US ratchets up sanctions pressure against Russia

Published January 26, 2022
The Russian army’s missile launchers prepare to deploy for drills near the border with Ukraine.—AP
The Russian army’s missile launchers prepare to deploy for drills near the border with Ukraine.—AP

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday warned Moscow of damaging sanctions, including high-tech export curbs, as Russian combat troops massing around Ukraine launched new exercises.

Unveiling ways that Western allies intend to inflict “massive consequences” on Russia’s economy in the event of a Ukraine invasion, a senior US official also warned Moscow against using energy exports as a weapon.

“We are prepared to implement sanctions with massive consequences” that go far beyond previous measures implemented in 2014 after Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea region, the official said. “The gradualism of the past is out,” the official told reporters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed the threat, saying sanctions would be “heavier than anything we’ve ever done before.” New measures would include restrictions on exports of high-tech US equipment in the artificial intelligence, quantum computing and aerospace sectors, the US official said.

“What we’re talking about are sophisticated technologies that we design and produce” and cutting them off would hit President Vladimir Putin’s “strategic ambitions to industrialise his economy quite hard,” the official told reporters.

A day after Washington said it was putting 8,500 US troops on alert for possible deployment to bolster Nato forces in Europe, the Russian military announced it was conducting new drills involving 6,000 troops near Ukraine and within the Crimea region.

The drills included firing exercises with fighter jets, bombers, anti-aircraft systems and ships from the Black Sea and Caspian fleets, the defence ministry said.

According to Western officials, the Kremlin has already deployed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, with reinforcements arriving from all over Russia.

The United States and its EU allies accuse Russia of seeking to upend European stability by threatening invasion of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic striving to join Nato and other Western institutions. “Russia has placed a gun to Ukraine’s head,” Johnson told parliament.

Moscow denies plans to invade the country, where in addition to seizing Crimea it backs separatist forces controling a swath of eastern Ukraine.

Russia blames the West for the tension and has put forward a list of demands, including a guarantee that Ukraine never join Nato and that Nato forces already in the former Soviet bloc pull back.

Addressing concerns in Europe that Russia could curb energy exports to heavily dependent Europe, the senior US official said Russia would also be hurting itself.

“If Russia decides to weaponize its supply of natural gas or crude oil, it wouldn’t be without consequences to the Russian economy,” a senior US official told reporters.

Although the European Union sources about 40 percent of its supply from Russia, Moscow also relies heavily on sales of energy for its national budget, meaning “it’s an interdependency,” the official said.

The United States and its European allies are scouring global markets for alternative energy sources to mitigate fallout from any conflict, as Europe already finds itself struggling with soaring mid-winter energy prices.

Negotiations in European cities this month have failed to ease tensions, though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed at a meeting in Geneva on Friday to keep talking.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022

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