By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has rejected calls for preemptive sanctions against Russia, saying that doing so would undermine the West’s ability to deter Moscow from any further potential aggression against Ukraine.
Russia’s military buildup in occupied Crimea and near Ukraine’s borders has raised alarm bells in Western capitals that an invasion of Ukraine may be imminent. If Russia were to attack Ukraine, the United States and its European allies have vowed crushing economic sanctions. Russia denies it is planning to attack Ukraine.
“When it comes to sanctions, the purpose of those sanctions is to deter Russian aggression,” Blinken told CNN’s State of the Union program.
“So if they’re triggered now, you lose the deterrent effect. All of the things that we’re doing, including building up in a united way with Europe, massive consequences for Russia, is designed to factor into President [Vladimir] Putin’s calculus and to deter and dissuade them from taking aggressive action, even as we pursue diplomacy at the same time,” he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wants the West to impose sanctions now, arguing powerful punitive measures after a potential Russian attack do nothing to help his country.
“Sanctions are considered to be a preventive tool because they can be applied and then lifted. If there is an invasion by Russia, do you introduce powerful sanctions after we might have already lost several territories? Once you introduce sanctions, what will Russia do?” Zelenskiy said in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this week.
“I support imposing sanctions now,” he said.
Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized what he called the “passive deterrence” of waiting to impose sanctions.
“The noose is tightening around Ukraine,” McCaul told CBS’s Face the Nation program on January 23. “If we don’t do something strong right now, I’m afraid that he’s [Putin] going to invade Ukraine.”
In the interview with CNN, Blinken warned that “a single additional Russian force” entering Ukraine in an “aggressive way” would trigger a swift and severe united sanctions response from the United States and Europe.
The comments again sought to clarify the U.S. position, after President Joe Biden this week misspoke at a press conference, saying a “minor incursion” by Russia might not trigger the same response as a full-blown invasion.
The White House quickly clarified that “any Russian military forces” moving across the Ukrainian border would constitute a renewed invasion and be met with severe consequences.