The Biden administration is pushing Congress, Europe and Ukraine to get on the same page as it tries to stop Russia from invading Ukraine – all while knowing that the deciding factor will ultimately be the whims of Vladimir Putin.
Why this matters: Officials on almost all sides are warning that the risk of large-scale, conventional war on the European continent is greater than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Very few people agree on how to stop it.
- The White House is trying to show strength by keeping the option of diplomacy open; To lead while in lockstep with European allies; And to work with Congress while Republicans try to show they are tougher on Russia than they are.
Running news: Russia has been mobilizing troops along the Ukrainian border for months, and talks aimed at stopping an invasion failed last week.
- The US claims intelligence indicates Russia is sending saboteurs to eastern Ukraine for a possible “false flag” operation that would give Moscow an excuse to invade – possibly within weeks.
big picture: A credible threat of unprecedented sanctions from Europe, coordinated with the US, would be one of the strongest barriers against invasion, given the economic ties between the EU and Russia.
- yes but: Biden officials acknowledge that sanctions imposed after Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 have failed to undermine his ambitions.
state of play: The Biden administration says it is making strong progress towards a joint package that covers issues such as banning exports of key technologies to Russia.
- A senior European official said on Friday that the bloc was working to develop a sanctions strategy that could be announced “within hours” of a potential invasion. The official stressed that this was not just a matter of coordination with the US, but also Europe’s own interests and capabilities.
Catch: Europe’s energy crisis has underscored the EU’s dependence on Russia, and the question remains how far some major European countries, notably Germany, will go.
- The new German government is not committed to blocking the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline if Putin invades.
- Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last week managed to oust six Democrats to support his bill to approve Nord Stream 2, despite an aggressive lobbying campaign by the Biden administration.
- The vote failed, but Democrats are not happy voting against sanctions on a project backed by Putin because Biden struck a deal with Germany.
Ukrainians are pushing Biden to shake Now To clear the pipeline and provide them with additional weapons, but also to use those threats as leverage to deter invasion.
- Meanwhile, NATO is stuck in the paradoxical position of defending its right to cross Putin’s brightest red line by offering Ukraine membership, despite the fact that the coalition has no intention of doing so anytime soon.
Bottom-line: Biden administration officials have shared their views on what Putin’s next move might be and when. He has spoken with less assurance about the possibility of stopping him.