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 .
In a first nocturnal reaction to the announcement by the Russian president of the launch of a “military operation” against Ukraine, the American president denounced, by press release, “a premeditated war which will cause catastrophic human suffering and loss”.
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Joe Biden, who gathered his national security advisers in the famous “Situation Room” on Thursday morning, must speak on Thursday on the “consequences” for Russia of this announcement – at midday local time, according to the White House.
He will have previously met with his G7 counterparts at 9:00 a.m. local time.
Joe Biden has promised that “the world will demand accountability” from Moscow.
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 undermine Russia in the short term, by forcing the country into a sort of financial autarky, and to undermine the long-term economic diversification projects of a country ultra-dependent on its hydrocarbon sales.
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 is now rusting “at the bottom of the sea”, to use a terminology dear to the American administration.
But also two Russian public banks (Vnesheconombank and Promsvyazbank), 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, which has ruled out any military intervention in Ukraine, still had dry cartridges.
And his spokeswoman Jen Psaki unveiled 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”, recalled Wednesday the spokesman for the State Department, Ned Price.
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.
Commentators also speculate on the use of a massive financial weapon, but one that the Americans cannot unleash alone: prohibiting Russian banks from using the SWIFT messaging system, an essential cog in global finance, which would amount to completely isolate Russia banking
To do this, however, Washington must rally the Europeans. The United States has already managed to cut off access to SWIFT from certain Iranian banks in the past, in retaliation for Tehran’s nuclear program, but attacking the Russian banking system would have a whole other dimension.
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 .
The president has bet on the all-out sharing of American military intelligence and the threat of sanctions, without succeeding in making the Russian president back down.
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.