Behind Austin’s call for a ‘weakened’ Russia, hints of change

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“The first step to winning is believing you can win,” said Philip M. Breedlove, who served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO’s top military officer, until 2016. He added that he was happy with Mr. Austin’s language, even if it risked provoking Russia, because “the Ukrainians have to believe that we intend to give them what they need, because it what it will take to win.”

What they needed was heavy artillery, and as the Biden administration and other NATO countries rushed to get those weapons into Ukrainian hands, the Russians became increasingly increasingly vocal in their warnings that the shipments themselves are an act of aggression – and could be targeted.

Artillery, however, can be justified as largely defensive armament – it cannot hit far into Russia itself. But Mr. Austin’s statement about preventing Russia from invading again, in Ukraine or elsewhere, articulated a strategy that has been hinted at, both in public statements and in the kind of sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia over the past eight years. weeks.

The most damaging of these sanctions could be export controls on high-tech components that Russia’s defense industry needs to produce new weapons. Unlike China, America’s other major adversary, Russia has a limited ability to make its own chips, and almost no prospect of developing that ability without Western technology.

Announcing some of those export controls in early March, Mr Biden said his goal with Russia was to “undermine its economic power and weaken its military for years to come”. Now there are anecdotal reports – eagerly amplified by the White House – of Russia’s military-industrial complex running out of parts.

“Russia’s high-tech and defense sectors are being stifled by key inflows,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters as Biden headed for a meeting with Russia leaders. NATO a month ago. So far, it is difficult to measure the effects on actual arms production, and it is unclear whether the Russians will succeed in finding other sources of supply.

Administration officials deeply involved in the sanctions strategy say it was designed to escalate over time. As capital dries up to invest in new capacity, chip supplies dwindle and energy revenues decline, the pressure will become more apparent. Over time, it will spread into consumer goods, making it harder for ordinary Russians to buy the iPhones and Androids that seem almost as ubiquitous on the streets of Moscow as they are in New York.

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