Center for American Progress

How the United States Should Respond if Russia Invades Ukraine
Report

How the United States Should Respond if Russia Invades Ukraine

A Russian invasion of Ukraine must come at a high cost to the Kremlin.

In this article
Civilian participants in a Kyiv territorial defense unit train in a forest in Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 22, 2022. (Getty/Sean Gallup)

Russian forces are massed along Ukrainian borders threatening to invade. A Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a disaster for Ukraine, for Russia, and potentially for the rules-based international system that the world has sought to construct since 1945. Avoiding war is critical, and all sides should engage diplomatically to head off conflict. However, a Russian military invasion of Ukraine is not a foregone conclusion. While such an action would be in step with other risky provocations taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin, it would be an incredibly bold, rash, and potentially ruinous one. But should Putin decide to launch another invasion of Ukraine, the United States must lead a robust response. A Russian decision to resort to force must be seen in time as a strategic defeat—a self-defeating step that would prove ruinous economically and geopolitically for the Kremlin.

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The stakes could not be higher. The Kremlin’s dismemberment of democratic Ukraine would be an unspeakable tragedy for the Ukrainian people and would represent a huge setback for democracy worldwide. More broadly, a Russian invasion of Ukraine would pose a significant threat to the post-1945 world order. In the past half century, the world has seen a dramatic decline in interstate conflict. A Russian invasion of Ukraine will thus have global implications. Moreover, if an invasion were seen as successful and of relatively low cost to Russia, it could normalize interstate conflict, prompting a return to the might-makes-right geopolitics of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Irredentist goals are not just present among Russian nationalists in the Kremlin. The desire to redraw maps, to take territory, and to reincorporate ethnic brethren “stranded” beyond borders is prevalent throughout the world. If Russia is seen as getting away with dismembering a democratic neighbor, China might feel emboldened to do the same to Taiwan, and it could entice other states to deploy force against less powerful neighbors or rivals.

Should a Russian invasion of Ukraine occur, it must come at such a high cost to the Kremlin as to deter others from contemplating a similar course of action.

Therefore, should a Russian invasion of Ukraine occur, it must come at such a high cost to the Kremlin as to deter others from contemplating a similar course of action. Invading Ukraine must be seen as a costly and tragic error both inside and outside of Russia. But what should and can the United States and its European allies do to achieve those aims? What levers do the United States and its allies have to impose costs on the Kremlin? How should the United States help Ukraine? This report outlines the economic, military, diplomatic, and domestic resilience tools available to the United States should Russia invade Ukraine. In general, while U.S. military options are relatively limited, there are significant steps the United States can take economically to impose costs on Russia.

Step 1: Target and uproot oligarch wealth and influence
  • Aggressively target high-profile oligarchs for sanctions, asset seizures, legal investigations and prosecutions, and visa bans.
  • Establish a standing U.S.-U.K. joint counter-kleptocracy working group.
  • Target the enablers of kleptocracy.
  • Devote more resources to investigating Russian money laundering, financial crimes, and political corruption.
Step 2: Put in place strict export controls that stop U.S.-based technology from going to Russia
  • Ban exports to Russia of high-tech items on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity list to prevent Russia from acquiring goods that contain U.S.-origin parts and components, including intellectual property.
Step 3: Wage a continuous economic sanctions campaign against Russia
  • Sanction Russian financial institutions and cut them off from the U.S. financial system.
  • Make imposing costs on Russia’s economy a standing national security priority.
  • Cut off Russia’s access to Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) transactions and sovereign debt markets.
  • Make clear that sanctions are about Putin and articulate a path for Russia to integrate into Europe and even NATO.
  • Engage in a crash effort to deleverage from Russian economic exposure.
  • Support Ukraine’s economy.
Step 4: Press Europe to engage in a wartime-like mobilization to decarbonize and reduce its dependence on Russian gas
  • Push Germany to cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline or sanction it.
  • The United States should push the EU to create a second NextGenerationEU program focused on rapid decarbonization.
  • Sanction Russia’s oil and gas exports gradually as European dependence is reduced.
  • Impose carbon taxes on Russia’s heavy-polluting industries.
Step 5: Prepare to support Ukrainian resistance in a protracted conflict
  • Establish a security assistance emergency fund to build stockpiles of equipment for security assistance emergencies such as in Ukraine.
  • Acknowledge the reality that U.S. military force is not an option.
Step 6: Bolster NATO and European security
  • Push to establish a NATO bank to finance major investments in capabilities such as modernizing eastern-flank forces by replacing Russian/Soviet equipment.
  • Strongly back EU defense efforts and push the European Union to finance defense investments and exempt additional defense spending from EU fiscal debt rules.
  • Engage Sweden and Finland over NATO expansion.
  • Deploy additional U.S. forces and military assets to Europe.
Step 7: Engage in a diplomatic offensive to isolate and compete with Russia internationally
  • Press Middle Eastern partners to keep Russia at arm’s length.
  • Pivot long-standing Russian partners in the Indo-Pacific region toward the West.
  • Develop a roadmap to integrate the Balkans into NATO and the European Union.
  • Prepare to deal with Russia as a global spoiler.
Step 8: Maintain diplomatic dialogue and seek to reestablish strategic stability
  • The United States must be willing to engage with Russia diplomatically to de-escalate tensions as it did during the Cold War.
Step 9: Prepare for Russia’s response
  • Address the failures in the FBI and bolster FBI counterintelligence efforts.
  • Establish a new interagency active measures working group at the White House to track, monitor, expose, and counter Russian influence efforts.
  • Set up diplomatic and intelligence channels to share information and exchange lessons learned with allies and partners about Russian interference.
  • Take legislative action to increase resilience to Russian interference.
  • Prepare for cyberattacks.

In assessing U.S. options, it is clear there is no silver bullet. No action—economic, military, diplomatic, or domestic—can alone turn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a strategic defeat. While the United States can and should impose immediate costs on Russia, the U.S. and Western response will ultimately be judged by the longer-term impact on the Putin regime. Realistically, if Russia invades Ukraine, Putin is unlikely to ever give territory back—no matter the costs. No scale of economic sanctions will resolve the crisis or prompt the Kremlin to capitulate. Therefore, short-term expectations for U.S. policy must be kept in check. The United States and its allies will need to play the long game. The strength of U.S. efforts in 2023 and 2024, and into the latter part of the decade, will matter just as much as the U.S. response in 2022.

