argues that Russia is moving out of authoritarianism — where political passivity and civic disengagement are key features — into totalitarianism, which relies on mass mobilization, terror and homogeneity of beliefs. He believes Mr. Putin is on the brink, but may hesitate to make the shift.

“In a totalitarian system, you have to release free energy to start terror,” he said. Mr. Putin, he said, “is a control freak, used to micromanagement.”

However, if the Russian state starts to fail, either through a collapse of Russia’s economy or a complete military defeat in Ukraine, “unleashing terror will be the only way for him to save himself.”

Which is why the current situation is so dangerous, for Ukraine and for people in Russia opposed Mr. Putin.

“Putin is so convinced that he cannot afford to lose, that he will escalate,” Professor Yudin said. “He has staked everything on it.”

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Russia facing most difficult situation in three decades, PM says, article with image

Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin delivers a speech during a session of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in Moscow, Russia April 7, 2022. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS

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April 7 (Reuters) – Russia is facing its most difficult situation in three decades due to unprecedented Western sanctions, but foreign attempts to isolate it from the global economy will fail, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Thursday.

Western countries are progressively broadening an array of economic sanctions imposed to try to force Russia to end its military operation in Ukraine and withdraw its forces.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

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“No doubt, the current situation could be called the most difficult in three decades for Russia,” Mishustin told the Duma, or lower house of parliament. “Such sanctions were not used even in the darkest times of the Cold War.”

Western sanctions have already cut Russia off from the global financial network and left a number of its top banks with no access to the international SWIFT banking messaging system, while some traders have started to refuse Russian oil cargoes, intensifying pressure on Moscow’s finances.

Before the recent sanctions, Russia planned to run a budget surplus of 1.3 trillion roubles ($17 billion) this year, equal to 1% of gross domestic product. On Thursday, Mishustin said Russia would spend all it will earn this year on state aid.

The government has so far pledged over 1 trillion roubles in anti-crisis support to businesses, on social payments and to families with children, of which 250 billion roubles are to be spent on state aid for the Russian Railways.

Russia has introduced capital controls in retaliation for the sanctions, making it nearly impossible for foreign investors to sell their assets, both industrial and financial, if they decide to pull out of the country.

“If you have to leave, production should continue working as it provides jobs. Our citizens work there,” Mishustin said.

The Kremlin has suggested that it may nationalise assets held by Western investors who decide to depart.

As some of the companies leaving are transferring their holdings to Russian companies, Mishustin said, the situation offered scope for new business opportunities. read more

“Our financial system, the lifeblood of the entire economy, has held up,” Mishustin said. “The stock market and the rouble are stabilising. I doubt that any other country would have withstood this. We did.”

The European Commission proposed on Tuesday new sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including a ban on buying Russian coal and on Russian ships entering EU ports, and said it was working on banning oil imports too. read more

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Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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Factbox: How Western sanctions target Russia, article with image

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Skyscrapers of the Moscow International Business Centre, also known as “Moskva-City”, are seen from Ostankino tower on a frosty winter day in Moscow, Russia January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

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NEW YORK, April 6 (Reuters) – The West’s punishment of Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine ramped up this week following the discovery of civilians shot dead at close range in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, seized from Russian forces. read more

Below are details on Westernsanctions so far:

BANKS & FINANCIAL FIRMS read more

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The U.S. imposed “full blocking sanctions” on Sberbank (SBER.MM), which holds one-third of Russia’s total banking assets, and Alfabank, the country’s fourth largest financial institution. That means U.S. persons cannot do business with the lenders, while any of their assets that touch the U.S financial system are frozen.

Britain also on Wednesday froze Sberbank’s assets.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday was set to sign an executive order prohibiting new investment in Russia by U.S. persons, which includes a ban on venture capital and mergers, U.S. officials said. read more

Previous sanctions by the U.S., Britain and other Western allies in the days following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which it calls “a special military operation,” kicked the vast majority of Russian banking assets out of those countries, although some activities were allowed to continue.

U.S. banks were required to sever correspondent banking ties, which allow banks to make payments between one another, with Sberbank. Russian lenders VTB, Otkritie, Novikombank and Sovcombank, were also subject to full blocking sanctions.

