The Biden administration and its allies are putting together a slew of financial, technology and military sanctions against Russia, which they claim will take effect within hours of an alleged invasion of Ukraine, The New York Times reported on Saturday ahead of the Russia-US and Russia-NATO talks scheduled for next week.
According to the US officials cited in the report, the aim of such measures is based on the hopes of demonstrating to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the “price” of the decision to move troops across the border would cost the country too much.
However, aside from the fact that Russia has categorically rejected assumptions about an impending attack, the officials and experts interviewed by the outlet apparently admit that the applied and considered sanctions are unlikely to have the desired impact on Russia.
According to the report, cutting off Russia’s largest financial institutions from global transactions, imposing an embargo on American-made or American-designed technology needed for defense-related and consumer industries, and arming insurgents in Ukraine to fight a guerrilla war against Russian military occupation, are among the plans the US has discussed with allies in recent days.
And by sharing the options on the table, Biden administration officials reportedly hope to signal to Putin the possible consequences, in the hopes of influencing his decisions.
According to The NYT sources, the reason for the development of the unprecedented sanctions is the fear of the Americans that after the negotiations Russians will suddenly announce that their security concerns have not been addressed, and that the failure of the talks would be used as justification for military action.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated Friday that “no one should be surprised if Russia instigates a provocation or incident,” as it will try “to use it to justify military intervention, hoping that by the time the world realizes the ruse, it’ll be too late.”
“We’ve been clear with Russia about what it will face if it continues on this path, including economic measures that we haven’t used before — massive consequences,” he added.
According to the report, the administration’s recent review of the policies and sanctions against Russia concluded that, while Obama-era sanctions somewhat harmed the country’s economy and caused a sell-off of its currency, they failed to achieve their main strategic goal of changing its political course.
One unnamed senior aide to Biden, asked by the NYT whether he could point to any evidence that the Russians were deterred by recent sanctions, said: “No, none.”
Sanctions Have ‘Very Poor Coercive Track Record’
Still, officials reportedly declined to specify whether the US was willing to cut Russia off from the SWIFT system, which connects over 1,100 institutions in 200 countries to process global financial transactions – a threat that has been in the air for several years.
Earlier this week, Cynthia Roberts, a political science professor at Hunter College, speaking at the Center for the National Interest seminar for experts on tensions in Ukraine, pointed out that Russia has learned a lot about “global sanctions-proofing,” and she doubted that the country would suffer as much as American authorities claim if it was cut off from SWIFT.
“They would definitely take a big hit,” she noted while adding, however, that it would likely be temporary. She emphasized that Russia has hundreds of billions of dollars in gold and dollar reserves, owns its government debt and has a good credit balance, and that the Bank of China had joined Russia’s own version of SWIFT. As a result, it is possible that Russia and China will join forces to assist Moscow in dodging Western pressure as part of their growing cooperation, according to Roberts.
More to that, Roberts reiterated her estimate from the December article published in the National Interest magazine that “sanctions have a very poor coercive track record,” especially when it comes to Russia and its peculiarities of politics and economics.
US Seeks Broader Sanctions, Proxy War in Ukraine
According to NYT sources, one of the options being developed in Washington is the Commerce Department’s ruling that effectively bans the shipment of any consumer items to Russia that contain American-made or American-designed electronics, ranging from cellphones and laptop computers to refrigerators and washing machines. This would include not only American producers, but also European, South Korean, and other foreign manufacturers who employ American chips or software.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is reportedly working on strategies of Cold War-era proxy warfare.
According to the report, in last month’s phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley reportedly admitted that the Russian army, in the event of a direct military clash with the Ukrainian military, is highly likely to “roll over” it, and therefore the US intends to facilitate a large-scale insurgency on the country’s territory similar to the one that led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan more than three decades ago.
This would also include the pre-positioning of armaments for Ukrainian militants, including anti-aircraft missiles such as the Stinger, which might be deployed against Russian forces.
Citing sources familiar with the strategic planning, the outlet noted that the White House is looking at European nations to provide
assistance to Ukraine.
In its turn, Russia has repeatedly denied accusations of “hostile actions” by Western countries and Ukraine, stating that it does not threaten anyone, and statements about “Russian aggression” are used as an excuse to deploy more NATO military equipment and weapon systems near Russian borders.
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry noted that the West’s statements about “Russian aggression” and the opportunity to help Kiev defend itself against it are both ridiculous and dangerous.
On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who will participate in the US-Russia talks next week, said in an interview, that “no matter how much we tried to stop the negative trend in Euro-Atlantic security, we always stumbled upon actions that went contrary to the promises given to us.”
During the latest phone call between the US and Russian presidents last week, Putin briefed Biden about the major concepts of the proposed security accords Russia had submitted earlier, emphasizing that Moscow requires legally enforceable agreements on security assurances.
The Russian president also warned his American counterpart that imposing further harsh sanctions might destabilize relations between the two countries. For his part, Biden assured Putin that the US would not deploy any “offensive strike weapons” in Ukraine.
During the conversation, in the event that Russia invades Ukraine, Biden threatened Moscow with sanctions and a NATO response, a premise that Moscow has repeatedly dismissed as unjustified and absurd.
Russia published its draft agreement on mutual security measures for the US and NATO member states in mid-December. The draft consists of nine articles, such as NATO’s halt in expanding, including the accession of Ukraine, prohibiting the conduct of military activities in the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as refusal to deploy intermediate and shorter-range missiles in locations from where they can hit the territory of other parties of the agreement.
The US and Russia will meet on Monday to discuss arms control and the situation in Ukraine. After that, NATO members will meet with Russian officials in Brussels on Wednesday, while a plan to boost the number of troops stationed in the Baltics and Southeast Europe, maybe by several thousand, is set to be debated by NATO this week, according to reports.