The strength of U.S. efforts in 2023 and 2024, and into the latter part of the decade, will matter just as much as the U.S. response in 2022.

Moreover, Russia is likely anticipating the Western response to pass fairly quickly. For example, the United States and the European Union would likely impose sanctions and then shift their focus elsewhere as they did after the 2014 invasion of Ukraine. The impact of sanctions would fade, and the West would eventually reengage with Russia. However, unlike in 2014, Russia has spent years preparing for an invasion and the Western response. Russia is presently well prepared economically to weather what it expects would be a brief but intense storm.

Therefore, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would necessitate a paradigm shift in America’s approach to Russia. While Russia may not be “the pacing threat” that China is to the United States, it poses a direct and serious threat to the existing international system, which it has acted aggressively to undermine. For the 22 years Putin has been in office, the United States has not consistently treated Russia as a dangerous adversary. America’s approach to Russia has oscillated between sporadic efforts to engage, reset, and integrate Russia into international and European institutions followed by brief periods of confrontation. U.S. policy has been characterized by short bursts of intense focus and long periods of disinterest, with presumptions that Russia was in decline. But despite its relatively small economy, Russia has made its presence felt globally. As Michael Kofman and Andrea Kendall-Taylor argue, “Rather than viewing Russia as a declining power, U.S. leaders should see it as a persistent one.” Russian aggression toward Ukraine should prompt both the United States and its Western European allies—its Eastern European allies need no convincing—to accept that Russia under Putin is a hostile adversary that requires constant attention. The United States needs to accept the unfortunate reality that Russian foreign policy will not change as long as Putin leads the country. The Biden administration came to office hoping to have a “stable and predictable” relationship with Russia. America did not want a new Cold War, but the Kremlin under Putin has never stopped fighting the last one. Therefore, the response to a Russian invasion is less about discrete policy responses than about adopting a continuous policy to isolate, constrain, and weaken Putin’s Russia.

The key to the U.S. response will be to maintain pressure on the Kremlin as part of a new long-term strategy to degrade and deleverage. The United States should seek to degrade overtime the Kremlin’s geopolitical influence, domestic support for the Putin regime, and the Kremlin’s ability to sustain military modernization and conduct operations abroad. In addition, such a strategy would seek to deleverage the West from Russian influence by targeting potential vectors for Russian interference.

The most important immediate steps that the United States and its allies could take include waging a campaign against Russian oligarchs; putting in place export controls to deprive Russia of advanced technology; blocking Russian banks from the global financial system; resupplying Ukrainian forces with additional security assistance; and critically, the West must steel itself for Russia’s response by bolstering domestic resilience against Russian interference.

Moreover, the United States and its allies must take steps now that will affect the Kremlin in ways that will be felt years down the road. This means committing to a larger effort to isolate Russia economically as well as waging a diplomatic campaign to isolate Russia globally. The most effective action the West could take is sanctioning Russia’s fossil fuel sector. But the West is likely unable to do so because of Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. Thus, the most impactful response would be if the European Union engaged in a rapid wartime-like mobilization effort to decarbonize and reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Additionally, the United States, NATO, and the EU should take steps to bolster European security, such as by strengthening the military forces of eastern-flank NATO members. The United States also needs a new approach to European security that pushes the EU to take a stronger role in defense and leverages its ability to both finance defense and integrate EU defense capabilities.

The survey of options below is not exhaustive. There are undoubtedly important steps left out or given limited attention. New ideas and opportunities will emerge to aid Ukraine, impose costs on Russia, and strengthen the transatlantic alliance. These opportunities must be seized, but they can only be achieved if the United States, NATO, and the EU work together. Maintaining allied unity and cohesion is essential and at the core of each of the steps outlined below.

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Economic tools

The economic domain will be the primary theater for U.S.-Russia confrontation. Given the limitations of the U.S. military options, which are outlined below, the United States and Europe have significantly more tools and freedom of action available to inflict substantial economic costs on the Kremlin. If Putin is indeed trying to physically recreate the Soviet empire by annexing Ukraine, such action should also come with the cost of an economic isolation similar to that of the Soviet period.

However, expectations for what imposing economic costs can achieve must be kept in check. Economic sanctions after 2014, for instance, were never going to prompt Russia to give Crimea back to Ukraine. Likewise, new sanctions will not solve the problem of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is critical that there be clear and identifiable costs to Russia’s aggressive actions, and sanctions are an incredibly useful tool for imposing those costs.

It is critical that there be clear and identifiable costs to Russia’s aggressive actions, and sanctions are an incredibly useful tool for imposing those costs.

But too often, U.S. sanctions against Russia and other countries have lacked strategic coherence or purpose. In this case, the purpose of sanctions on Russia should be threefold:

  1. Impose clear consequences and costs on the Kremlin for invading another country. If sanctions no longer appear to be imposing any real costs over time, they should be reassessed and modified. The aim should be to put pressure on the Putin regime, not just to be seen as doing something.
  2. Degrade the strength of the Kremlin. Over time, undermining Russia’s economy should force it to make hard choices between investing in military modernization, its intelligence services, foreign deployments and elaborate geopolitical endeavors, and broader economic prosperity, which is key to maintaining public support. Sanctions should serve to stretch the Putin regime, possibly forcing tradeoffs between Russia’s geopolitical ambition and regime stability.
  3. Reduce Russia’s economic leverage over the West. Decouple economically and reduce Russia’s ability to corrupt and influence the West through its vast flows of dirty money.
The U.S. and allied economic response is as much about deleveraging Russia’s influence over the West as it is about imposing costs on the Kremlin.

Sanctions therefore have both an offensive and defensive purpose. This approach represents a profound rejection of the neoliberal vision that change would be achieved through economic engagement. “Change through trade” has not worked to democratize Russia or improve relations with the West. Instead, economic engagement has resulted in Russia gaining levels of influence to change Western countries as much as—or more than—Western engagement has changed them. The U.S. and allied economic response is therefore as much about deleveraging Russia’s influence over the West as it is about imposing costs on the Kremlin.

Additionally, it is critical that the United States and its European allies develop and implement sanctions together, as Russia is more economically interconnected with Europe than the United States. Furthermore, sanctions should not be rushed. It is essential that the United States and Europe do proper due diligence to mitigate unnecessary economic blowback.