European Union sanctions hit 70% of the Russian banking system. read more

INDIVIDUALS

The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s wife and daughter, and senior members of Russia’s security council.

Separately, the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday said it charged Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev with violating existing sanctions, saying he provided financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea. read more

The U.S. government on Feb. 25 joined European countries in slapping sanctions on Putin and Lavrov.

More than 100 Russian elites, including members of Putin’s inner circle, members of the Russian parliament, and Russian executives and businessmen, have been sanctioned since Feb. 24 by Western nations. read more

SWIFT BAR read more

The United States, Britain, Europe and Canada in February and March blocked certain Russian lenders’ access to the SWIFT international payment system, preventing the lenders from conducting most of their financial transactions worldwide.

The movealso placed restrictions on the Russian central bank’s international reserves, the nations said in a joint statement. read more

SWIFT is used by more than 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries.

SOVEREIGN DEBT & CAPITAL MARKETS

This week, the United States stopped the Russian government from paying holders of its sovereign debt more than $600 million from reserves held at U.S. banks.

Under earlier sanctions, foreign currency reserves held by the Russian central bank at U.S. lenders were frozen, but the Treasury had allowed Moscow to use those funds to make coupon payments on dollar-denominated sovereign debt on a case-by-case basis. On Monday, Washington decided to cut off Moscow’s access to the funds, according to a U.S. Treasury spokesperson.

In late February, Britain, the European Union and the United States put new restrictions on dealing in Russian sovereign debt. read more

Britain announced a ban on Russian sovereign debt sales in London, the European Union banned EU investors from trading in Russian state bonds, and U.S. investors, who were already barred from investing in Russian sovereign debt directly, were banned from purchasing it in the secondary market from March 1.

ENERGY

U.S. President Biden on March 8 imposed an immediate ban on Russian oil and other energy imports and Britain said it would phase out imports through the end of 2022. read more

Berlin on Feb. 22 halted the certification of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project designed to double the flow of Russian gas direct to Germany. The following day the United States imposed sanctions on the company in charge of building the pipeline. read more

The United States and the EU already had sanctions in place following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea on Russia’s energy and defense sectors, with state-owned gas company Gazprom (GAZP.MM), its oil arm Gazpromneft and oil producers Lukoil, Rosneft and Surgutneftegaz (SNGS.MM) facing various types of curbs on exports/imports and debt-raising.

CURBING TECHNOLOGY

Sanctions proposed by the European Union on Tuesday, which the bloc’s 27 member states must approve, would bar Russian imports worth 9 billion euros ($9.8 billion) and exports to Russia worth 10 billion euros, including semiconductors and computers, and stop Russian ships entering EU ports. read more

The EU earlier vowed to introduce measures to crimp Russia’s technological position in key areas – from high-tech components to cutting-edge software.

The U.S. Commerce Department imposed export controls that severely restrict Russia’s access to semiconductors, computers, telecommunications, information security equipment, lasers, and sensors that it needs to sustain its military capabilities.

Similar measures were deployed during the Cold War, when sanctions kept the Soviet Union technologically backward and crimped economic growth.

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Reporting by John McCrank in New York, Michelle Price in Washington, Karin Strohecker and Catherine Belton in London; Editing by Chris Reese

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Continues Bombardment, but Its Forces Have Shrunk, Pentagon Says

WASHINGTON — When the Cold War ended, governments and companies believed that stronger global economic ties would lead to greater stability. But the Ukraine war and the pandemic are pushing the world in the opposite direction and upending those ideas.

Important parts of the integrated economy are unwinding. American and European officials are now using sanctions to sever major parts of the Russian economy — the 11th largest in the world — from global commerce, and hundreds of Western companies have halted operations in Russia on their own. Amid the pandemic, companies are reorganizing how they obtain their goods because of soaring costs and unpredictable delays in global supply chains.

Western officials and executives are also rethinking how they do business with China, the world’s second-largest economy, as geopolitical tensions and the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses and use of advanced technology to reinforce autocratic control make corporate dealings more fraught.

The moves reverse core tenets of post-Cold War economic and foreign policies forged by the United States and its allies that were even adopted by rivals like Russia and China.

