WASHINGTON (AP) — How do American leaders and their allies intend to respond if President Vladimir Putin seeks to escalate his way out of a bad situation on Ukraine’s battlefields, and makes good on renewed threats of annexing territory or even using nuclear weapons?
At least to start with, by trying to double down on the same tactics that have helped put Russia in a corner in Ukraine, U.S. and European leaders have made clear: more financial penalties and international isolation for Russia, more arms and other backing for Ukraine.
That won’t necessarily be easy. It’s been tough enough staying the current course of persuading all of dozens of allies to stick with sanctions and isolation for Putin, and persuading more ambivalent countries to join in. Global financial and energy disruptions from Russia’s war in Ukraine already promise to make the coming winter a tough one for countries that have depended on Russia for their energy needs.
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And there’s no sign of U.S. or NATO officials matching Putin’s renewed nuclear threats with the same nuclear bluster, which in itself might raise the risks of escalating the conflict to an unimaginable level. Even if Putin should act on his nuclear threat, President Joe Biden and others point, without details, to an ascending scale of carefully calibrated responses, based on how far Russia goes.
To start with, “they’ll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been,” Biden told CBS’ “60 Minutes” just before Putin’s new wartime measures and renewed nuclear threat.
“What they do will determine what response would occur,” Biden said on the nuclear side, adding that the U.S. responses in that case would be “consequential.”
“I do not believe the United States would take an escalatory step” in the event of a one-off, limited nuclear detonation by Russia aimed at trying to scare Ukraine and its supporters off, said Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy NATO secretary-general and former U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control. “Certainly, it would not respond with nuclear weapons.”
Putin this week pledged to use “all available means” to stave off any challenges as Russia moves to summarily claim more Ukrainian territory despite heavy losses on the battlefield to NATO-armed Ukrainian forces. In case NATO missed the point, another senior Russian political figure specified the next day that included nuclear weapons. Putin also mobilized Russian fighters to throw into the seven-month invasion of Ukraine, and announced votes in parts of Ukraine that the West says are meant to provide political cover for illegally absorbing those regions into Russia.
U.S. and European Union officials say new sanctions are in the works in response to Putin’s latest moves.
“Russia, its political leadership, and all…