Step 1: Target and uproot oligarch wealth and influence

The United States and Europe should conduct a massive offensive action against Russian oligarchs and their assets parked in the West. The Russian oligarch class is a key pillar of support for the Putin regime. Putin’s Russia is often referred to as a kleptocracy. But as Catherine Belton demonstrates in her book Putin’s People, “[T]he kleptocracy of the Putin era was aimed at something more than just filling the pockets of the president’s friends. What emerged as the result of the KGB takeover of the economy was a regime in which the billions of dollars at Putin’s cronies’ disposal were to be actively used to undermine and corrupt the institutions and democracies of the West.” In other words, the Russian oligarch class is by and large not a distinct class of wealthy elite but a fundamental tool of the Kremlin and a vector for Russian influence. Russian oligarchs owe the existence and preservation of their wealth to the state, which has coopted them. For example, Oleg Deripaska, former head of major aluminum company Rusal, has been a key figure in the Kremlin’s foreign influence efforts, including having an active-duty Russian military intelligence officer serving as his “chief of security,” according to the bipartisan U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on Russian interference.

The Russian oligarch class is by and large not a distinct class of wealthy elite but a fundamental tool of the Kremlin and a vector for Russian influence.

The oligarch class is also vulnerable, as Russian oligarchs have planted their money in the West, sent their children to schools and universities in the West, and bought property in Western capitals and vacation destinations. Russian private money being held abroad may amount to more than $1 trillion. This is a soft spot for the Kremlin that the West has been too timid to take on, largely because oligarchs have enmeshed themselves into Western elite circles. Oligarchs give money to major Western political parties, universities, and philanthropies. They employ the top law firms, accountants, financial managers, and real estate brokers. And they have bought influential newspapers and media, sports teams, and companies—and they have become supporters of major cultural institutions and think tanks. Uprooting the influence of Russian oligarchs will require aggressive sanctions, legal enforcement, visa bans, and restrictions.

What’s more, because Russia is one of the most unequal countries in the world, hitting its elite oligarch class will also be quite popular with the Russian public, which is exhausted by the oligarchs’ theft and corruption. Russian dissidents have continuously called for a major effort to squeeze the oligarchs. For example, jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has frequently exposed Kremlin and oligarch corruption to great effect, and he has developed a list of prominent Russian oligarchs who should be sanctioned by the West. The United States should aggressively follow that list. For instance, the United States should sanction high-profile oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich and his holding company, which is the parent company of Premier League team Chelsea FC.

Past sanctions against oligarchs have also had a clear impact. According to reporter Greg Miller with The Washington Post, “The Pandora files show sanctions not only hitting their Russian targets but then triggering losses that spread across their interconnected financial networks.” Sanctioning the billionaire oligarch network may resemble whack-a-mole, but it clearly degrades their wealth and therefore their influence.

To target the Russian oligarchy, the West can take the following actions:

  • Aggressively target high-profile oligarchs for sanctions, asset seizures, legal investigations and prosecutions, and visa bans. This could involve placing certain Kremlin-connected oligarchs on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, which prevents them and their companies from doing business in U.S. dollars. This would hit a major pillar of support for the Putin regime. It would create considerable angst among Russia’s monied elite and undermine a key tool of Kremlin influence. Moreover, it would also send a clear signal to other autocratic regimes that should they pursue military adventurism, the assets of regime elites will be targeted.
  • Establish a standing U.S.-U.K. joint counter-kleptocracy working group. The United States and the United Kingdom should work closely together to counter Russian kleptocrats. The United Kingdom, in particular, has become a major hub for Russian oligarchs and their wealth, with London gaining the moniker “Londongrad.” Uprooting Kremlin-linked oligarchs will be a challenge given the close ties between Russian money and the United Kingdom’s ruling conservative party, the press, and its real estate and financial industry. The United States should propose creating the working group in part to prod stronger action from the U.K. government.
  • Target the enablers of kleptocracy. The United States and its allies should take significant steps to crack down on the Western enablers of Russian kleptocracy. This includes the law firms, accountants, real estate firms, and investment firms that all profit from integrating Russian oligarch wealth into the West. The United States and its allies should adopt strict regulations and laws that require transparency and limit the anonymity that allows dirty money to penetrate Western democracies.
  • Devote more resources to investigating Russian money laundering, financial crimes, and political corruption. Massive Russian money laundering schemes have been uncovered in recent years, with banks in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the Baltic states all being exposed as key vehicles for Russian money laundering. More legal and investigative resources should be allocated to crack down on and prosecute these financial crimes.
See also

Step 2: Put in place strict export controls that stop U.S.-based technology from going to Russia

This action could be the most impactful immediate action that the United States can take. The United States should ban exports to Russia of high-tech items on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List. This would prevent any company from exporting or re-exporting goods to Russia that contain U.S.-origin parts and components, including intellectual property that is controlled by the Department of Commerce. This would cut off access to certain high-tech items such as semiconductors and machine tools, which are vital to the Russian arms and aerospace industries. Such export controls would likely also put modern home appliances and smartphones out of reach for Russian consumers, as these are dependent on American components or software.

As sanctions experts Edward Fishman and Chris Millar note, “[T]his is an under-explored area of economic statecraft against Russia.” But the United States has significant experience in restricting the exports of high-end technological items that are captured by the U.S. Department of State’s United States Munitions List, which controls arms exports. The Commerce Department would simply be empowered to take similar action.

These export controls would turn Russia’s relatively small economy into a strategic liability for the Kremlin. Such restrictions on Russia should have a fairly immediate impact, as very few businesses—particularly those that make advanced technology products—would want to sacrifice the U.S. market or be subject to U.S. penalties. It would also likely prove exceptionally difficult for Russia to find a way around such restrictions. The reality is that Russia has been able to operate as a global power despite having an economy the size of Italy. Russia’s small market size means that few international companies would be that concerned about losing market access, nor would they be willing to expend significant resources to work around the export bans, since the payoff—access to Russia’s market—may not be particularly high. Furthermore, onshoring or manufacturing such items domestically would likely prove infeasible for Russia in most cases.

The United States took similar action against the Chinese company Huawei, banning its access to items on the Commerce Department’s Entity List. This prompted U.S. companies such as Google, Intel, Qualcomm, and Broadcom to immediately cease doing business with Huawei. Meanwhile, U.S. restrictions have pushed Huawei’s revenue down by one-third. Dan Wang, technology analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, told The Wall Street Journal recently that “Huawei’s smartphone business, which made up around half of the company’s revenues in 2020, is collapsing … Even with heroic effort, Huawei won’t be able to maneuver quickly enough into new business lines to stop this bleeding.”

