U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Thursday that Washington is seeking to strengthen sanctions against Russia and called for more support for Ukraine as it resists Moscow’s invasion.
She was speaking in India’s technology hub of Bengaluru, where finance leaders of the Group of 20 leading economies have gathered to discuss challenges such as high debt and inflation that confront many low-income countries. She made her comments one day before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“As [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden has said, we will stand with Ukraine in its fight – for as long as it takes,” she told a news conference ahead of the G-20 meeting.
Yellen, who called Russia’s war in Ukraine a “strategic failure for the Kremlin,” said that American military and economic assistance is making it possible for Ukraine to resist the invasion and that “continued and robust” support for the embattled country will be a major topic of discussion during the G-20 meeting.
She said that in the coming months, the U.S. expects to provide around $10 billion in additional economic support for Ukraine and wants the International Monetary Fund to negotiate an agreement to lend to Ukraine.
Western sanctions imposed on Moscow are having a “very significant negative effect on Russia so far,” according to Yellen.
“While by some measures the Russian economy has held up better than might initially have been expected, Russia is now running a significant budget deficit," Yellen said.
"It is finding it extremely difficult because of our sanctions and our export controls to obtain the material it needs to replenish its munitions and to, for example, repair 9,000 tanks that have been destroyed because of the war," according to the Treasury secretary.
Saying that the Russians were seeking alternative ways to replace and repair weapons damaged in the war, she said that “working with our partners, we are seeking to strengthen sanctions and make sure that we address violations of sanctions."
Yellen also warned that providing any material support to Russia's war effort would be "a very serious concern." Her remark came a day after Russia and China forged closer ties during a visit by Beijing’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, to the Kremlin. The U.S. has expressed concern that China could supply weapons to Moscow to aid its war effort.
Yellen struck an optimistic note on the global economy, saying, “It is in a better place today than many predicted just a few months ago.” But, she cautioned, “We are not out of the woods yet.”
There had been widespread fears that the world would experience a sharp downturn in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which led to a disruption in oil and food supply chains and high inflation that hurt many countries.
As many countries grapple with mounting debt, however, Yellen said that it was important for G-20 countries to ease their financial distress.
The International Monetary Fund has estimated that about 15% of low-income countries are in “debt distress.” They range from countries such as Sri Lanka, Laos and Afghanistan in Asia to Zambia in Africa and Venezuela and Argentina in South America.
Yellen said she was hopeful that China would cooperate with other nations in providing debt relief to distressed countries, especially Zambia and Sri Lanka.
Finance ministers from the Group of Seven, or G-7, leading industrialized economies are also meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 talks. They will discuss possible new sanctions against Moscow, according to the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, who is also in Bengaluru.
India, which has maintained a neutral stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine and continues to purchase oil from Moscow, is not likely to want the issue of additional sanctions to be discussed at G-20 meetings.
The gathering of the finance ministers that begins Friday is the first major meeting of India’s year-long presidency of the bloc.