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How Joe Biden Will Punish Russia for an Invasion of Ukraine

Ukraine T-14
Russian Armata T-14 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Biden administration is working out more ways to hurt Russia, with an eye towards deterring an invasion of Ukraine. If that fails, the tools will become the means through which Russia is punished for violating international norms of conduct.

Over the last few years, an extensive new literature has emerged on how states manage interdependence. Writers like Thomas Friedman asserted that a globalized world would become “flat” in terms of power and economics, as all countries could take advantage of what the global commons made available. Differences in income would narrow and “power politics” would become useless, if not counterproductive. But as described by Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, states can “weaponize interdependence” by controlling specific elements of the global legal, financial, and economic landscape. As discussed in a previous column, the financial system is one such node; the dominant position of the US dollar gives the Federal Reserve, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Treasury enormous influence over how to track and even choke off financial activity.

Intellectual property law is another such node; the chief elements of the global intellectual property regime were designed by the United States, largely for the benefit of US firms. To participate in the global technology economy, Russia had to adapt to this legal structure after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This now makes Russia vulnerable across an array of fronts. Effectively, the administration can take steps that would make Russia’s tech sector toxic, preventing Russian companies from exporting devices that have any US components or other US intellectual property. This would definitely hurt the Russians on the international market, and it also would deter European and Asian tech firms from collaborating with their Russian counterparts. The US won the Cold War in part because it could cut the USSR off from international developments in information technology, and the weapons at the disposal of the United States have only grown more lethal.  The use of these weapons of course requires the active cooperation of European, Korean, Taiwanese, and Japanese companies, but a vicious attack on Ukraine might well make that cooperation more forthcoming. Indeed, the Russian military itself depends on foreign chips (largely from Taiwan) in its more sophisticated equipment.

The Biden administration may also take advantage of the anti-corruption policies it has begun to execute. Biden made anti-corruption a key element of his foreign policy platform, borrowing liberally from the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, which had prioritized the problem of international financial malfeasance. The US won’t have to look for long to find dirty Russian money, although uncovering the means through which Putin and his oligarchic allies have stashed wealth around the world may also prove profoundly irritating to some American allies.

In a more traditional vein, the administration is apparently working to limit the damage of a European boycott or Russian cutoff of natural gas supplies. For Russia, the supply of natural gas to Europe (and in particular to Germany) is a means of deterring an assertive response to an invasion. Moscow believes that European interest in Ukraine is slight, and nothing at all compared to the need to stay warm in the winter.

Even as the pandemic grinds on and the US-China relationship goes sour, states continue to depend on the interconnectedness of the global economy. This produces prosperity (not evenly shared, to be sure) but also creates vulnerability, especially for countries like Russia that don’t control the levers of the system. To be sure, the use of these levers is risky. Every time the US leans into its advantages, it generates questions in the mind of the partners who have to bear some of the costs. But it may well be the case that these partners are more willing to bear such costs to punish a Russia which has breached Ukraine than, for example, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Another risk involves the development of alternative financial and technological networks. China, for example, clearly stands ready to step up and support the Russian technology industry, and both Russia and China have spoken openly of steps to break US financial hegemony.

All of these steps are intended to deter Russia from attacking Ukraine, but often the effects won’t be felt for a good long time. Convincing future Russians that invading Ukraine was a bad idea is a different project, but also one that undoubtedly lurks in the minds of American policymakers. If Russia flagrantly breaks the norm that a country ought not to eat its neighbors, many will argue that it must be made to feel pain- substantial pain, and for a good long time- in order to provide a lesson for others.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley is a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020).

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.



  1. Commentar

    January 26, 2022 at 10:45 am

    The popular narrative is always russia eyeing invasion of ukraine a fascist shithole.

    The real topic of substance is russia drawing a big RED LINE for ukraine not to be swallowed up by Nato and thereby bringing genghis’ armored horde onto russia’s front doorstep.

    There’s little biden can do against putin, a survivor of the fall of USSR, the insanely crazy period of yeltsin and his robber barons and the challenge posed by turkey and the serious western-backed jihadist threat in syria, putin has emerged on top. Biden would amount to nothing more than a mosquito nuisance.

    On the other hand, Biden would likely see his ‘2nd term’ prospects diminished greatly by putin’ big red line over ukraine.