However, adopting such export restrictions will require the United States to keep an eye out for loopholes and ensure international compliance. The United States may need to send clear messages to companies and countries that it plans to aggressively enforce these export restrictions.

Step 3: Wage a continuous economic sanctions campaign against Russia

There is a vibrant foreign policy debate about the efficacy of sanctions as a tool of foreign policy. This is especially true as it relates to Russia. Many analysts and policymakers now claim that the 2014 sanctions on Russia were ineffective, as Russia has not given Crimea back to Ukraine or withdrawn its forces from eastern Ukraine. However, while sanctions are not a panacea, they can inflict serious costs and are the strongest tool available.

Sanctions did have a significant effect on the Russian economy in 2014 and were seen at the time as having had a major impact. Russia’s economy shrank dramatically in 2014. While it is difficult to disentangle the role of sanctions from the precipitous drop in oil prices that year, sanctions significantly harmed Russia’s economic performance, draining state coffers and disrupting economic activity. The Washington Post recently cited expert assessments as indicating a loss of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) per year since 2014, while the Atlantic Council’s Anders Ausland and Maria Snegovaya assess the impact as high as 2.5 percent to 3 percent of GDP per year. The threat of additional sanctions clearly factor into the Kremlin’s calculations and have contributed to deterring escalation.

Additionally, it is clear that U.S. and EU sanctions, while significant, were also limited in scope. In 2014, there were significant concerns that sanctioning an economy the size of Russia would result in a negative blowback on the U.S. and European economic recoveries. Therefore, there was still significant room to escalate sanctions, which is why the Biden administration has said it will look to the options that the Obama administration left on the table.

While the wave of sanctions passed by Congress left the impression that the United States is already extensively sanctioning Russia, the reality is that executive branch implementation of sanctions has been exceptionally weak, especially during the Trump administration.

Furthermore, sanctions against Russia have been implemented in a limited and haphazard manner. While sanctions are often in the news, creating a sense that sanctions are being continuously deployed, the reality is that not only have sanctions against Russia rarely been implemented in any determined methodical way, but much of the legislation relating to Russia sanctions simply has not been put into operation. In 2017, Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), but the legislation has barely been implemented. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has tracked sanctions implementation and found that there have been just 19 sanctions designations under CAATSA, demonstrating “a lack of full utilization.” While the wave of sanctions passed by Congress left the impression that the United States is already extensively sanctioning Russia, the reality is that executive branch implementation of sanctions has been exceptionally weak, especially during the Trump administration. According to CNAS, the Obama administration designated 458 entities for sanctions during its final two years, while in its four years, the Trump administration designated just 273. As such, Congress may authorize or direct the administration to sanction parts of the Russian economy, oligarchs, or other third-party actors or countries, but the administration has wide latitude when it comes to implementation. The Trump administration did the bare minimum to implement the law. The sanctions imposed against Russia over this past year by the Biden administration have been useful. But ultimately, the administration has been focused on establishing more positive relations with Russia, not imposing costs on the Kremlin.

Nevertheless, there are clear limitations to sanctions and potential costs. First, Russia is better equipped to cope with sanctions now than it was in 2014, and it is flush with financial reserves and has low debt exposure. Second, Russia has leverage, as sanctions may harm Western businesses or affect global commodity prices, adding to inflationary pressure. Third, sanctions can create a useful scapegoat for the poor economic performance of authoritarian regimes.

As such, the United States and its European allies must adopt an approach toward sanctions that is focused less on creating short-term pain and more on degrading Russia’s economy over the long term. The United States and European allies must also be willing to accept some short-term economic costs while they focus on deleveraging Western exposure to Russian economic influence. In addition, the West must make clear that sanctions are being imposed because of the Putin regime and should clearly articulate a path out of sanctions for the Russian people, a process that should involve the departure of Putin from office and making peace with Russia neighbors.

The United States and its European allies must adopt an approach toward sanctions that is focused less on creating short-term pain and more on degrading Russia’s economy over the long term.

An economic sanctions campaign against Russia should include the following actions:

  • Sanction Russian financial institutions and cut them off from the U.S. financial system. Within hours of a Russian invasion, the United States should sanction Russian financial institutions, such as Sberbank, Gazprombank, and VTB Bank. This was not pursued in 2014 because it was seen as too aggressive. Such blocking sanctions would hit major Russian banks, many of which have close ties to the Kremlin and help to advance Putin’s agenda. As former U.S. Department of the Treasury and National Security Council official Josh Rudolph noted, “In hindsight, we were too timid in 2014, only fully blocking individuals and small entities.” Edward Fishman and Chris Miller explain that sanctioning Sberbank would force the Russian government “to step in to bail out the bank and would struggle to prevent a domestic financial crisis. Companies would slash investment. The ruble would fall sharply against the dollar, but it would become riskier to hold dollars in Russian banks. Russian inflation would spike higher and real incomes would fall.”
  • Make imposing costs on Russia’s economy a standing national security priority. US. and European policymakers must realize that sanctioning Russia must be a dynamic endeavor. Imposing sanctions cannot be a one-off act but must be a continuous effort. Following 2014, both the United States and Europe failed to adequately update or maintain its sanctions measures. Over time, the bite of sanctions fades as sanctioned companies re-incorporate and change their names and ownership. But the United States and the EU have often failed to update and reshape sanctions. To avoid the same outcome will require working vigorously to enforce and update sanctions.

    Such action is essential because sanctions focused on inflicting short-term costs are not likely to impose significant costs this time around, as Russia is significantly better prepared economically to weather a sanctions storm than it was in 2014. Russia has spent the intervening eight years preparing for potential sanctions. It has also sought to reduce its reliance on foreign firms in strategic industries, leaving it better positioned to cope with sanctions. Meanwhile, Russia’s economy is currently flush with cash due to austere government spending and high energy prices. Russia has record holdings of foreign exchange reserves, leaving it less reliant on international sovereign debt markets. Therefore, sanctions efforts must take a long-term perspective and be continuously updated to squeeze Russia’s economy.

  • Cut off Russia’s access to Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) transactions and sovereign debt markets. The Biden administration should take the important step of cutting off Russia from the SWIFT financial transactions system and to sanction purchases of Russian sovereign debt. These actions would isolate Russia economically. And while Russia has steeled itself for such a U.S. response—creating its own transactions system and building up its reserves while reducing its sovereign debt obligations—such steps would still negatively affect the Russian economy. This would be especially true if oil and gas prices decline and Russian reserves become depleted.

