Financial experts and former diplomats say the possibilities range from sanctions against the country to hitting Putin’s associates.
The Biden administration has many options for keeping its promise to financially hit Russia if President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine, from sanctions targeting Putin’s associates to Russia shutting off the financial system that sends money into the whole world.
The United States and its European allies made no public mention of any plans for a military response themselves if Putin sent troops massed along the border into Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with historical and cultural ties. close with Russia but now eager to ally with NATO and the West.
Instead, payback could be about money.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week pledged financial hardship – “high impact economic measures that we have refrained from taking in the past.” President Joe Biden said on Friday that the United States had developed “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin.”
Over the past decade, the United States has already implemented a series of sanctions against Russian entities and individuals, many for Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and its support for armed separatists. in eastern Ukraine in 2014. US sanctions have also sought to punish Russia for electoral interference, malicious cyber activity, and human rights abuses.
Since 2014, the West has also helped Ukraine strengthen its military. So, while Putin denies any intention to launch an offensive, his troops would face a Ukrainian army much more capable of fighting.
Sanctions now imposed on Russians include freezing assets, banning doing business with American companies and denying entry to the United States. But in seeking to punish Russia, the West over the years has weighed even greater financial sanctions.
This includes the so-called nuclear option: block Russia from the Belgium-based SWIFT financial payments system that moves money between thousands of banks around the world.
The European Parliament this year approved a non-binding resolution calling for this measure if Russia invaded Ukraine.
When the United States succeeded in pressuring SWIFT to disconnect Iranian banks from Iran’s nuclear program, the country lost nearly half of its oil export revenues and a third of its foreign trade, said said Maria Shagina, an expert in sanctions and energy policy affiliated with the Carnegie Moscow Center. thinking group.
The impact on the Russian economy would be “just as devastating,” writes Shagina. Russia relies on its oil and natural gas exports for more than a third of its federal revenues and relies on SWIFT to circulate petrodollars.
Russia has been working since 2014 to isolate its national financial systems from such a cut. A SWIFT cut would also cause indirect pain to Western economies.
John Herbst, former US ambassador to Ukraine and career diplomat, said on Friday he believed that even if SWIFT was not ruled out, it would be a last resort.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration further limited Russia’s ability to borrow money by prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from purchasing Russian government bonds directly from public institutions. But the sanctions did not target the secondary market, leaving that as a possible next step.
Other possible tools and targets, Herbst noted: financial sanctions targeting those close to Putin and their families; and more sanctions against Russian banks and Russia’s vital energy sector.