Ukraine crisis: how Joe Biden puts pressure on Vladimir Putin

Alexis Guilleux and AFP
modified to

07:47, January 26, 2022

American economic threats and the sound of Russian boots: Washington insisted on Tuesday on the sanctions that Russia, and Vladimir Putin himself, would suffer in the event of an invasion of Ukraine, while Moscow launched military maneuvers at the gates of the country . To a journalist who asked him on Tuesday if he could consider personally sanctioning the Russian president, Joe Biden replied “Yes”, then “I can conceive it”.

No US forces deployed in Ukraine

If Russia “invades the whole country”, or “even much less” than that, there will be “enormous consequences” and it would “change the world”, further indicated the American president. Who, however, once again set the limits of any American response: “We do not intend to deploy American or NATO forces in Ukraine”, which is not a member of the military alliance. western. Economically, however, the United States is ready to hit hard. “It is no longer a question of a graduated response. This time we will start at the top of the scale” of sanctions, said a senior White House official on Tuesday.

Washington is seeking to reverse the balance of power established by Vladimir Putin. Accused of having massed more than 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine, the Russian president wants to shake up the American grip on the military and strategic balance in Europe, and particularly in the East.

After having alerted 8,500 soldiers likely to very quickly strengthen the ranks of NATO, the United States staged a delivery of military equipment to Ukraine on Tuesday. Washington has also warned Belarus that it faces a “swift” and “firm” response if it lets Russia use its territory to attack Ukraine. The Russian armed forces on Tuesday launched a new series of maneuvers near Ukraine and in annexed Crimea. For the Kremlin, it is Washington that is causing a new “exacerbation”, whether by putting troops on alert or by repatriating families of American diplomats from Ukraine, an initiative imitated on Tuesday by Canada.

Technology, dollars, gas

Washington is considering, according to the senior White House official, banning the export of American technology to Russia. The United States is also threatening to asphyxiate Russian banks by prohibiting them from transactions in dollars, the queen currency of international trade. As for the possible sanctions against Vladimir Putin himself, Joe Biden did not specify their nature. When Washington sanctions foreign personalities, it most often involves freezing their assets and prohibiting transactions with the United States.

There remains an extremely delicate point, likely to undermine cohesion between Westerners: Russian hydrocarbons. The Europeans fear, in the event of an escalation, of being deprived in the middle of winter of Russian gas, which covers more than 40% of their needs. “We believe we are ready to find alternative supplies covering a significant majority of the potential cuts” in the delivery of Russian gas, promised the senior American official. The White House announced on Tuesday, very appropriately, that Joe Biden would receive the Emir of Qatar on January 31. This ally of the United States has immense reserves of natural gas. It is also the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas.

A written response to the Russians

Russia, considered the godmother of the pro-Russian separatists that Kiev has been fighting in the east of the country for eight years, denies any plan for an offensive, but links a de-escalation to treaties freezing NATO, so that the Ukraine in particular never adheres to it. The request is considered unacceptable in Europe as in America. But Washington has nevertheless promised to deliver a written response to the Russians this week.

In this pas de deux between the United States and Russia, wanted by Vladimir Putin, the Europeans are trying to make themselves heard. “Is the discussion between the United States and Russia a good thing? Yes. Has this discussion produced concrete results? I haven’t seen any,” French President Emmanuel Macron said, deciding to have its own channel of communication with Vladimir Putin.

He will have a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart on Friday. “If there were to be an aggression” from Russia against Ukraine, “the response will be there and the cost will be very high”, however warned the French leader on Tuesday, showing his cohesion with the Americans in the matter. Washington returned the courtesy. “We support anything that could really reduce tensions,” the State Department spokesman said on Tuesday, assuring that the “degree of coordination between the French and the United States was excellent”.

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