Deterrence or Reaction? U.S. Piecemeals its ‘Response’ to Russian Aggression

In a live televised address on Tuesday, President Biden issued the White House’s response to President Putin’s apparent violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. The Russian leader’s formal recognition on Monday of two Moscow-aligned breakaway territories provided the Kremlin its pretext for invasion of Ukraine, as President Putin sent troops into the region under the guise of “peacekeeping functions.” Biden referred to Putin’s most recent actions as “the beginning of a Russian invasion,” stating “that Russia is poised to go much further and launch a massive military attack against Ukraine.”

Biden’s announcement of sanctions comprises just the first in a series of actions the United States is prepared to level if and when Moscow proceeds further into Ukraine. “As Russia contemplates this next move, we have our next move prepared as well.” He went on to add that “Russia will pay an even steeper price if it continues its aggression, including additional sanctions.”

Among the first “tranche” of sanctions are those that target a handful of Russian elites and their family members, along with banks involved in Russian military spending. The European Union and Britain joined the United States in its sanctions on banks and elites, and Germany additionally placed a hold on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia.

The looming question, however, regards the effectiveness of piecemealing sanctions if they fail to deter continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. A question posed by a reporter at Tuesday’s White House press briefing regarded the “delinking” of sanctions, as the President did not to issue a “full stop, one swoop” response opting as initially expected. Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh referred to the first package of sanctions as a “severe action” and just “the beginning of our response.” The stated purpose behind the sanctions is to “prevent and deter” a larger scale invasion that could include attempted seizure of cities like Kiev, yet intelligence suggests Russia’s intent to do just that.

Russia, in response, dismissed the sanctions leveled by the West, stating they have “grown used” to so-called punishment imposed by the West. In a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russia called actions undertaken by the U.S. and its allies “blackmail.” The Foreign Ministry stated that “Russia has proven that, with all the sanctions costs, it is able to minimize the damage. And even more so, sanctions pressure is not able to affect our determination to firmly defend our interests.” No doubt Russia has weighed the costs and calculated their next moves.

The challenge for the United States and its allies is to balance a measured response with an altogether effective one. Russia meanwhile looks to see just how far it may push.

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Aly is a military spouse and mom to two. She has a special interest in international security and foreign affairs, having lived overseas, worked with Sister Cities International and served as a commissioning editor for an international relations website. Aly holds a Masters in Global Studies and International Relations from Northeastern University and currently resides in Tennessee.
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