions in dollars, the main currency of world trade.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also called for a massive sanction on Thursday: banning Russian banks from using the SWIFT messaging system, an essential cog in global finance.
This would amount to isolating Russia on the banking level, not without consequences for the financial establishments of other countries.
Such a decision – already implemented at the initiative of the United States against Iran – cannot however be taken by the Americans alone.
Beyond the technical details of the sanctions, this speech will also be a crucial moment for Joe Biden both nationally and internationally.
Far from proclaiming the sacred union in the face of the Russian military offensive, some Republican adversaries have chosen to attack Joe Biden’s management of the crisis around Ukraine, accusing him of having been too timid in the face of Vladimir Putin .
U.S. allies will also gauge the resolve of an American president who, after the tumultuous Trump tenure, promised that the United States would lead the great fight of democracies against autocrats around the world.