“What we’re headed toward is a more divided world economically that will mirror what is clearly a more divided world politically,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t think economic integration survives a period of political disintegration.”

“Does globalization and economic interdependence reduce conflict?” he added. “I think the answer is yes, until it doesn’t.”

Opposition to globalization gained momentum with the Trump administration’s trade policies and “America First” drive, and as the progressive left became more powerful. But the pandemic and President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have brought into sharp relief the uncertainty of the existing economic order.

President Biden warned President Xi Jinping of China on Friday that there would be “consequences” if Beijing gave material aid to Russia for the war in Ukraine, an implicit threat of sanctions. China has criticized sanctions on Russia, and Le Yucheng, the vice foreign minister, said in a speech on Saturday that “globalization should not be weaponized.” Yet China increasingly has imposed economic punishments — Lithuania, Norway, Australia, Japan and South Korea have been among the targets.

The result of all the disruptions may well be a fracturing of the world into economic blocs, as countries and companies gravitate to ideological corners with distinct markets and pools of labor, as they did in much of the 20th century.

Mr. Biden already frames his foreign policy in ideological terms, as a mission of unifying democracies against autocracies. Mr. Biden also says he is enacting a foreign policy for middle-class Americans, and central to that is getting companies to move critical supply chains and manufacturing out of China.

The goal is given urgency by the hobbling of those global links over two years of the pandemic, which has brought about a realization among the world’s most powerful companies that they need to focus on not just efficiency and cost, but also resiliency. This month, lockdowns China imposed to contain Covid-19 outbreaks have once again threatened to stall global supply chains.

Credit…Kin Cheung/Associated Press

The economic impact of such a change is highly uncertain. The emergence of new economic blocs could accelerate a massive reorganization in financial flows and supply chains, potentially slowing growth, leading to some shortages and raising prices for consumers in the short term. But the longer-term effects on global growth, worker wages and supplies of goods are harder to assess.

The war has set in motion “deglobalization forces that could have profound and unpredictable effects,” said Laurence Boone, the chief economist of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

For decades, executives have pushed for globalization to expand their markets and to exploit cheap labor and lax environmental standards. China especially has benefited from this, while Russia profits from its exports of minerals and energy. They tap into enormous economies: The Group of 7 industrialized nations make up more than 50 percent of the global economy, while China and Russia together account for about 20 percent.

Trade and business ties between the United States and China are still robust, despite steadily worsening relations. But with the new Western sanctions on Russia, many nations that are not staunch partners of America are now more aware of the perils of being economically tied to the United States and its allies.

If Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin organize their own economic coalition, they could bring in other nations seeking to shield themselves from Western sanctions — a tool that all recent U.S. presidents have used.

“Your interdependence can be weaponized against you,” said Dani Rodrik, a professor of international political economy at Harvard Kennedy School. “That’s a lesson that I imagine many countries are beginning to internalize.”

The Ukraine war, he added, has “probably put a nail in the coffin of hyperglobalization.”

China and, increasingly, Russia have taken steps to wall off their societies, including erecting strict censorship mechanisms on their internet networks, which have cut off their citizens from foreign perspectives and some commerce. China is on a drive to make critical industries self-sufficient, including for technologies like semiconductors.

And China has been in talks with Saudi Arabia to pay for some oil purchases in China’s currency, the renminbi, The Wall Street Journal reported; Russia was in similar discussions with India. The efforts show a desire by those governments to move away from dollar-based transactions, a foundation of American global economic power.

For decades, prominent U.S. officials and strategists asserted that a globalized economy was a pillar of what they call the rules-based international order, and that trade and financial ties would prevent major powers from going to war. The United States helped usher China into the World Trade Organization in 2001 in a bid to bring its economic behavior — and, some officials hoped, its political system — more in line with the West. Russia joined the organization in 2012.

But Mr. Putin’s war and China’s recent aggressive actions in Asia have challenged those notions.

“The whole idea of the liberal international order was that economic interdependence would prevent conflict of this kind,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a research group in Washington. “If you tie yourselves to each other, which was the European model after the Second World War, the disincentives would be so painful if you went to war that no one in their right mind would do it. Well, we’ve seen now that has proven to be false.”