    However, there are some fears of blowback. Cutting Russia off from SWIFT might prompt it to work with China to build up an alternative system, reducing U.S. global financial clout over the long term. However, Russia invading and dismembering a sovereign state is such a significant event that if the United States does not use its leverage over the global financial system to impose costs in response, such leverage would be all but meaningless. An invasion of Ukraine is exactly the sort of event that should prompt the United States to use all financial tools at its disposal. As for sovereign debt, Russia has limited exposure, and some U.S. retirement funds may find themselves exposed. While that is unfortunate, and the risk has to be weighed, blocking Russia’s access to global debt markets may put the Kremlin in a significant bind over time, especially if it is forced to deplete its reserves to fund a costly war or absorb the costs of sanctions.

  • Make clear that sanctions are about Putin and articulate a path for Russia to integrate into Europe and even NATO. Sanctions can provide a convenient scapegoat for the economic difficulties of authoritarian regimes. The Kremlin will blame all future poor economic performance—shortages of goods, rising costs, lack of growth, and other economic ills—on sanctions and the West’s ill treatment of Russia. Therefore, it is critical that the United States and the West make clear that sanctions against Russia are because of Putin’s invasion. America should make it clear that Putin’s departure and establishing peaceful relations with Russia’s neighbors would lead to the removal of sanctions and closer ties with the United States and Europe. The Biden administration should make clear that its issue is with the Putin regime and not with the Russian public. If Russia were to have free and fair democratic elections, respect human rights, make peace with neighbors, and abide by international agreements, it too could—under a different regime—join NATO and be integrated with Europe. Putin would immediately reject such overtures. However, as Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky argued:

Pie-in-the-sky proposals would outline an attractive scenario for Putin’s successors, a bridge from confrontation to cooperation from which Russia could benefit. They would also present the Russian people with an alternative way of thinking about the West. Even if they have no say in the Kremlin’s policy today, that won’t necessarily always be the case.

  • Engage in a crash effort to deleverage from Russian economic exposure. The Kremlin is banking on the West limiting its sanctions efforts due to its economic dependence on Russian energy and Russia’s prominent global positions in certain industrial sectors such as energy and metals. Sanctions hitting these economic sectors could increase costs of certain products globally, adding to the current inflation challenge. For instance, in 2018, on his last day as national security adviser, H.R. McMaster pushed through significant sanctions targeting oligarch Oleg Deripaska and his aluminum company Rusal. But the blunt and haphazard nature of the sanctions blindsided allies, led to a massive global spike in the price of aluminum, and laid the ground for potential job losses and factory closures in countries such as Ireland. Embarrassingly, the Trump administration walked back the sanctions, allowing Rusal to nominally restructure. The Kremlin likely believes this will force the West to limit its sanctions efforts, meaning the bite won’t match the bark coming from the Biden administration.

    Such economic dependence on Russian oligarch-run companies should be seen as a national security threat no less than the dependence on a sole supplier for semiconductors or on China for rare earth minerals. As such, the United States and Europe should immediately begin working together to develop a strategy to reduce Western exposure to Russian industries and assets.

  • Support Ukraine’s economy. The United States, Europe, and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund should provide substantial economic assistance to Ukraine to keep the country solvent. Russia’s invasion would crater the Ukrainian economy, and therefore, the West should provide strong economic and financial support to the Ukrainian government. Following the 2014 invasion, Ukraine needed significant economic support. The same will be true if Russia invades again.

Step 4: Press Europe to engage in a wartime-like mobilization to decarbonize and reduce its dependence on Russian gas

The most significant medium-term step the United States and Europe could take would be to stop buying Russian fossil fuels. Yet such a move is currently impossible. Europe and Russia have a mutually dependent relationship. Russia provides Europe with approximately 40 percent of its natural gas for power generation and to heat its homes, and Russia needs the revenue from Europe. However, there is a real prospect that Russia will cut off gas to Europe in response to sanctions, given that the Kremlin often puts geopolitical interests and leverage over economic interests. Russia, after all, is not an energy company; it is a state with grand geopolitical ambitions. Russia has consistently used gas as a geopolitical weapon, recently squeezing the pro-reform government of Moldova by slashing gas supplies. Russia also has significant financial reserves, so it could cut off gas to Europe to increase the global price of gas, offsetting some of the financial costs. In a fight over Ukraine, Russia would without a doubt be prepared to cut off gas supplies to Europe in winter. Furthermore, fighting in Ukraine could affect the flow of gas to Europe if pipelines are damaged or supplies are cut. Europe should therefore be taking immediate steps to prepare for a gas shortage this winter.

But more broadly, the United States should press the European Union to engage in an all-hands effort to decarbonize its economy and end its energy dependence on Russia. Europe is already a global leader on climate action, relying largely on a market-driven approach to increase the price of carbon and foster a climate transition. But the EU and its member states—especially Germany—should use this crisis to go further and spend significant resources to rapidly expand deployment of clean power technologies, build out grid connections, and invest in storage capacity.

The United States should press the European Union to engage in an all-hands effort to decarbonize its economy and end its energy dependence on Russia.

Reducing dependence on fossil fuels is no longer a fanciful objective. In 2020, renewables generated 38 percent of the European Union’s electricity, making it the largest source of power and overtaking fossil fuels. The technology needed to decarbonize now not only largely exists but is actually cheaper than fossil fuels. The key challenge is the upfront cost to deploy the new technologies, which is where the EU could target additional funds. This will still be a multiyear effort, but it would reduce Russia’s leverage and economic foundations over time and significantly weaken the Kremlin.

