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How US and its allies could respond to Russian invasion of Ukraine

USA TODAY
USA TODAY
 2022-01-25

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At least 8,500 U.S. troops were put on "high alert" Monday for possible deployment to Eastern Europe as fears rise over the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The soldiers could either be part of a rapid response NATO force of 40,000 or used "if other situations develop" with the 127,000 Russian troops deployed near Ukraine, according to John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.

There are no plans to send U.S. troops into Ukraine, he said.

Timeline: How the Ukraine-Russia crisis began

President Joe Biden said Russia would pay “a dear price” in economic sanctions if it attacks Ukraine but maintains that American troops won’t be used in combat . Some U.S. forces in Europe could be sent to support Poland, Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia , all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Some of the sanctions would cost Russian President Vladimir Putin personally .

Russian forces mass near Ukraine

Russia transferred troops and hardware into neighboring Belarus on Jan. 19 for a joint military exercise called "Allied Resolve 2022." The exercise is a two-part operation scheduled to end Feb. 20.

The move could put Russian troops less than 60 miles from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and force Ukraine to redirect some of its defenses to the Belarusian border.

In Ukraine, the United States removed families of embassy staff and nonessential personnel from diplomatic posts, the State Department said Jan. 23. The U.K. is bringing home half its diplomatic staff. U.S. citizens are urged to leave.

How big are Russian, Ukrainian armies?

US, NATO send military support to region

Biden is considering sending aircraft and ships to counter the Russian threat. Ukraine started receiving U.S.-made weapons systems from NATO countries.

Though Russia says it has no plans to invade, the West's evolving response illustrates a harder-line approach as Russia refuses to back down after gathering more than 127,000 troops around Ukraine .

The Western military alliance says it will support Ukraine while crafting a response that will incur “a heavy price for Russia.” It’s unlikely that NATO will send troops to Ukraine since it's not part of the alliance.

NATO said Jan. 24 that its members put forces on standby and deployed fighter jets and ships to Eastern Europe. It has about 4,000 troops in Poland and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Those forces have tanks, air support and surveillance units.

NATO is not completely united on Ukraine.

Germany refused to send weapons to Ukraine. Croatia, a member of NATO since 2009, says it will withdraw its military from NATO if conflict develops between Russia and Ukraine.

What weapons are being sent to Ukraine?

"We will defend ourselves, but help us," Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov appealed to NATO in December .

"We need electronic warfare, electronic intelligence, anti-missile systems, cyber defense, we need to strengthen our fleet," Reznikov said. "We name all these needs publicly, we do not hide, and then the aggressor will not go further."

Ukrainians say they will resist a Russian invasion , polls show.

The United States increased aid to Ukraine. The White House said Jan. 19 it will give an additional $20 million in defensive military equipment. The package reportedly includes anti-armor missiles, ammunition and other items.

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Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron at Dover Air Force Base prepare ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine on Jan. 21. HANDOUT, US Airforce/AFP via Getty Images

The United States is sending weapons to Ukraine in third-party transfers, in which NATO members provide U.S.-made weapons. Transfers include:

  • Javelin anti-tank weapons from Estonia.
  • Stinger air defense systems from Lithuania and Latvia.
  • Anti-tank missiles from the U.K.
  • Five Russian-made but U.S-owned Mi-17 transport helicopters , already in Ukraine for maintenance.

Javelin weapons are medium-range, shoulder- or vehicle-fired missiles used against armored vehicles, bunkers and caves , according to Raytheon.

Stinger missiles are shoulder-fired supersonic weapons used against high-speed, low-flying aircraft.

The anti-tank missiles from Britain are shoulder-fired weapons capable of taking out a tank from a distance of about a half-mile.

Other U.S.-made weapons , not identified by the administration, will be sent by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Britain, officials said.

How else is NATO aiding Ukraine?

NATO is bolstering its allies in the region:

  • Denmark: Sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania.
  • Spain: Sending ships to join NATO naval forces and may send fighter jets to Bulgaria.
  • France: Ready to send troops under NATO command to Romania.
  • The Netherlands: Sending two F-35 fighter aircraft to Bulgaria and putting a ship and land-based units on standby for NATO’s Response Force.