“Putin’s actions have shown us that might have been the world we’ve been living in, but that’s not the world he or China have been living in,” she said.

The United States and its partners have blocked Russia from much of the international financial system by banning transactions with the Russian central bank. They have also cut Russia off from the global bank messaging system called SWIFT, frozen the assets of Russian leaders and oligarchs, and banned the export from the United States and other nations of advanced technology to Russia. Russia has answered with its own export bans on food, cars and timber.

The penalties can lead to odd decouplings: British and European sanctions on Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who owns the Chelsea soccer team in Britain, prevent the club from selling tickets or merchandise.

Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

About 400 companies have chosen to suspend or withdraw operations from Russia, including iconic brands of global consumerism such as Apple, Ikea and Rolex.

While many countries remain dependent on Russian energy exports, governments are strategizing how to wean themselves. Washington and London have announced plans to end imports of Russian oil.

The outstanding question is whether any of the U.S.-led penalties would one day be extended to China, which is a far bigger and more integral part of the global economy than Russia.

Even outside the Ukraine war, Mr. Biden has continued many Trump administration policies aimed at delinking parts of the American economy from that of China and punishing Beijing for its commercial practices.

Officials have kept the tariffs imposed by Mr. Trump, which covered about two-thirds of Chinese imports. The Treasury Department has continued to impose investment bans on Chinese companies with ties to the country’s military. And in June, a law will go into effect in the United States barring many goods made in whole or in part in the region of Xinjiang.

Despite all that, demand for Chinese-made goods has surged through the pandemic, as Americans splurge on online purchases. The overall U.S. trade deficit soared to record levels last year, pushed up by a widening deficit with China, and foreign investments into China actually accelerated last year.

Some economists have called for more global integration, not less. Speaking at a virtual conference on Monday, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director general of the World Trade Organization, urged a move toward “re-globalization,” saying, “Deeper, more diversified international markets remain our best bet for supply resilience.

But those economic ties will be further strained if U.S.-China relations worsen, and especially if China gives substantial aid to Russia.

Besides recent warnings to China from Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has said her agency would ban the sale of critical American technology to Chinese companies if China tried to supply forbidden technology to Russia.

In the meantime, the uncertainty has left the U.S.-China relationship in flux. While many major Chinese banks and private companies have suspended their interactions with Russia to comply with sanctions, foreign asset managers appear to have also begun moving their money out of China in recent weeks, possibly in anticipation of sanctions.

Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said she did not expect China to “throw all in” with Russia, but that the war could still strain economic ties by worsening U.S.-China relations.

“Right now, there is great uncertainty as to how the U.S. and China will respond to the challenges posed by Russia’s increasingly urgent need for assistance,” she said. “That policy uncertainty is another push to multinationals who were already rethinking supply chains.”

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Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Strikes Kyiv Mall; Mariupol Refuses to Yield

In destructive power, the behemoths of the Cold War dwarfed the American atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Washington’s biggest test blast was 1,000 times as large. Moscow’s was 3,000 times. On both sides, the idea was to deter strikes with threats of vast retaliation — with mutual assured destruction, or MAD. The psychological bar was so high that nuclear strikes came to be seen as unthinkable.

Today, both Russia and the United States have nuclear arms that are much less destructive — their power just fractions of the Hiroshima bomb’s force, their use perhaps less frightening and more thinkable.

Concern about these smaller arms has soared as Vladimir V. Putin, in the Ukraine war, has warned of his nuclear might, has put his atomic forces on alert and has had his military carry out risky attacks on nuclear power plants. The fear is that if Mr. Putin feels cornered in the conflict, he might choose to detonate one of his lesser nuclear arms — breaking the taboo set 76 years ago after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Analysts note that Russian troops have long practiced the transition from conventional to nuclear war, especially as a way to gain the upper hand after battlefield losses. And the military, they add, wielding the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, has explored a variety of escalatory options that Mr. Putin might choose from.

“The chances are low but rising,” said Ulrich Kühn, a nuclear expert at the University of Hamburg and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The war is not going well for the Russians,” he observed, “and the pressure from the West is increasing.”