The United States should take the following actions to encourage Europe to reduce dependence on Russian gas:

  • Push Germany to cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline or sanction it. The pipeline, which is still awaiting final permits and certification, will only further entrench German and therefore EU dependence on Russian gas. The decision by the Merkel government to move forward with the pipeline after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 was a colossal mistake. Should Russia invade Ukraine this time, the new German government will almost certainly cancel the pipeline, but should it not, the Biden administration should move forward with sanctions against Nord Stream 2.
  • The United States should push the EU to create a second NextGenerationEU program focused on rapid decarbonization. The European Union should borrow funds along the same lines as the NextGenerationEU program to invest in rapid decarbonization, as well as to invest in critical military acquisitions. These additional EU funds should focus on reducing European dependence on Russian gas and increasing European energy security by mobilizing another dramatic expansion in renewables.
  • Sanction Russia’s oil and gas exports gradually as European dependence is reduced. Oil amounts to about 45 percent of Russian exports, and as Edward Fishman and Chris Miller argue in Politico, “S. sanctions could target energy sales more gradually, by aiming to reduce Russian oil exports by 10 percentage points a year over a decade.” They argue that the United States could work to minimize some of the unintended consequences, such as delaying implementation of sanctions, giving companies and countries time to adjust. 
  • Impose carbon taxes on Russia’s heavy-polluting industries. The European Union has developed a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) to impose taxes on carbon-intensive imports into the EU. Once in effect, the CBAM would affect Russia’s economy more than any other country, as Russian industries—such as its metals, cement, and fertilizer industries—emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide. The United States, meanwhile, should support the European Union’s CBAM proposal, encourage its implementation, and work to develop and implement its own CBAM.

Military tools

A Russian invasion may lead to calls for the United States to intervene militarily to defend Ukraine. However, the United States has no realistic military option to defend the country and should not pretend otherwise.

Rather than signal weakness, taking the military option off the table is a recognition of reality. It is not simply that the United States does not have any NATO Article 5 obligation to defend Ukraine—since Ukraine is not a NATO member state—or that the United States would quite sensibly want to avoid a potential conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia, but also that simple impracticalities make U.S. forces poorly positioned to effectively intervene.

A U.S. military intervention into Ukraine would be unlike the fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army in recent decades. Russia is a near-peer adversary and would be positioned to dominate air, land, and sea space, meaning that once an invasion starts, U.S. forces would have to fight to take back control of these domains from Russian forces. This would require a massive deployment of U.S. forces, which is unlikely to be feasible in time. Furthermore, it would be extremely dangerous for the United States to threaten Russia with military action. Russia would be more likely to intensify its military efforts should it believe the U.S. military is mobilizing to get involved or should it see any U.S. deployments. Additionally, the Kremlin knows that the U.S. military will not intervene. Therefore, pretending that the military option is on the table is not merely an empty threat; it gives the Kremlin a potential propaganda tool to justify its invasion.

Pretending that the military option is on the table is not merely an empty threat; it gives the Kremlin a potential propaganda tool to justify its invasion.

However, while direct U.S. military intervention is implausible, the United States should take steps to bolster Ukrainian forces and strengthen NATO and European security.

Step 5: Prepare to support Ukrainian resistance in a protracted conflict

If Russia invades, the United States should not hesitate to provide Ukraine with military aid. During the Obama administration, there was concern that providing Ukraine with lethal weapons would provoke or trigger the Kremlin to escalate militarily. But if Russia mounts an invasion of Ukraine, that escalation would make any concerns of provoking Russia moot. The Biden administration has signaled as much by indicating that it would seek to aid a Ukrainian insurgency.

However, security assistance is not a panacea. Policymakers, lawmakers, and commentators should have realistic expectations for what additional aid can achieve. If Russia invades, there will be loud calls for the United States to provide more advanced weapons and so-called game changers to Ukraine. New York Times columnist Brett Stephens, for instance, called for an “airlift of military equipment.” The reality is that the United States is already providing massive amounts of security assistance to the country—including a commitment of $650 million in the past year alone, making it the third-largest recipient of assistance after Israel and Egypt.

Policymakers, lawmakers, and commentators should have realistic expectations for what additional aid can achieve.

Policymakers may want to provide new types of advanced military systems that can match Russian capabilities or make a significant upgrade to Ukraine’s existing equipment, but given the practical constraints of delivering and deploying such weapons, they are likely to have limited utility in the near term. There is almost always a lengthy time lag between the decision to provide a new military system and the actual delivery and deployment to the field, which can take weeks, months, and sometimes well more than a year. The United States has to acquire or assemble the equipment, either by pulling from U.S. military stocks, rerouting systems destined for other recipients, or ordering from the manufacturer. Once acquired, the United States has to deliver the equipment, and if the equipment represents a new capability, the recipient will need time to train forces prior to deployment. Calls for the United States to provide Ukraine with the Iron Dome air defense system, for instance, are highly impractical given the time it would take for the systems to be delivered and deployed—including time for training.

At multiple points in 2014 and 2015, when it looked as if Russia might mount a full invasion of Ukraine, the Obama administration considered providing Ukraine with javelin anti-tank missiles. But when senior leaders realized the weapons could not be delivered quickly enough to match the urgency of the moment, the decision was deferred. When events calmed down, the administration believed there was little reason to take what Moscow might perceive as a provocative action.

Furthermore, Ukraine’s need for advanced weaponry has to be balanced with the very real possibility that these systems would fall into Russian hands—and therefore the potential for Russia to exploit U.S. systems both for its own industrial development and to develop countermeasures. Therefore, U.S. assistance must be comfortable with the potential risk of technological exploitation.

Ukraine will likely need to fight an initial Russian invasion with the military it has. However, this does not mean Ukraine is helpless, nor does it mean there is nothing more the United States can do. The United States has already provided Ukraine with about $2.7 billion in security assistance since 2014, including advanced weaponry such as counter-mortar radars and anti-tank javelin missiles. But the United States should be focused on resupplying Ukraine with essential battlefield equipment that can be easily incorporated by Ukrainian forces.

Unlike after 2014, the United States and Ukraine now have a well-developed military relationship. The United States knows the strengths and weaknesses of the Ukrainian military and should be preparing now to rush support to Ukrainian forces, depending on how the conflict transpires. To do so, however, requires anticipating Ukraine’s potential future needs, assessing risks of technological exploitation should equipment fall into Russian hands, and stockpiling potential equipment for delivery.

