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What are the potential consequences for the United States if Russia attacks Ukraine?

New reports suggest that some Russian forces may be withdrawing from the region, but the threat of invasion remains and Biden has warned of economic sanctions.

Update:
New reports suggest that some Russian forces may be withdrawing from the region, but the threat of invasion remains and Biden has warned of economic sanctions.
Chris McGrathGetty Images

On Tuesday Russia’s defence ministry announced that it intends to withdraw some of its troops from the Ukrainian border, which has been seen as an effort to de-escalate the tension in the region.

Defence spokesperson Igor Konashenkov reiterated the claim that military personnel in the area were simply there for military exercises, but said that it planned to remove some troops from “practically all military districts, fleets, and the airborne forces”.

However there will remain a considerable Russian military presence in the area and White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan has warned that “any day now, Russia could take military action against Ukraine.”

In recent weeks reports of Russian military activity near Ukraine had heightened as President Vladimir Putin assembled a 100,000-strong force along the border. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, what would be the consequences for the United States?

Biden confirms that US will not become involved in fighting

Earlier this month the US deployed 3,000 additional troops in Eastern Europe, stationed in NATO allies Poland, Germany and Romania. However in announcing the move, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said: "These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine."

Ukraine is not a member of NATO and the US has no desire to become embroiled in a military conflict with Russia. President Biden has opted to send additional troops to the surrounding region but there appears no chance of American troops facing Russian forces in Ukraine.

Economic sanctions could be on the way for Russia

While the US is extremely reluctant to become involved any fighting, the White House has reiterated that any Russian incursion into Ukraine will be met with the harshest possible economic sanctions. Biden said recently that Russia will face “swift and severe costs” if it goes ahead with an invasion, but what could that entail?

Western nations could act together to remove Russia from the SWIFT financial system, the global mechanism which allows money to move from bank to bank between different countries. This would make it much more difficult for Russians to send money overseas or to receive money.

Another potential sanction would be to restrict Russia’s access to US dollars. The US currency is the global reserve and is frequently used in international transactions, relied upon by everyone from individuals to nation states.

Economic sanctions could also make it more difficult for Russia to procure technologies, either by imposing hefty levies or by outlawing their sale to Russia entirely. Some things could be sourced from Russia’s allies but the move could undoubtedly cause major disruption to all facets of the Russian economy, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

Potential blowback for Biden

President Biden’s first few months in office were broadly successful as he achieved some early legislative wins but that positivity was swiftly checked by his first major foreign policy issue; the bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The speed at which the US lost control, happening even before all American forces had left the country, was an embarrassment for Biden and allowed his detractors to paint him as 'weak' on a global stage. That will be a major consideration for the President as he looks to deal with Russian advances, painfully aware of his slumping approval ratings with the mid-terms on the horizon.

In an interview with Fox News on Saturday former President Trump suggested that the botched withdraw from Afghanistan may have prompted Putin to advance on Ukraine, saying: "When they watched all of that I think they got emboldened.”

If Biden is unable to comprehensively pacify the situation in Eastern Europe he and his party will likely suffer at the polls later this year.

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