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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 
agreed upon.

   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 
Associated Press.

   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 
never seen.

   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 
in kind.

   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."

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