The Biden administration has prepared a punitive package of potential sanctions which would be ready to go in the instance of Russia invading Ukraine, which would involve tightening export controls in order to hurt Russia's economy.
Reuters on Tuesday cited an unnamed administration official who said the measures are under intense discussion, namely possible "extraordinary" export controls that could block Russia from importing smartphones, crucial aircraft and automobile parts, and other materials.
It would be a significant step of escalation given such sanctions would begin to resemble aspects of the all-encompassing US sanctions long in place against Iran. Existing US sanctions related to Russia have merely targeted individual Kremlin officials and entities, for example, that resulted in the aftermath of the Navalny poisoning affair and his subsequent imprisonment, or also companies involved in work on Nord Stream 2.
At this point their implementation is unlikely, assuming Moscow's insistence that there is no planned Ukraine invasion in the works is true. Leaders in Kiev, as well as some of their Washington counterparts, have loudly claimed an offensive into Eastern Ukraine will happen by January.
Meanwhile Ukraine and some other Eastern European countries are actually demanding that the US impose sanctions on Russia now, rather than waiting. This was the message issued by Polish President Andrzej Duda and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda - who both met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in western Ukraine on Monday. The three leaders in the joint statement:
"...called upon the international community to step up sanctions on the Russian Federation over its ongoing aggression against Ukraine and once again urged the Kremlin to de-escalate the situation by withdrawing its troops from the Ukrainian borders and temporarily occupied territories."
That's when Zelenskyy urged "powerful preventative actions, powerful serious sanctions to exclude any thought about escalation."
Yet if US export controls were imposed immediately this would only ensure the total break in all dialogue between the US and Russia. Such sanctions would heighten the likelihood of actual military clashes. This at a time Moscow is still awaiting a Biden administration response to its list of security proposals centered on NATO agreeing to halt eastward expansion.
We started with SWIFT and ended up with "extraordinary" export controls on Russia’s ability to import smartphones, key aircraft and automobile parts. This is not what's going to deter Russia and it proves that the West isn't ready for anything "nuclear".https://t.co/2FnwcSOkJj— Dr Maria Shagina (@maria_shagina) December 22, 2021
On this front, there's some hopeful signs that the two sides are moving toward deconfliction, as The Hill reports:
Bilateral talks between the United States and Russia on Moscow's recently-proposed security demands are expected to begin in January, a State Department official said Tuesday.
Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters on Tuesday that the US will "decide on a date" together with Russia to begin discussions.
For now, the US administration is likely to continue with its threats and talk of "red lines" - and warnings against Russian aggression toward Ukraine, also as a method to continue building leverage ahead of these possible January talks.