People hold flags and posters during a protest against Russia’s attack on Ukraine near the Russian Embassy, on Feb. 24, 2022 in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Paulius Peleckis/Getty Images)
Tensions between the Biden administration and Russian leaders ratcheted up yet again Monday as Russia continued its unrelenting assault on Ukraine.
President Joe Biden authorized an additional $350 million of security assistance to Ukraine over the weekend, bringing the total aid over the past year to $1 billion, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing Monday.
Congress is considering billions in further assistance.
Senior administration officials also told reporters Monday that the Treasury Department was blocking U.S. transactions with Russia’s central bank and three Russian national sovereign wealth funds, the latest in escalating sanctions the administration has regularly implemented since the invasion began. The administration sanctioned Russian President Vladimir Putin personally on Friday.
“The unprecedented action we are taking today will significantly limit Russia’s ability to use assets to finance its destabilizing activities, and target the funds Putin and his inner circle depend on to enable his invasion of Ukraine,” Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said in a statement.
The White House condemned Putin’s move Sunday to boost Russia’s readiness to launch a nuclear weapon, though the White House appeared to view it not as a serious threat.
Asked Monday if Americans should worry about nuclear war, Biden answered, “No.”
From the briefing room, Psaki condemned Putin’s nuclear rhetoric and said the U.S. would not change its readiness status.
“We think provocative rhetoric like this regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation and should be avoided and will not indulge in it,” Psaki said. “We are assessing President Putin’s directive and at this time, we soon see no reason to change our own alert levels.”
The administration has not yet sanctioned the valuable Russian energy sector over concerns that it would disrupt the world market.
Asked if the White House may block purchases of Russian oil, Psaki said the government does not generally control where private energy companies buy or sell oil and gas, but that “nothing is off the table.”
— Washington bureau chief Jane Norman contributed to this report.
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