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US details costs of a Russian invasion of Ukraine

In interviews,
officials described details of those plans for the first time, just before a
series of diplomatic negotiations to defuse the crisis with Moscow, one of the
most perilous moments in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The talks begin
Monday in Geneva and then move across Europe.

The plans the United
States has discussed with allies in recent days include cutting off Russia’s
largest financial institutions from global transactions, imposing an embargo on
American-made or American-designed technology needed for defence-related and
consumer industries, and arming insurgents in Ukraine who would conduct what
would amount to a guerrilla war against a Russian military occupation, if it
comes to that.

Such moves are rarely
telegraphed in advance. But with the negotiations looming — and the fate of
Europe’s post-Cold War borders and NATO’s military presence on the continent at
stake — President Joe Biden’s advisers say they are trying to signal to Putin
exactly what he would face, at home and abroad, in hopes of influencing his
decisions in coming weeks.

The talks Monday will
be led by the deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, an experienced diplomat
who negotiated the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. Russian officials are
expected to press their demands for “security guarantees,” including
prohibiting the deployment of any missiles in Europe that could strike Russia
and the placement of weaponry or troops in former Soviet states that joined
NATO after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Putin is also
demanding an end to NATO expansion, including a promise that Ukraine could
never join the nuclear alliance. While the Biden administration has said it is
willing to discuss all Russian security concerns — and has a long list of its
own — the demands amount to a dismantling of the security architecture of
Europe built after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

On Wednesday, members
of the NATO alliance will meet with Russia in Brussels. The next day in Vienna,
Ukrainian officials will also be at the table, for the first time, for talks at
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But with 57 members,
that group is so large that few expect serious negotiations.

US diplomats worry
that after the whirlwind week, the Russians could declare that their security
concerns are not being met — and use the failure of talks as a justification
for military action. “No one should be surprised if Russia instigates a
provocation or incident,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday, and
“then tries to use it to justify military intervention, hoping that by the time
the world realises the ruse, it’ll be too late.”

This time, he said,
“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.”

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That warning,
however, is an unspoken acknowledgment that the Obama administration’s response
in 2014, when Putin last invaded parts of Ukraine, was too tentative and mild.
At that time, Putin surprised the world by annexing Crimea and fueling a
grinding proxy war in eastern Ukraine. Now, US officials say they are trying to
learn from their past mistakes.

An internal review of
those actions, conducted by the White House in recent weeks, concluded that
while Obama-era sanctions damaged Russia’s economy and led to a sell-off of its
currency, they failed at their central strategic objective: to cause so much pain
that Putin would be forced to withdraw. Nearly eight years later, Russia still
holds Crimea and has ignored most of the diplomatic commitments it made in the
negotiations that followed, known as the Minsk accords.

Those sanctions
started with actions against some smaller Russian banks and individuals
directly involved in the invasion. Virtually all of the sanctions — and
additional measures imposed after Russia’s interference in the 2016 election
and after the SolarWinds cyberattack in 2020 that sabotaged computer programs
used by the federal government and American companies — remain in place. But
there is scant evidence that they have deterred Putin, who began building up
forces near the Ukrainian border just as Biden announced his response to SolarWinds
this past spring.

When asked recently
whether he could point to any evidence that the Russians were deterred by
recent sanctions, a senior aide to Biden paused a moment and then said, “No,
none.”

Rather than start
with moves against small banks and on-the-ground military commanders, officials
said, the new sanctions would be directed at cutting off the largest Russian
financial institutions that depend on global financial transfers. The plan was
described by one official as a “high-impact, quick-action response that we did
not pursue in 2014.”

The officials
declined to say whether the United States was prepared to cut Russia off from
the SWIFT system, which executes global financial transactions among more than
1,100 banks in 200 countries. But European officials say they have discussed
that possibility — something most major European powers had declined to
consider until recently, for fear that Russia might retaliate by attempting to
cut off gas and oil flows in the winter, even briefly.

The SWIFT cutoff has
been used against Iran with some success. But Cynthia Roberts, a professor of
political science at Hunter College in New York, noted that Russia had learned
a lot about “global sanctions-proofing,” and she expressed doubt that the
country would suffer as much as US officials contend if it were disconnected
from SWIFT.

“They would
definitely take a big hit,” she said at a seminar held this past week by the
Center for the National Interest. But she noted that Russia had stockpiled
hundreds of billions in gold and dollar reserves and that the Bank of China had
joined Russia’s own domestic version of SWIFT. That raises the possibility that
Russia and China, as part of their expanding partnership, might join forces to
help Moscow evade the West’s action.