The Pentagon kept the USS Harry S Truman carrier strike group , a group of six warships, in the Mediterranean Sea. The strike group had been scheduled to move on to the Middle East after a naval exercise.

NATO won't agree to Russian demands

Russia demands guarantees that Ukraine will never be permitted to join NATO or the European Union. It wants NATO expansion halted, which NATO rejected .

NATO and the EU say those choices belong to Ukraine. A majority of Ukrainians want to join both organizations, polls show.

Russia could plan to halt that movement by installing a regime in Ukraine, according to statements by the U.K. Foreign Office on Jan. 22. Officials said Russian intelligence agents contacted former Ukrainian politicians as part of an invasion plan.

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A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea on Jan. 18. AP

'Severe response' promised for attack

Western officials say an invasion could range from a full-fledged attack, as most officials anticipate, to a “ minor incursion ,” as Biden said, and was criticized for, during a news conference Jan. 19.

Biden's choice of words highlighted a potential problem for the United States and allies. How should they respond to something less than a full invasion – the movement of a few units or a cyberattack?

The White House said that if “any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border , that's an invasion,” which would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response.”

Russia maintains an overwhelming arms advantage over Ukraine. If diplomacy fails and direct military action is ruled out, here is what the United States and its allies could do:

'Deterrence by punishment' is an option

Deterrence by punishment “threatens severe penalties, such as nuclear escalation or severe economic sanctions, if an attack occurs,” according to a RAND Corp. study and other sources .

It includes aiding an insurgency – in this case in-country Ukrainian resistance against Russian invaders.

The Obama administration used sanctions against Russia in March 2014 after it invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. They targeted small Russian banks and low-level military officials involved in the attack.

Most of those sanctions remain in effect. Though they damaged Russia economically , they did not force Russia to give up Crimea or stop supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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Protesters against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych sit on top of an army armored vehicle driving past a barricade in central Kyiv on Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region. Emilio Morenatti/AP

Export and financial restrictions likely

The Biden administration plans stronger sanctions that include restrictions on exports to Russia, prohibiting Russian banks from participating in global transactions and giving military assistance to Ukraine.

Biden said Tuesday he would consider directly sanctioning Putin if Russian forces invade. Possible sanctions would block all U.S. property transactions and interests in property held by the Russian president and other top military and government officials.

The most severe overall sanction is the foreign direct product rule , which would prohibit companies from exporting any electronic items, including microchips, made with U.S. equipment or designed by U.S. software, even if the items were made overseas.

The Trump administration used the rule against the Chinese company Huawei in May 2019 after labeling it a security threat. Company revenue fell nearly 30% in 2021.

Export restrictions would place Russia on a trade level with North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Syria. Restraints could preclude Russia from importing:

  • Smartphones and aircraft and automobile parts.
  • Computer chips or other microelectronics.

Financial restraints would include disconnecting Russia from SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a global messaging system for banks to send and receive financial information.

Russia created a similar messaging system of its own called SPFS. That service is designed to ease financial sanctions on Russian banks.

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Ground crews unload weapons and other military hardware delivered by the U.S. military at Boryspil Airport near Kyiv, Ukraine, on Jan. 25. Sean Gallup, Getty Images

Some US troops are already in Ukraine

About 100 troops from the Florida National Guard are in far western Ukraine as instructors at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center. They're part of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team , which is training Ukrainian troops to strengthen their defensive abilities.

The Guard members serve as advisers only. The training center is considered outside Russia's military reach.

The U.S. Army has rotated other National Guard units there as instructors with the goal of helping Ukrainian forces reach NATO standards.

PHOTOS Maxar Technologies; Planet Labs; Associated Press; AFP

SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; The Associated Press; globalfirepower.com; RAND Corp.; Center for Strategic and International Studies

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How US and its allies could respond to Russian invasion of Ukraine

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