• Wed. Mar 29th, 2023


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Behind Austin’s Call for a ‘Weakened’ Russia, Hints of a Shift

“The first step in winning is believing you can win,” said Philip M. Breedlove, who served as the supreme allied commander Europe, the top NATO military officer, until 2016. He added that he was glad of 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 that is what will be required for them to win.”

What they needed was heavy artillery, and as the Biden administration and other NATO nations have rushed to get that weaponry into Ukrainian hands, the Russians have become increasingly vocal in their warnings that the shipments themselves are an act of aggression — and could be targeted.

The artillery, however, can be justified as largely defense weaponry — they cannot strike far into Russia itself. But Mr. Austin’s statement about keeping Russia from being able to invade anew, in Ukraine or elsewhere, articulated a strategy that has been hinted at, both in public statements and in the type of sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia in the past eight weeks.

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

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

“The Russian high-tech and defense sectors are being choked off from key inputs,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters as Mr. Biden headed to a meeting with NATO leaders a month ago. So far it is hard to measure the effects on actual weapons production, and it is unclear if the Russians will succeed in finding alternate sources of supply.

Administration officials deeply involved in the sanctions strategy say it was designed to get worse over time. As capital dries up for investment in new capability, as chip supplies dwindle and energy revenues decline, the squeeze will become more apparent. In time, it will bleed into consumer goods, making it harder for ordinary Russians to buy the iPhones and Androids that seem nearly as ubiquitous on the streets of Moscow as they are in New York.

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