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The US and the EU have introduced numerous sanctions recently but its not very clear what options are still on the table, short of an actual invasion. One option that's commonly discussed in the media is kicking Russia out of SWIFT but I presume its not the only one.

Have there been any systematic attempts to list every single possible sanction the West could do against Russia? Given that the Ukrainian conflict started out 7 years ago, I presume such a compilation exists somewhere.

Update: looks like those measures are now being implemented in real time...

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  • "its not very clear what options are still on the table, short of an actual invasion" More sanctions. Like seizing overseas assets of Russian oligarchs and whatever is left there. Also the second part of the question is a separate question. It usually works better not to mix two questions in one. Feb 26, 2022 at 16:25
  • Is "sanctioning China" a measure on the table? To some people, that might give Russia the biggest pressure.
    – No One
    Feb 28, 2022 at 19:13
  • Just waiting for the already imposed sanction to fully see their effects is also a valid option. The current sanction triggered what may be a banking run and the Moscow stock exchange is closed. Just waiting for a week or two and seeing how that will play out should be a valid option for the West that should see increasing economical pain without any further actions.
    – quarague
    Mar 1, 2022 at 10:06

5 Answers 5

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SWIFT for instance. (Iran has been kicked out, for comparison.) Which is more or less the same as not buying any Russian (natural) gas. A hard pill to swallow in some parts of Europe. For this reason (FT graph):

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Actually, the more recent news indicate that such an agreement might be reached. Canada came out strongly in favor, but they have least to worry about in terms of economic blowback.

On the other hand, Germany did change their mind about sending weapons to Ukraine, yesterday.

Speaking of weapons shipments, given the urgency of the situation, mostly man-portable AT and AA weapons have been pledged/sent.

If one were to remember the Vietnam war though, the Soviets supported North Vietnam with advisers on the ground and more sophisticated AA sites. Something that the West insofar has been very reluctant to do, even before the "hot conflict" proper started.

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Theoretically, UN can rescind recognition of the Russian Federation as a successor state of the Soviet Union.

While this is a far-fetched possibility, it's not entirely unprecedented. UN did replace Taiwan with PRC. And this was despite Taiwan being a founding member and a permanent Security Council member.

This action was accomplished with the General Assembly resolution 2758 ejecting Taiwan from the organization.

Loss of UN membership would result in RF's loss of membership in all of UN's organizations, including the Security Council.

Given that the Russian Federation ignored all UN norms in its invasion of Ukraine, the cause for ejection would not be difficult to formulate.

Despite this being a de jure possibility, pragmatic considerations make it almost impossible.

However, even an attempt to hold such a vote in the UN General Assembly would be such a rare and far-reaching event that it would be difficult to predict the full range of its possible consequences. It would be a collapse-of-the-Berlin-Wall type moment.

If it resulted in RF's suing for peace, it would demonstrably significantly strengthen UN's ability to accomplish its mission of preventing war.

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  • More economic sanctions. Surely more is still possible including but not limited to seizing of Russian overseas assets (after all the surplus of the Russian economy cannot be all invested in Russia itself only, one would need to look in tax heavens probably)
  • Put pressure on so far neutral states to join in on the sanctions.
  • Try to lower the price of oil and gas (not sure how easy that would be, maybe talk with OPEC about it?) to lower income of sales of resources for Russia.
  • Support Ukraine with weapons and intelligence information. And it's thinkable that even if Russia should fully occupy Ukraine, a military support of a "resistance" might still be possible.
  • Closing sea ways to Russian traffic (like Suez or Panama canal or the Bosporus or Kattegat)
  • A resolution of the general UN council condemning Russia
  • Expanding NATO further to include for example Finland or Sweden
  • Cyber attacks (not an expert there, just mentioned for completeness)
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At this point, the economic sanctions are very short of a total embargo. Only a few percent of Russians are able to obtain restricted Western goods. On the other hand, none of these are life necessities, and most of the population has never been able to use or afford them anyway.

The one sanction that has had an effect on Russia's internal affairs was the restriction on semiconductor sales, particularly industrial ones. These are very difficult to overcome, as replacing them with Chinese or domestic equivalents requires a redesign and possibly a recertification.

Another was the ban on air travel and technical support for all aircraft. Short-term, it just prevents Russians from leaving their country. In the long term, it will cause an increased aircraft accident rate in Russia, as airliners will have to run on refurbished parts. This will harm internal and foreign tourism.

  • The next legitimate level of escalation would be a blockade. That is, use of military force to interfere with the ability of other countries to supply goods and services to the target.
    A blockade is considered an act of war. However, unlike an invasion, it's not likely to trigger a nuclear response, since it's not an existential threat.

There are few nations left to blockade, though. A blockade against Chinese shipments would be difficult to enforce, without involving Taiwan, and doing so would give the PRC a legitimate casus belli against the ROC, something they've been waiting for.

  • NATO can engage in a proxy war against Russia - Western hardware, Ukrainian personnel. The first steps seem to be in the works. With enough financial commitment, this would start a second Cold War, and the first one didn't end well for the Soviet Union.

The drawbacks include a second Cold War. This would also all but guarantee invasions of less-defensible countries, as there's no room for further escalation, and Putin might need these countries as trading chips.

The potential risk is a symmetrical response. So far, there has been no meaningful increase in Russian-aligned hacker activity, with the exception of minor DDoS annoyances against a few media outlets. It's not clear if this risk is as major as it seems, as there is a suspicion that many "Russian hacker groups" only branded themselves as Russian.

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The west can target Putin specifically. For example, declare Putin a criminal of war. This might delegitimize him in the eyes of his soldiers. EDIT: this is on the way.

They can also try other means to attract Russian soldiers away from Putin's army, for example, promise compensation for defectors.

A more extreme measure could be to put a bounty on Putin's head. This was done in the past by Iran against people who were considered by them to insult the Islam. It did not have much practical effect, but it might have a psychological effect. EDIT: this has been done - not by the west but by a former Russian citizen.

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    "A more extreme measure could be to put a bounty on Putin's head. ". Sure, if you want to start WW3. Any such action would likely be seen by Russia as an act of war.
    – Polygnome
    Mar 1, 2022 at 13:20
  • @Polygnome they say the same about the economic sanctions: "A great deal is being said about the banking sector. Gas, oil, SWIFT. It’s worse than war. Russia is being pushed toward a third world war." timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/… Everything that may interfere with Putin's plans in any way can be considered by Putin and his allies "an act of war". Mar 1, 2022 at 16:12
  • Yes, everything can be seen as an act of war. But that doesn't mean we need to be the ones actively starting it. Because a bounty on a foreign head of state is just that. Economic sanctions are still a diplomatic measure. I doubt the brass in the Kremlin would go along with Putin starting WW3 over that. But they might go along with it if there is a bounty on their head of state. If you cannot see the enormous difference between the two you are blind to reality.
    – Polygnome
    Mar 1, 2022 at 21:51
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    We put a bounty on Putin's head and expect him not to respond with the same or greater actions?
    – Joe W
    Mar 7, 2022 at 19:05
  • @JoeW I'd expect a symmetrical response, like bounties on all NATO heads of state. And, given Putin's security paranoia compared to the relative accessibility of Western leaders, plus Putin's history of carrying out political assassinations abroad...
    – Therac
    Mar 7, 2022 at 20:01

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