Harris warns of ‘unprecedented’ sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine

Vice President Harris in a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday sought to convey total unity among the United States and its allies in imposing harsh sanctions on Russia should it choose to invade Ukraine.

Harris told the conference that U.S. support for the NATO alliance is “sacrosanct” and pledged that Russia would face “unprecedented” economic penalties in the event of an invasion. 

“Let me be clear, I can say with absolute certainty if Russia further invades Ukraine the United States, together with our allies and partners, will impose significant, and unprecedented economic costs,” Harris said in prepared remarks. 

“The imposition of these sweeping and coordinated measures will inflict great damage on those who must be held accountable,” she said.  

Harris’s speech at the annual security conference came at a critical and perilous moment, as Russia appears on the brink of invading Ukraine.  

President Biden said Friday evening that he is convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin has made up his mind to invade Ukraine and that the U.S. believes Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv is a likely target in the coming days.  

The U.S. estimates Russia has between 169,000 and 190,000 troops close to or in Ukraine. 

At the same time, the U.S. says it is not shutting the door to diplomacy to diffuse the crisis. 

Harris said Saturday that the U.S. and its European allies remain open to resolving the crisis through diplomacy while being prepared to penalize Russia in the event of an incursion.   

To be sure, there have been some differences between the U.S. and its European allies as they work on coordinated sanctions. European nations have been cooler to harsher sanctions such as kicking Russia out of the SWIFT banking system, which would have an adverse impact on European countries.  

A White House official told reporters Friday that it was unlikely an initial Russia package would include a measure kicking Russia out of SWIFT.  

And in the U.S., a bipartisan group of senators was unable to reach a deal on new Russia sanctions and instead passed a resolution signaling support for Ukraine and warning Russia this past week.  

In a question-and-answer session following her speech, Harris acknowledged that at the beginning, there was not complete unity among allies as to how to deal with the current crisis, but she said that the U.S. and its partners came together through substantial consultations. 

“We didn’t all start out in the same place, but through diplomacy … we came together and are now speaking with a unified voice,” Harris told the conference’s chairman, Wolfgang Ischinger. “That voice was a function of not only dialogue but debate, some concessions, but also a practical realization of the moment that we’re in.”

Still, the U.S. and its allies appear more prepared to respond to a Russian invasion than they were in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. 

A U.S. sanctions package is expected to target Russian banks as well as Russians with links to the Kremlin. The Biden administration also says that it plans to impose export controls on Russia that would prevent Moscow from obtaining key U.S. technologies and therefore hurt Russia’s strategic edge.   

“We will target those who are complicit and those who aid and abet this unprovoked invasion,” Harris said Saturday in her prepared remarks.

As she concluded her speech, Harris noted that the U.S.’s leadership on the world stage and commitment to alliances has been questioned in recent years, an apparent nod to the tenure of former President Trump.  

“I will answer the skeptics and those seeking to test us,” she said. “Today, the United States, our allies and our partners, are closer together. Today, we are clear in our purpose. And today, we are even more confident in our vision.”
“Our strength must not be underestimated because after all it lies in our unity,” she continued. “And as we have always shown it takes a lot more strength to build something up, than it takes to tear something down.” 

Updated: 11:54 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Economic sanctions Joe Biden NATO Russian Annexation of Crimea Russian military buildup U.S. allies Vladimir Putin

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