The Biden administration should make the following preparations to provide additional security assistance to Ukraine:

  • Establish a security assistance emergency fund to build stockpiles of equipment for security assistance emergencies such as in Ukraine. When a crisis erupts, policymakers often turn to U.S. security assistance. But the U.S. security assistance system is not set up for crisis response. Needed equipment is rarely on hand, which often forces the United States to cobble together military equipment in an ad-hoc manner. A new fund could allow the United States to stockpile potential crisis-relevant equipment, cutting down on long lead times to acquire, assemble, and deliver equipment. In security crises, no matter the region, there are often common types of military equipment that are needed, and the United States should stockpile such equipment and have it available to provide to allies and partners in a crisis. Therefore, this fund does not have to specifically be about Ukraine, which would also give the administration more flexibility about what equipment to stockpile. Equipment such as shoulder-fired anti-air systems could be ordered and warehoused before a decision is needed to actually send it to Ukraine. This could allow the United States to be a nimbler actor, giving policymakers more options in a crisis. Such a fund could also acquire higher-end items such as javelins, anti-air weapons, night vision, and communications equipment; more basic supplies such as small arms, ammunition, and body armor; and vital equipment for deployed forces such as ammunition, meals ready to eat, and water filtration equipment.
  • Acknowledge the reality that U.S. military force is not an option. As the United States is providing security assistance to Ukraine, it should also make clear to both Kyiv and Moscow that America will not intervene militarily. President Joe Biden was right to communicate to Ukraine and Russia that the United States will not go to war over Ukraine. It is important that the United States continue to message that clearly so that Kyiv does not have unrealistic expectations about what it can expect from the U.S. government.

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Step 6: Bolster NATO and European security

While it is unlikely and improbable that Russia will threaten NATO members directly, the alliance should respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by strengthening NATO and its overall force posture. An invasion should prompt additional U.S. military deployments to Europe, and most importantly, it should spark significant investments to strengthen NATO capabilities, in particular by modernizing the forces of eastern-flank members and by prompting significant EU investments in defense.

The United States needs a new approach that recognizes the growing importance of the European Union and urges it to take on a larger role in defense.

Russia’s invasion should also prompt a shift in America’s approach to NATO and European security. It is vital that Europe become militarily stronger and more capable of deterring Russia in the years and decades ahead. The post-Cold War American approach of ignoring the European Union and insisting that European states—most of whom no longer think much about security issues, given that NATO membership has all but solved most of their security dilemmas—take the lead on defense has not resulted in a stronger Europe. Instead, it has simply embedded European dependence on the U.S. military. The United States thus needs a new approach that recognizes the growing importance of the European Union and urges it to take on a larger role in defense. To do so, the Biden administration should take the following actions:

  • Push to establish a NATO bank to finance major investments in capabilities such as modernizing eastern-flank forces by replacing Russian/Soviet equipment. Upon entry into NATO, former Warsaw Pact nations were never provided the resources or the capital to modernize their forces. As such, the militaries on NATO’s eastern flank have significant shortcomings. Many still operate Russian/Soviet equipment and therefore rely on the Russian defense industry for spare parts and components. NATO should announce the creation of a NATO bank to finance major investments to strengthen the alliance and fill gaps in capabilities, including modernizing Eastern European NATO members’ militaries. This could include financing to acquire fleets of fighter jets, tracked vehicles, air and missile defense systems, naval ships, and unmanned aerial vehicles. A major NATO effort to bolster the militaries bordering Russia—and Russian-occupied Ukraine—would send a strong signal to the Kremlin.
  • Strongly back EU defense efforts and push the European Union to finance defense investments and exempt additional defense spending from EU fiscal debt rules. The United States should demand that European allies expand their defense investments. But instead of just focusing on total spending at the national level, the United States and NATO should move beyond the focus on NATO members spending 2 percent of GDP and focus on capabilities. America should insist on joint European efforts to acquire high-end capabilities and should push Europe to increasingly integrate its forces. The best vehicle to do this is the European Union. The EU can now borrow funds following the successful implementation of its massive 800 billion euro NextGenerationEU program. The United States should encourage the EU to also borrow funds to invest in defense acquisitions, which could be utilized by the EU’s NATO members. Additionally, America should push for defense investments to be exempt from EU fiscal rules, which are currently being debated in the revised Stability and Growth Pact.
  • Engage Sweden and Finland over NATO expansion. Despite Russian diplomatic demands to halt and reverse NATO expansion, a Russian invasion should prompt NATO to consider expansion. A Russian invasion of sovereign Ukraine would further demonstrate Russia’s lack of respect for sovereign borders as agreed to in the U.N. Charter. Therefore, the United States and NATO should approach Sweden and Finland about potential NATO membership. Both countries have moved considerably closer to NATO and the United States, and they have significantly expanded military investments since 2014. Finland recently announced it would buy F-35s, and Sweden is acquiring the Patriot missile defense system. And public opinion in support of joining NATO has increased in both countries, especially in Sweden. A Russian invasion of another non-NATO country would no doubt shift public opinion further. Russia has sought to intimidate both countries in recent weeks, threatening consequences should they join NATO. 
  • Deploy additional U.S. forces and military assets to Europe. Following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, the United States significantly bolstered its force presence in Eastern Europe. The United States should do the same in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions, in particular in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.

Diplomatic tools

Diplomatically, the United States will need to work closely with its European partners. While there are concerns about allied unity in the midst of diplomatic engagements with Russia, if Putin decides to invade Ukraine, it will undoubtedly have a unifying and galvanizing diplomatic effect on the transatlantic alliance. It will be critical for the United States to maintain that unity and push Europe to adopt strong action. But the United States should also go on a broad-based global diplomatic offensive to isolate Russia. The United States should be especially active in pressing allies and partners in the Persian Gulf and the Indo-Pacific region. Additionally, the United States must keep an open door to dialogue with Russia to help stabilize the inevitable tensions that will emerge.

Step 7: Engage in a diplomatic offensive to isolate and compete with Russia internationally

The United States should engage in a global diplomatic effort to isolate Russia. This would involve a concerted effort in the Middle East, including with Egypt and allies in the Persian Gulf, as well as in Asia, with countries such as India and Vietnam. These efforts should include the following actions:

  • Press Middle Eastern partners to keep Russia at arm’s length. The United States should push its allies and partners in the Middle East—namely Israel, Egypt, and states in the Persian Gulf—to curtail engagement with Russia, especially any arms sales or business dealings. All of these countries value their relationships with the United States much more than any dealings with Russia, and the United States should make its position clear that any dealings with Russia—particularly with its defense industry—could lead to U.S. sanctions, which are already authorized by CAATSA.
  • Pivot long-standing Russian partners in the Indo-Pacific region toward the West. The United States has endeavored to build significantly closer security partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region that are concerned about China’s intentions and territorial expansion, particularly India and Vietnam. Both countries have long-standing defense relationships with Russia dating back to the Cold War. However, Russia’s ever closer ties to China, and the efforts by both Russia and China to redraw territorial boundaries and bully neighbors, create an opportunity for the United States. Over the next decade, the United States should seek to move these countries away from arms agreements with Russia. While the United States can use the threat of sanctions against deals with Russia’s defense industry, it is likely better to use carrots than sticks and to emphasize the benefits of working with the United States.
  • Develop a roadmap to integrate the Balkans into NATO and the European Union. Russia’s invasion should also result in renewed U.S. and EU attention and energy toward the Balkans. One of the few bright spots of the Trump administration’s foreign policy was the attention paid to these countries. While the administration ultimately bungled efforts at forging a peace agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, it did move both countries closer to peace. The Biden administration should reengage at the highest levels in the efforts to finalize a peace agreement. Moreover, the situation in the Serb-controlled region of Bosnia—the Republika Srpska—has greatly deteriorated, as its strongman populist leader Milorad Dodik has been reigniting nationalist tensions. The Biden administration should be heavily engaged given Russian and growing Chinese influence in the Balkans. Moreover, the Biden administration should push the EU to develop a comprehensive strategy toward the Balkans that creates a feasible path toward membership. This should involve significant infrastructure funding and political engagement from American and European leaders.
  • Prepare to deal with Russia as a global spoiler. Russia has positioned itself as an alternative to the United States, acting as a pressure relief valve for countries such as Venezuela, the Central African Republic, and potentially Mali. Russia has provided loans, “private” security details to protect leaders, and arms and financial support to alleviate outside Western pressure. Though not free of costs, this is a role Russia is eager to pursue. The United States should ramp up the pressure on these Russia-friendly regimes through sanctions, especially targeting kleptocratic wealth.

Step 8: Maintain diplomatic dialogue and seek to reestablish strategic stability

The United States must also be willing to engage with Russia diplomatically to de-escalate tensions, just as it did during the Cold War. Following a Russian invasion, tensions with the United States and NATO will be at levels not seen for decades. With Russian and NATO forces arrayed against each other, both sides will need an open line of communication to prevent miscalculation. This is especially the case when it comes to military exercises and potential short- and intermediate-range missile deployments. Strategic stability talks and dialogue will be essential to keep the conflict cold, and the United States should express an openness for talks to develop successor agreements for the lapsed Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, as well as for negotiating a follow-on agreement to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Domestic resilience

After the United States and Europe levied sanctions against Russia in 2014, they were caught off guard by Russia’s aggressive political interference in U.S. and European elections. The West must expect Russia to respond forcefully, and U.S. and European governments should take significant steps to harden potential targets and increase domestic resilience.

Step 9: Prepare for Russia’s response

Unfortunately, the United States is still not adequately postured to defend itself against Russian interference. The Obama administration left office just as the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election became clear and had little time to make any bureaucratic reforms or changes. While Congress mandated certain reforms, such as the creation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and providing funding for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, President Trump had a clear chilling effect on the U.S. government’s ability to prioritize Russian interference. This was particularly evident with the FBI’s limited counterintelligence efforts and the lack of U.S. diplomatic engagement with Europe related to Russian interference. Meanwhile, the Biden administration came to office focused on China, and despite Russia meddling again in the 2020 election, focus has shifted away from Russian interference. However, should the United States and Europe respond in the manner outlined above to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, they should expect Russia to respond in kind. To counter this, the Biden administration should take the following actions:

  • Address the failures in the FBI and bolster FBI counterintelligence efforts. The FBI was caught off guard by Russia’s attack on the U.S. election system in 2016. It devoted few resources to the threat, as it was busy prioritizing absurd espionage cases at the State Department and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails—all while Russia was attacking the country. In subsequent years, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump, yet unbelievably, it never pursued the investigation due to political interference by the deputy attorney general. FBI counterintelligence needs to be resourced to dramatically increase its efforts directed against Russian intelligence.
  • Establish a new interagency active measures working group at the White House to track, monitor, expose, and counter Russian influence efforts. The United States should establish a task force modeled off the Active Measures Working Group of the 1980s. Russia will likely seek to retaliate against U.S. sanctions in the shadows as it did after 2014 with the interference in U.S. and European elections. Additionally, the Wirecard case in Germany—in which the company’s chief operating officer was revealed as an agent of Russian intelligence—demonstrates the breadth and depth of Russian operations. The United States needs an interagency cell similar to the structures established for counterterrorism to track, monitor, and disrupt Russian intelligence operations.
  • Set up diplomatic and intelligence channels to share information and exchange lessons learned with allies and partners about Russian interference. Despite America engaging in a series of massive investigations into Russian interference, there has been no concerted diplomatic effort to share the lessons learned with allies and partners. The State Department never debriefed allies and partners about the findings of the Mueller report, and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has not discussed its much more thorough report with allies and partners either. Considering Russia uses similar methods, tactics, techniques, and procedures in conducting its influence and espionage campaigns across countries, it is critical that allies and partners share experiences and rapidly exchange information.
  • Take legislative action to increase resilience to Russian interference. The U.S. Congress should take steps to make it much more difficult for Russia to interfere in the United States. In addition to steps to combat money laundering, financial secrecy, and corruption, the United States should take steps to strengthen the Foreign Agent Registrations Act and take legislative action to regulate social media platforms.
  • Prepare for cyberattacks. Russia has demonstrated a willingness to conduct cyberattacks against the United States and Europe. It often does so through a cadre of private hackers who are given safe haven to operate and conduct operations against the West in exchange for acting at the direction of the Kremlin when asked. Russia may very well target U.S. infrastructure, as it did with the Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021. The U.S. government must be on guard and ready to disrupt Russian-initiated cyberattacks and respond appropriately if needed.

Conclusion

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be a shocking act of aggression to which the United States and its European allies must respond. The options available are imperfect, as neither would prove decisive on its own. Instead, the United States and Europe must take action on many fronts—economic, military, diplomatic, and domestic—to impose severe costs on the Putin regime. This will require a concerted campaign that will last years and require constant adjustments and recalibration, extensive engagement from senior policymakers, and continuous diplomatic engagement and coordination. It would be a slog, but adopting the options above would hopefully impose real costs on the Kremlin over time. If adopted, these options would weaken Russia’s influence abroad and its strength domestically; enable Ukraine to defend itself and maintain its status as a sovereign democratic state; reduce Russia’s corrupt influence in the West; strengthen European security; and accelerate Europe’s decarbonization efforts. Taking these steps would thus turn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a strategic defeat for the Kremlin, setting an example that no other country would want to follow.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Author

Max Bergmann

Senior Fellow

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