From a strong and firm response to “unprecedented” sanctions, US President Joe Biden, who is doubling his warnings in order to deter Russia led by Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, has many options, some of which may be painful for Moscow, as the West accuses Russia of massing tens of thousands of its soldiers on The Ukrainian border, and thinking of a new “aggression” after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In this volatile atmosphere, the United States and the Europeans accepted a series of talks with Russia that proposed agreements to limit NATO expansion at their doorstep.
US officials say they are ready to discuss both sides’ concerns — but they have also made clear that most Russian demands are unacceptable.
Therefore, it seems that the forty-sixth president in American history does not care much about a great agreement with the competing power, as the greater goal of continuing the dialogue for him is to prevent the worsening of the crisis, passing at the same time his warnings.
“It is above all a question of getting relations back on track for deeper dialogue, diplomacy, and more effective communication that will not lead to a final solution to all problems but to better management of these problems to avoid their spread,” Matthew Rogansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Research Center, sums up.
What are the possible penalties?
Joe Biden said he threatened his Russian counterpart directly with “economic consequences he’s never seen before” if he decided to invade Ukraine.
The sanctions on the table, even if Washington does not talk about them in detail, could be very harsh on the Russian economy.
Westerners could first blacklist more people close to Vladimir Putin, denying them access to their American or European assets.
They could also “dry up” investments in Russia and export Western technologies to that country, warned former US ambassador to Kiev William Tyler, deputy head of the think-tank of the United States Institute of Peace.
Finally, they can threaten to resort to the so-called “nuclear option,” that is, isolating Russia from the “SWIFT” system, the primary tool in global finance that allows banks to circulate money.
But this step can only be a last option because of its negative repercussions on the European and American economy alike, but the Russians will be the “biggest losers,” according to William Tyler.
The West also brandished the energy card, as German diplomacy threatened not to allow the operation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, the project dear to the heart of Moscow, in the event of further Russian escalation.
What are the military options?
Biden has declared that he has no intention of dragging the world’s largest power into a new conflict abroad. But without going so far as to directly intervene, the Americans warned that they would send more weapons to Ukraine in the event of a Russian attack, and could also equip local militias.
The United States could also provide its Ukrainian allies with intelligence by increasing the number of reconnaissance flights.
But the Biden administration said in particular that, in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, it would respond to requests to send reinforcements – ie the deployment of US forces – from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries bordering Russia (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland).
“That’s exactly what Putin doesn’t want, so if he decides to invade, he’s going to get exactly what he doesn’t want,” said William Tyler.
Will that be enough?
In the past, even severe sanctions did not persuade President Putin to back down, especially after the annexation of Crimea. For this reason, this time Washington is trying to clearly communicate to the Kremlin what the Western reaction will be before it moves.
In this regard, Matthew Rogansky said, “No one doubts that the United States can hurt Russia economically.”
“The question is: Is this enough to change Russia’s behaviour? History has taught us that the only chance this can work is to formulate threats in advance.”
William Tyler, for his part, said that Putin “must be deterred” from moving through all these threats, “but will it be? Only one man can answer this question.