Mr. Putin might fire a weapon at an uninhabited area instead of at troops, Dr. Kühn said. In a 2018 study, he laid out a crisis scenario in which Moscow detonated a bomb over a remote part of the North Sea as a way to signal deadlier strikes to come.

“It feels horrible to talk about these things,” Dr. Kühn said in an interview. “But we have to consider that this is becoming a possibility.”

Washington expects more atomic moves from Mr. Putin in the days ahead. Moscow is likely to “increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength” as the war and its consequences weaken Russia, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

President Biden is traveling to a NATO summit in Brussels this week to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The agenda is expected to include how the alliance will respond if Russia employs chemical, biological, cyber or nuclear weapons.

James R. Clapper Jr., a retired Air Force general who served as President Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence, said Moscow had lowered its bar for atomic use after the Cold War when the Russian army fell into disarray. Today, he added, Russia regards nuclear arms as utilitarian rather than unthinkable.

“They didn’t care,” Mr. Clapper said of Russian troops’ risking a radiation release earlier this month when they attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor site — the largest not only in Ukraine but in Europe. “They went ahead and fired on it. That’s indicative of the Russian laissez-faire attitude. They don’t make the distinctions that we do on nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Putin announced last month that he was putting Russian nuclear forces into “special combat readiness.” Pavel Podvig, a longtime researcher of Russia’s nuclear forces, said the alert had most likely primed the Russian command and control system for the possibility of receiving a nuclear order.

It’s unclear how Russia exerts control over its arsenal of less destructive arms. But some U.S. politicians and experts have denounced the smaller weapons on both sides as threatening to upend the global balance of nuclear terror.

Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

For Russia, military analysts note, edgy displays of the less destructive arms have let Mr. Putin polish his reputation for deadly brinkmanship and expand the zone of intimidation he needs to fight a bloody conventional war.

“Putin is using nuclear deterrence to have his way in Ukraine,” said Nina Tannenwald, a political scientist at Brown University who recently profiled the less powerful armaments. “His nuclear weapons keep the West from intervening.”

A global race for the smaller arms is intensifying. Though such weapons are less destructive by Cold War standards, modern estimates show that the equivalent of half a Hiroshima bomb, if detonated in Midtown Manhattan, would kill or injure half a million people.

The case against these arms is that they undermine the nuclear taboo and make crisis situations even more dangerous. Their less destructive nature, critics say, can feed the illusion of atomic control when in fact their use can suddenly flare into a full-blown nuclear war. A simulation devised by experts at Princeton University starts with Moscow firing a nuclear warning shot; NATO responds with a small strike, and the ensuing war yields more than 90 million casualties in its first few hours.

No arms control treaties regulate the lesser warheads, known sometimes as tactical or nonstrategic nuclear weapons, so the nuclear superpowers make and deploy as many as they want. Russia has perhaps 2,000, according to Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington. And the United States has roughly 100 in Europe, a number limited by domestic policy disputes and the political complexities of basing them among NATO allies, whose populations often resist and protest the weapons’ presence.

Russia’s atomic war doctrine came to be known as “escalate to de-escalate” — meaning routed troops would fire a nuclear weapon to stun an aggressor into retreat or submission. Moscow repeatedly practiced the tactic in field exercises. In 1999, for instance, a large drill simulated a NATO attack on Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. The exercise had Russian forces in disarray until Moscow fired nuclear arms at Poland and the United States.

Dr. Kühn of the University of Hamburg said the defensive training drills of the 1990s had turned toward offense in the 2000s as the Russian army regained some of its former strength.

Concurrent with its new offensive strategy, Russia embarked on a modernization of its nuclear forces, including its less destructive arms. As in the West, some of the warheads were given variable explosive yields that could be dialed up or down depending on the military situation.

A centerpiece of the new arsenal was the Iskander-M, first deployed in 2005. The mobile launcher can fire two missiles that travel roughly 300 miles. The missiles can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads. Russian figures put the smallest nuclear blast from those missiles at roughly a third that of the Hiroshima bomb.

Before the Russian army invaded Ukraine, satellite images showed that Moscow had deployed Iskander missile batteries in Belarus and to its east in Russian territory. There’s no public data on whether Russia has armed any of the Iskanders with nuclear warheads.

