West:More Sanctions, Isolation on Putin09/24 08:54
U.S. and European leaders have made clear: more financial penalties and
international isolation for Russia, more arms and other backing for Ukraine.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- How do American leaders and their allies intend to
respond if President Vladimir Putin seeks to escalate his way out of a bad
situation on Ukraine's battlefields, and makes good on renewed threats of
annexing territory or even using nuclear weapons?
At least to start with, by trying to double down on the same tactics that
have helped put Russia in a corner in Ukraine, U.S. and European leaders have
made clear: more financial penalties and international isolation for Russia,
more arms and other backing for Ukraine.
That won't necessarily be easy. It's been tough enough staying the current
course of persuading all of dozens of allies to stick with sanctions and
isolation for Putin, and persuading more ambivalent countries to join in.
Global financial and energy disruptions from Russia's war in Ukraine already
promise to make the coming winter a tough one for countries that have depended
on Russia for their energy needs.
And there's no sign of U.S. or NATO officials matching Putin's renewed
nuclear threats with the same nuclear bluster, which in itself might raise the
risks of escalating the conflict to an unimaginable level. Even if Putin should
act on his nuclear threat, President Joe Biden and others point, without
details, to an ascending scale of carefully calibrated responses, based on how
far Russia goes.
To start with, "they'll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever
have been," Biden told CBS' "60 Minutes" just ahead of Putin's new wartime
measures and renewed nuclear threat.
"What they do will determine what response would occur," Biden said on the
nuclear side, adding that the U.S. responses in that case would be
"I do not believe the United States would take an escalatory step" in the
event of a one-off, limited nuclear detonation by Russia aimed at trying to
scare Ukraine and its supporters off, said Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy
NATO secretary-general and former U.S. undersecretary of state for arms
control. "Certainly, it would not respond with nuclear weapons."
Putin this week pledged to use "all available means" to stave off any
challenges as Russia moves to summarily claim more Ukrainian territory despite
heavy losses on the battlefield to NATO-armed Ukrainian forces. In case NATO
missed the point, another senior Russian political figure specified the next
day that included nuclear weapons. Putin also mobilized Russian fighters to
throw into the seven-month invasion of Ukraine, and announced votes in parts of
Ukraine that the West says are meant to provide political cover for illegally
absorbing those regions into Russia.
U.S. and European Union officials say new sanctions are in the works in
response to Putin's latest moves.
"Russia, its political leadership, and all those involved in organizing
these 'referenda' as well as in other violations of international law and
international humanitarian law in Ukraine will be held accountable," EU foreign
policy chief Josep Borrell pledged this week, on the sidelines of the U.N.
General Assembly in New York.
But political declarations are the easy part. It's unclear what type of
measures can be agreed upon, as the financial punishments against Russia are
also increasingly inflicting pain on other European economies weighed down by
high electricity and natural gas prices and spiraling inflation. Hungary has
led resistance to sanctions that might hit its supplies from Russia, but it
isn't alone in hesitating.
New sanctions may come only after much debate and hand-wringing among the 27
EU member countries in coming weeks, probably only after Russia has held its
The last round of sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine was announced
May 4, but only agreed on four weeks later, as concerns over oil divided member
countries. Rather than a new set of sanctions, a "maintenance and alignment"
package was sealed in July, mostly to close loopholes on measures already
Pressed by reporters in New York for details about what might be coming,
Borrell said the sanctions would target "new areas of the Russian economy,
especially -- if I can be a little more concrete -- the technological ones."
Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the EU's executive branch -- the European
Commission -- which has been responsible for drawing up most of the sanctions,
also appeared resolute, but she was hardly more forthcoming.
"We stand ready to impose further economic costs on Russia and on
individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia who support (the war),
politically or economically. Plus we will propose additional export controls on
civilian technology as Russia moves to a full war economy," she told CNN.
Beyond the economic sanctions, the EU since Russia's February invasion of
Ukraine has slapped asset freezes and travel bans on more than 1,200 Russians,
including Putin, Russia's foreign minister and other senior officials.
Militarily, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this month that NATO is
working with the defense industry to explore ways to boost arms production to
better meet Ukraine's needs and replenish the arsenals of allies who have been
providing weapons and defense systems.
"We saw that during the COVID crisis, the industry was able to ramp up
production of vaccines and now we need to have, to some extent, the same
approach: ramp up quickly production of weapons and ammunition," he told The
The U.S. as a matter of policy maintains ambiguity about how it would
respond to any use of nuclear weapons in the conflict. Such a use would return
the world to nuclear war for the first time since the U.S. dropped bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and risk escalation on a scale the world has
But U.S. officials' public comments on the matter this month are in line
with expectations from arms experts that Washington's response would be a
graduated one based on the gravity of Russia's nuclear use. A one-off and
comparatively limited Russian nuclear use would deepen Russia's isolation
internationally, but may not necessarily draw an immediate Western nuclear use
It's difficult to fathom Putin launching any central strategic nuclear
strike at the United States or its NATO allies, which would be "to commit
suicide," said Gottemoeller, the former deputy NATO secretary-general.
Gottemoeller describes instead a scenario of Putin carrying out a single
demonstration strike over the Black Sea or against a Ukrainian military target,
in hopes of spiking pressure on Ukraine's Western-allied government to
Internationally, "There would be a very firm response that ... would amount
to, again redoubling efforts to help the Ukrainians," and "also in terms of
huge condemnation in the international community," she said.
That condemnation would be sure to draw in countries that so far have
declined to break with Russia or stop doing business with it, including China,
India and countries of the global south, she said.
For Putin, actual nuclear use would give up all the benefits of simply
threatening it, and pile on untold risks for Putin after that, said Lawrence
Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King's College London.
"The Chinese and the Indians and others that have not been marked in their
condemnation of Russia ... would have to speak. The last thing they want is for
the precedent of nuclear use to be made," Freedman said.
"So I think we can we can scare ourselves quite easily by the by the
rhetoric he uses. But I think I think it's best to recognize he does have a
purpose, which is working, to stop the West intervening directly," he said. "To
start using nuclear weapons against the West, you have to expect" at least the
risk of "nuclear weapons coming back in your direction."