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White House press secretary Jen Pskai cried foul Friday when Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich didn’t hold back in demanding to know why the Biden administration is treating Russia with what seem like kid gloves.
During a briefing that afternoon, Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh revealed that the sanctions package that the administration intends to roll out after Russia invades Ukraine won’t include all that much.
It won’t include revocation of Russia’s membership in the SWIFT international banking system, and it also won’t be “designed to reduce or impair Russia’s ability to supply energy to the world,” he said.
Later, during the briefing, Heinrich asked Psaki point-blank whether this soft strategy — not including vital elements like SWIFT, and not applying the sanctions until after Russia invades — is really cutting it.
Especially, she added, given reports that Russia has been launching cyberattacks on Ukraine and is preparing to start launching them at the U.S. as well.
NEWS: “We believe that the Russian government is responsible for widespread cyberattacks on Ukrainian banks this week,” says Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber Anne Neuberger, citing technical information linking Russia’s GRU to the attacks
— Sara Cook (@saraecook) February 18, 2022
“The sanctions, we’ve learned, don’t include SWIFT, they don’t target energy so the impacts to other countries are mitigated. You guys have attributed this cyberattack to Russia, and you’re warning that the prospect of … peace … is pretty dim,” she said.
“So, at what point do you break away from the strategy and say it’s not working and do something else — impose some of these sanctions now?” Heinrich then asked.
Psaki replied by arguing that the prospect of sanctions is supposed to be a deterrent.
“Well, I think as we’ve talked about a little bit in here, our collective view from our national security team is that sanctions are meant to be a deterrent. They are not — if you put all of the sanctions in place now, what is stopping them from invading?” she said.
Heinrich promptly replied, “But are they working?”
The answer, judging by the latest news, appears to be no:
Follow the latest on Ukraine invasion https://t.co/0reycQ3u32
— American Wire News (@americanwire_) February 18, 2022
REPORT: Russian-backed separatists order evacuation from Ukraine, claim they are about to be attacked https://t.co/oeev39KokL
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) February 19, 2022
And indeed, President Joe Biden himself said on Friday that his administration has “reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to, intend to, attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days.”
Asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin may perhaps be having second thoughts, he replied, “I’m convinced he’s made the decision.”
Psaki nevertheless doubled down in response to Heinrich’s inquiry.
“Well, again, Jacqui, I think that’s our assessment from the national security team and — you know, that we will continue to implement that strategy,” she said.
This prompted the Fox News reporter to ask a question so blunt that it provoked cries of unfairness from the White House press secretary.
“So you’re waiting for people to die before implementing them in that case?” she asked.
Psaki replied, “I think, Jacqui, that’s in no way a fair statement — or accusation, I guess, if that’s what that is.”
“What we have done and what the President has done is unite countries around the world on a strong package that will be crippling to the Russian economy. And we have done that in a way where we have stood up for the territorial integrity of — of Ukraine, and stood with our NATO partners and allies,” she continued.
“It has always been up to President Putin and Russia to determine which path they were going to take. That has not changed. But that leadership on the world stage is what has led to a united front and united opposition to these actions.”
But the world isn’t as united against Russia as Psaki. Russia is part of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a NATO-like organization that also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
According to Reuters, China would also side with Russia in case it invaded Ukraine, although only on a diplomatic level.
“China would back Russia diplomatically and perhaps economically if it invades Ukraine, worsening Beijing’s already strained relations with the West, but would stop short of providing military support, experts said,” Reuters notes.
Heinrich wasn’t given an option to reply to Psaki but had she been allowed to speak, she may have argued that this combined threat, in addition to Russia’s actions thus far, is more than enough reason for the Biden administration to apply sanctions.
In fact, that’s the very case Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself made Saturday during a CNN interview at the Munich Security Conference:
Zelensky tells @amanpour that in a meeting with “one of the leaders” today at Munich, “we had different visions on how sanctions should be applied when Russian aggression should happen. We’re being told we have several days, then war starts. I said ok, start sanctions today. 1/2
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) February 19, 2022
They say when war happens. I say fine, but you’re telling me it’s 100% war starts in a couple of days. What are you waiting for? We don’t need sanctions after bombardment happens, after we have no borders, no economy. Why would we need those sanctions then?” 2/2
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) February 19, 2022
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