Fact Check: Biden Now Says that Russian Sanctions Were Never Meant to Discourage Putin

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    VERDICT: False. Biden, as well as other senior officials of his administration, has stated repeatedly that sanctions were intended to discourage Putin from attempting to invade Ukraine.

    Biden stated at Brussels on Thursday, that “I did not say that, in fact, the sanctions would deter him [Putin].”

    “Sanctions never deter,” he added.

    As early as January 19th, Biden explained the ways in which sanctions could deter Putin.

    A reporter asked Biden at a press event the following morning, “Given how ineffective sanctions have been in deterring Putin in the past, why should the threat of new sanctions give him pause?”

    Biden replied, “Well, because he's never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves.”

    On January 23rd, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CBS News's Face the Nation, “As to the sanctions, the most important option is use them to deter Russia, to dissuade Russia to refrain from more aggressive actions. After sanctions have been triggered they cease to have a deterrent impact.”

    On the 25th of January, The White House held a background briefing on sanctions, which was entitled “Russia Ukraine Economic Deterrence Measures.”

    On February 3, State Department Press Secretary Ned Price declared that sanctions were an element of the actions “to deter what could be additional Russian aggression.”

    On the 7th of February, Josep Borell, a high official for the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, spoke about sanctions in the State Department while standing next to Blinken. “We want to clarify what will be the implications of certain actions. This is because it is the deterrence aspect of the diplomatic discussions.”

    On February 11, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said to reporters, “The president believes that sanctions are intended to deter. To be able to be effective to deter, they need be set up so that when Putin moves, then sanctions are put in place. We believe that this is the correct logic.”

    On February 20th, Vice President Kamala Harris said in Munich, “The purpose of the sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence.”

    On February 20th, Blinken spoke on “Face the Nation,” about sanctions, “The purpose of that is to do everything we can to deter it, to prevent a war, to deter aggression. And we don't want to pull the trigger until we have to because we lose the deterrent effect.”

    On that same day, Blinken said on NBC News' “Meet the Press”, “We're going to try everything we possibly can to get President Putin to reverse the decision we believe he's made and to dissuade him. Part of that is the prospect of massive sanctions.”

    He said, “We're trying to prevent a war. As soon as you trigger the sanctions, of course, any deterrent effect they may have is gone. They get absorbed by President Putin and he, and he moves on.”

    Blinken added on CNN, “The purpose of the sanctions in the first instance is to try to deter Russia from going to war.”

    On the 22nd of February Daleep Singh, the Biden administration's Deputy National Security Advisor on International Economics said, during a press conference at the White House, “Sanctions are not an end to themselves. They serve a higher purpose. And that purpose is to deter and prevent.”

    Singh said, “They're meant to prevent and deter a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could involve the seizure of major cities including Kyiv. They're meant to prevent large-scale human suffering that could involve tens of thousands of casualties in a conflict.”

    On February 24, the day Russia entered Ukraine, the President changed his tune. 

    He defended the decision not to impose sanctions prior to the invasion and claimed that it was “ultimately” about making the attack a strategic failure for Russia.

    “Had we unleashed our entire package of financial sanctions preemptively, I think a couple of things might have happened. Number one, President Putin might have said, look, these people are not serious about diplomacy. They're not engaging in a good faith effort to promote peace. Instead, they're escalating. And that could provide a justification for him to escalate and invade,” he added.

    “Secondly, he could look at it as a sunk cost. In other words, President Putin could think I've already paid the price. Why don't I actually take what I paid for, which is Ukraine's freedom,” the president said before shifting.

    “So that's what we wanted to avoid. Look, ultimately the goal of our sanctions is to make this a strategic failure for Russia.”

    Democrat lawmakers also believed that sanctions could deter Putin.

    House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) stated on January 2, on “Face the Nation”, “I think that it would require enormous sanctions on Russia to deter what appears to be a very likely Russian invasion of Ukraine again.”

    In the meantime there were many Republicans who argued against sanctions, saying that it did not suffice to stop Putin and that sanctions needed to be in place before the invasion, not after.

    Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX) said on CNN on January 19, ” I don't think we're providing the deterrence necessary to stop Putin from invading Ukraine, the breadbasket of Russia.”

    “He wants to reclaim the old Soviet empire, and I don't see a lot of deterrence, you know, on the table,” said the official.

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