Biden insists Russia sanctions never meant to deter Putin from invading Ukraine despite prior messaging

VP Kamala Harris previously said the purpose of sanctions 'has always been and continues to be deterrence'

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

President Biden suggested Thursday that sanctions were not meant to deter the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling reporters now that "sanctions never deter." 

"Sir, deterrence didn’t work. What makes you think Vladimir Putin will alter course based on the action you’ve taken today," Biden was asked by CBS reporter Christina Ruffini during a press conference at a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.

"Let’s get something straight. You remember if you covered me from the very beginning, I did not say that, in fact, the sanctions would deter him. Sanctions never deter. You keep talking about that. Sanctions never deter," Biden responded.

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a European Union leaders summit, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium March 24, 2022.

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a European Union leaders summit, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium March 24, 2022. (Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ruffini repeated the question, asking whether these actions could make Putin change course.

"That’s not what I said. You’re playing a game with me. The answer’s no," Biden snapped back.

"The maintenance of sanctions, increasing the pain and the demonstration [is] why I asked for this NATO meeting today, is to be sure that after a month, we will sustain what we're doing, not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year," Biden said.

Biden said the "single most important thing is for us to stay unified" and for the world to "continue to focus on what a brute [Putin] is, and all the innocent people's lives are being lost and ruined."

"We have to stay fully, totally thoroughly united," he added.

Speaking with Fox News Digital just minutes after Biden's NATO speech, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said, "Of course sanctions deter."

"But they must be structured to be impactful in order to work," he added, saying Biden should have taken tougher action against Putin prior to his invasion of Ukraine.

Biden's remarks come after weeks of messaging from key Biden administration officials – including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken – who claimed the sanctions placed on Russia were meant to deter the actions of Putin.

Asked in February whether she believed sanctions would deter Putin, Harris said at the time, "Absolut- — we strongly believe — and remember also that the sanctions are a product not only of our perspective as the United States but a shared perspective among our Allies.  And the Allied relationship is such that we have agreed that the deterrence effect of these sanctions is still a meaningful one, especially because – remember, also – we still sincerely hope that there is a diplomatic path out of this moment."

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a joint press conference with Poland's President Andrzej Duda on the occasion of their meeting at Belwelder Palace, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a joint press conference with Poland's President Andrzej Duda on the occasion of their meeting at Belwelder Palace, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Harris also said in February that the "purpose of the sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence."

Prior to Russia's invasion, during an interview with CNN, Blinken insisted that the "purpose of the sanctions in the first instance is to try to deter Russia from going to war."

Similarly, in February, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said "sanctions can be a powerful tool" and that the overall goal of imposing sanctions on Russia was to "have a deterrent effect."

"Sanctions can be a powerful tool," Psaki said. "They have been in a lot of moments throughout history. And what we view them as — or how we’re viewing them as we’re starting high, as Daleep just conveyed here, in terms of the significance and the severity of the sanctions that were announced today — yes, our intention is to have a deterrent effect."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Washington.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

During that same briefing, Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser for International Economics, said sanctions "serve a higher purpose" and that is to "deter and prevent."

"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."

During an appearance on 'America's Newsroom' in February, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the administration wanted the sanctions "to have a deterrent effect."

"We want them to have a deterrent effect, clearly," Kirby said. "And he hasn’t invaded yet. […] So look, if you punish somebody for something they haven’t done yet ... they might as well go ahead and do it."

A Twitter account managed by the Republican National Committee highlighted remarks from officials in the Biden administration who, at one point, claimed that the sanctions were meant to deter Putin.

Also in February, Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, said "the president believes that sanctions are intended to deter."

"And in order for them to work — to deter, they have to be set up in a way where if Putin moves, then the costs are imposed," Sullivan added. "We believe that that is the right logic both on its own merits, but equally importantly, we believe that the most important fundamental for anything that unfolds in this crisis, whether through diplomacy or as a result of military action, is that the West be strong, be united, and be determined to operate with common purpose."

Fox News' Lindsay Kornick and Kelly Laco contributed to this article.