Behind Austin’s call for a ‘weak’ Russia, hints of a shift

“The first step in winning is believing that you can win,” said Philip Breedlove, who served as Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in Europe, NATO’s highest-ranking military officer, until 2016. He added that he was pleased with Mr. Austin’s language, even if he risked provoking Russia, because “Ukrainians must believe that we intend to give them what they need, because that is what is required of them to win.”

What they needed was heavy artillery, and as the Biden administration and other NATO countries scrambled to get these weapons into Ukrainian hands, the Russians became increasingly vocal in their warnings that the charges themselves were an act of aggression — and could be targeted.

However, artillery can be justified as a largely defensive weapon – it cannot hit remote areas of Russia itself. But Mr. Austin’s statement about preventing Russia from being able to invade again, in Ukraine or elsewhere, made clear a strategy hinted at, both in public statements and in the kind of sanctions the West has imposed on Russia in the past eight years. weeks.

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Perhaps the most damaging of these sanctions are export controls on high-tech components needed by the Russian defense industry to produce new weapons. Unlike China, America’s other major opponent, Russia has a limited capacity to manufacture its own chips, and there is almost no prospect of developing this capability without Western technology.

Biden announced some of these export controls in early March, and said his goal with Russia was to “drain its economic power and weaken its military for years to come.” Now there are unconfirmed reports – eagerly amplified by the White House – that the Russian military-industrial complex is missing some parts.

“The Russian high-tech and defense sectors are being suffocated from key inputs,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters as Biden headed to a meeting with NATO leaders a month ago. It is difficult to measure so far the effects on the actual production of weapons, and it is not clear whether the Russians will succeed in finding alternative sources of supply.

Administration officials deeply involved in the sanctions strategy say it is designed to get worse over time. As capital dries up to invest in new capabilities, with chip supplies dwindling and energy returns dwindling, the pressure will become more pronounced. Over time, it will permeate consumer goods, making it difficult for ordinary Russians to buy iPhones and Android devices that are almost as ubiquitous on the streets of Moscow as they are in New York.

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