February 08, 2022

For Biden, Wreaking Havoc on Russia’s Economy Is the Least Bad Option

Just a year into his term, US President Joe Biden is attempting to pull off a high-wire foreign-policy balancing act to defend Ukraine from another Russian invasion. Moscow has massed more than one hundred thousand soldiers and heavy weaponry along Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus, enough to start a major land war if and when Russian President Vladimir Putin decides.

The United States and its Western allies have understandably taken direct military action off the table as a response to any new Russian aggression. Instead, the White House is counting on the threat of severe sanctions and shifts of NATO forces to the east to deter Putin, alongside an offer to address Moscow’s practical security concerns—a two-track approach of pressure and diplomacy.

This is a crisis of Putin’s making, and there are no cost-free options; the least bad option is to prepare sanctions that can sow chaos in Russia’s economy if Putin invades.

Following through on this strategy will mean pain for ordinary Russians that could also spill over to the global economy, with some degree of financial blowback possible. But the West must weigh those downsides against the even grimmer prospect of a full-blown conflict in which Ukrainian forces are likely to struggle against the Russian army (despite sizable arms shipments to Kyiv in recent weeks) in a war of territorial conquest.

The gradualism and proportionality of previous rounds of sanctions against Russia simply won’t work—a fact the administration readily acknowledges. Pressure cannot be limited to a single sector or interest group. Measures must be designed to significantly harm the Russian economy, laying bare the dire consequences of Putin’s aggression.

Read the full article from The Atlantic Council.

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