The Biden administration is pushing to put Congress, Europe and Ukraine on the same page as it tries to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine – knowing that the deciding factor will ultimately be the whims of Vladimir Poutine.
Why is it important: Officials from virtually all sides warn that the risk of full-scale conventional war on the European continent is greater than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few people agree on how to stop it.
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Driving the news: Russia has been amassing troops on the Ukrainian border for months and talks to avert an invasion broke down last week.
The United States claims to have intelligence indicating that Russia is sending saboteurs to eastern Ukraine for a possible “false flag” operation that would give Moscow a pretext to invade – likely within weeks.
The big picture: A credible threat of unprecedented sanctions from Europe, coordinated with the United States, would be one of the strongest deterrents against invasion, given the economic ties between the EU and Russia. .
Inventory: The Biden administration says it is making strong progress toward a common package, including on issues such as a ban on exports of key technologies to Russia.
A senior European official said on Friday the bloc was working on a sanctions strategy that could be announced “within hours” of a possible invasion. The official stressed that it is not only about coordinating with the United States, but also taking into account Europe’s own interests and capabilities.
The catch: The energy crisis in Europe has highlighted the EU’s dependence on Russia, and questions remain about how far some key European countries, especially Germany, would go.
The new German government would not commit to blocking the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the event of Putin’s invasion.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) succeeded last week in removing six Democrats to support his bill to sanction Nord Stream 2, despite an aggressive lobbying campaign by the Biden administration.
The vote fell through, but Democrats are unhappy voting against sanctions on a Putin-backed project because of a deal Biden struck with Germany.
Ukrainians push Biden to move now to sanction the pipeline and provide them with additional weapons, rather than using these threats as leverage to prevent an invasion.
NATO, meanwhile, is stuck in the paradoxical position of defending its right to cross Putin’s brightest red line by offering Ukraine membership, despite the alliance not having the intend to do so anytime soon.
The bottom line: Biden administration officials have outlined their views on what Putin’s next move might be and when it might happen. They spoke less confidently of the prospect of arresting him.
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