  2. Joe Comment

    January 26, 2022 at 11:18 am

    Commentar: “Swallowed up by NATO”? What does it mean to you, concretely? Has any country ever joined NATO without applying for it?

  3. Commentar

    January 26, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    Biden punishing Russia will likely turn into a big joke, perhaps, biggest joke of 2022. Already, the state dept has hired a crstal ballgazer and she says russia will begin the invasion in mid-February. What a laugh.

    The US has stooped to the lowest of the low by falsely claiming russia will do this and that, and this and that while unable to explain why biden, supposedly a strong ‘advocate’ for preserving the climate, has his military revving up its war machine to the maximum on account of all those false claims.

    Perhaps fossil fuels are so expendable and eco-friendly they are to be consumed by the trainloads or shiploads. US is full of crap.

  4. Lets_go_Brandon

    January 26, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    Biden will do nothing, because he can do nothing.
    But by all means, have any of the contributors/authors to this website ever read Russian’s current defense doctrine?

    They don’t make sunscreen with a spf value that high.

  5. L'amateur d'aéroplanes

    January 26, 2022 at 4:25 pm

    At the level of economic sanctions. it should be remembered that the trade between the United States and Russia is not even the tenth than that between the European Union and Moscow. So it is the European economy that would be the big loser, Washington cannot ensure the delivery of Liquefied Natural Gas, even at a high price, in the same volume as that delivered by the Russian gas pipelines.

  6. Robert Lewis

    January 26, 2022 at 11:00 pm

    Joe will make Putin go to bed without dessert. Or worse yet, heels in the air Kamala

  7. Commentar

    January 26, 2022 at 11:09 pm

    US punishing russia is like splashing water at a forest fire. Ineffective AND laughable.

    Who should punish US for aiding jihadist groups in syria? Notable people like ron paul, tulsi gabbard, jimmy dore and many others have spoken out on this subject yet nobody wants to punish US.

    By the way, ukraine freaked out by russian strength, has just agreed to an armistice (no attacks by either side) at the border.

    Russia can just easily punish US big time by supplying Iran with kinzhal-type weapons if biden foolishly tries to strongarm russia by attempting to ‘punish’ Russia.

  8. from Russia with love

    January 27, 2022 at 2:08 am

    Joe Comment:
    “What does it mean to you, concretely? Has any country ever joined NATO without applying for it?”

    How are you with knowledge of history? in all eastern countries of Europe, before joining NATO, there were anti-Soviet coups d’état. Incidentally, the United States does not hide its direct participation in these coups and is even proud of it. “helped establish democracy” :)))
    you want to say that if Russia and China organize a series of coup d’etat in South America, install loyal governments there that immediately, voluntarily, enter into a military alliance with the Russian Federation and China, then everything will be legal and the United States does not have the right to make claims about missiles from its own borders?

    just tell yourself how the United States will react if Russia and China begin to deploy their troops and missiles in Cuba and Venezuela? if you are not aware these countries already agree to host Russian and Chinese weapons.

  9. from Russia with love

    January 27, 2022 at 3:40 am

    there are suspicions that the author of the article lives on some other planet or is stuck in the year 2000 …
    1) financial leverage.
    Putin is constantly demanding to accelerate the transition from operations in dollars to operations in the national currency. Biden Putin’s agent helping in the implementation of Russian government programs?
    2) Intellectual Property Law.
    The US has made great efforts to get Russia to comply with US patent rights. attempting to push in this direction will only lead to Russia’s refusal to comply with US patent law. the pirates will be happy. torrent foreva! :))
    3) anti-corruption policy.
    great idea! those who are loyal to the United States and expect, under the protection of the United States, to avoid punishment for corruption in Russia, withdraw money abroad. It’s time for Biden to give a good kick to the pro-American fifth column in Russia! I can offer the author of the pack another great idea 😉 you can arrest and imprison the children of Russian officials who are now studying abroad 😉 in Russia, 99.9% of the population will be very happy 🙂

    USA in zugzwang. any attempt to increase sanctions pressure hits US partners. the more these strikes, the lower the influence of the United States on partners and the higher the influence of Russia.

  10. Alex

    January 27, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    Punish Russia? Until now, the United States thinks that Russia is the USSR after the collapse. Even then, the USSR could have been wiped off the face of the earth by the United States. And now the US is thinking about punishment? Whom? Someone who will simply destroy the US with a single keystroke? And some people believe that…

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