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The bottom line, she
said, is that “sanctions have a very poor coercive track record.”

The technology
sanctions would target some of Putin’s favoured industries — particularly
aerospace and arms, which are major producers of revenue for the Russian government.
The focus would be on Russian-built fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft systems,
anti-satellite systems, space systems and emerging technologies where Russia is
hoping to make gains, like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Similar export controls
have been surprisingly effective against China’s leading producer of
cellphones, Huawei, which for a while was among the top providers of
smartphones to the world. That part of its business has all but collapsed in
the past year because it cannot obtain advanced chips. But the Russian economy
bears little resemblance to China’s, and it is not clear that it is equally
vulnerable to an embargo of semiconductors and other microelectronics that are
critical to Chinese manufacturing.

There are other options
under consideration that go well beyond merely banning the sale of computer
chips. In one additional step, according to US officials, the Commerce
Department could issue a ruling that would essentially ban the export of any
consumer goods to Russia — from cellphones and laptop computers to
refrigerators and washing machines — that contain American-made or
American-designed electronics. That would apply not only to American makers,
but also to European, South Korean and other foreign manufacturers that use
American chips or software.

Unlike China, Russia
does not make many of these products — and the effects on consumers could be
broad.

But a senior European
official said there was still a debate about whether the Russian people would
blame Putin, or the United States and its allies, for their inability to buy
the goods.

While the Commerce
and Treasury departments work on sanctions that would maximise America’s
advantages over Russia, the Pentagon is developing plans that have echoes of
the proxy wars of the 1960s and ’70s.

To underscore the
potential pain for Russia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark
Milley, spoke with his Russian counterpart two weeks ago and delivered a stark
message: Yes, he said, you could invade Ukraine and probably roll over the Ukrainian
military, which stands little chance of repelling a far larger, better armed
Russian force.

But the swift victory
would be followed, Milley told Gen. Valery Gerasimov, by a bloody insurgency,
similar to the one that led to the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan more than
three decades ago, according to officials familiar with the discussion.

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Milley did not detail
to Gerasimov the planning underway in Washington to support an insurgency, a
so-called porcupine strategy to make invading Ukraine hard for the Russians to
swallow. That includes the advance positioning of arms for Ukrainian
insurgents, probably including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, that could be
used against Russian forces.

More than a month
ago, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, created a new
interagency planning cell to examine a range of contingencies if Putin goes
ahead with an invasion. The cell, which reports directly to Sullivan, includes
representatives from the National Security Council, the intelligence agencies and
the departments of Defence, State, Treasury, Energy and Homeland Security.

The cell is
attempting to tailor responses to the many types of attacks that could unfold
in the next few weeks, from cyberattacks aimed at crippling Ukraine’s electric
grid and pipelines to the seizure of small or large amounts of territory.

Intelligence
officials said recently that they thought the least likely possibility was a
full-scale invasion in which the Russians try to take the capital, Kyiv. Many
of the assessments, however, have explored more incremental moves by Putin,
which could include seizing a bit more land in the Donbas region, where war has
ground into a stalemate, or a land bridge to Crimea.

Several officials
familiar with the planning say the administration is looking at European
nations that could provide more aid to support Ukrainian forces before any
conflict, as well as in the initial stages of a Russian invasion.

Lt Col Anton
Semelroth, a Defence Department spokesperson, noted in December that the United
States had already committed more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to
Ukraine since 2014, including $450 million in 2021 alone. Over the past three
months, it has delivered 180 Javelin missiles, two patrol boats, ammunition for
grenade launchers, machine guns, secure radios, medical equipment and other
items that US officials describe as defensive in nature.

But the planning cell
is considering more lethal weaponry, such as anti-aircraft weapons.

After visiting
Ukraine last month, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a former Marine officer, said
that in his view, “We need to make any incursion by Russia more painful — Day 1
painful, not six months from now painful.

“We have a short
window to take decisive action to deter Putin from a serious invasion,” Moulton
said. “I worry our current deterrent tactics are responding to an invasion
rather than preventing it.”

One option likely to
be discussed at NATO this coming week is a plan to increase, possibly by
several thousand, the number of troops stationed in the Baltics and in
southeast Europe.

On Friday, Blinken
again warned that if the Russians invade, NATO would deploy more forces along
the borders between NATO nations and Russian-controlled territory.

©2022 The New York
Times Company

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