Nikolai Sokov, a former Russian diplomat who negotiated arms control treaties in Soviet times, said that nuclear warheads could also be placed on cruise missiles. The low-flying weapons, launched from planes, ships or the ground, hug the local terrain to avoid detection by enemy radar.

From inside Russian territory, he said, “they can reach all of Europe,” including Britain.

Over the years, the United States and its NATO allies have sought to rival Russia’s arsenal of lesser nuclear arms. It started decades ago as the United States began sending bombs for fighter jets to military bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands. Dr. Kühn noted that the alliance, in contrast to Russia, does not conduct field drills practicing a transition from conventional to nuclear war.

In 2010, Mr. Obama, who had long advocated for a “nuclear-free world,” decided to refurbish and improve the NATO weapons, turning them into smart bombs with maneuverable fins that made their targeting highly precise. That, in turn, gave war planners the freedom to lower the weapons’ variable explosive force to as little as 2 percent of that of the Hiroshima bomb.

The reduced blast capability made breaking the nuclear taboo “more thinkable,” Gen. James E. Cartwright, a vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Mr. Obama, warned at the time. He nonetheless backed the program because the high degree of precision lowered the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties. But after years of funding and manufacturing delays, the refurbished bomb, known as the B61 Model 12, is not expected to be deployed in Europe until next year, Mr. Kristensen said.

Credit…Randy Montoya/Sandia Labs

The steady Russian buildups and the slow American responses prompted the Trump administration to propose a new missile warhead in 2018. Its destructive force was seen as roughly half that of the Hiroshima bomb, according to Mr. Kristensen. It was to be deployed on the nation’s fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines.

While some experts warned that the bomb, known as the W76 Model 2, could make it more tempting for a president to order a nuclear strike, the Trump administration argued that the weapon would lower the risk of war by ensuring that Russia would face the threat of proportional counterstrikes. It was deployed in late 2019.

“It’s all about psychology — deadly psychology,” said Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear expert who backed the new warhead and, before leaving public office in 2005, held Pentagon and White House posts for three decades. “If your opponent thinks he has a battlefield edge, you try to convince him that he’s wrong.”

When he was a candidate for the presidency, Joseph R. Biden Jr. called the less powerful warhead a “bad idea” that would make presidents “more inclined” to use it. But Mr. Kristensen said the Biden administration seemed unlikely to remove the new warhead from the nation’s submarines.

It’s unclear how Mr. Biden would respond to the use of a nuclear weapon by Mr. Putin. Nuclear war plans are one of Washington’s most deeply held secrets. Experts say that the war-fighting plans in general go from warning shots to single strikes to multiple retaliations and that the hardest question is whether there are reliable ways to prevent a conflict from escalating.

Even Mr. Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said he was unsure how he would advise Mr. Biden if Mr. Putin unleashed his nuclear arms.

“When do you stop?” he asked of nuclear retaliation. “You can’t just keep turning the other cheek. At some point we’d have to do something.”

A U.S. response to a small Russian blast, experts say, might be to fire one of the new submarine-launched warheads into the wilds of Siberia or at a military base inside Russia. Mr. Miller, the former government nuclear official and a former chairman of NATO’s nuclear policy committee, said such a blast would be a way of signaling to Moscow that “this is serious, that things are getting out of hand.”

Military strategists say a tit-for-tat rejoinder would throw the responsibility for further escalation back at Russia, making Moscow feel its ominous weight and ideally keeping the situation from spinning out of control despite the dangers in war of miscalculation and accident.

In a darker scenario, Mr. Putin might resort to using atomic arms if the war in Ukraine spilled into neighboring NATO states. All NATO members, including the United States, are obliged to defend one another — potentially with salvos of nuclear warheads.

Dr. Tannenwald, the political scientist at Brown University, wondered if the old protections of nuclear deterrence, now rooted in opposing lines of less destructive arms, would succeed in keeping the peace.

“It sure doesn’t feel that way in a crisis,” she said.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.

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Biden and Xi set to clash over Putin’s war in Ukraine, article with image

  • Biden tells Xi China would face costs from U.S. and wider world
  • Xi says sanctions could trigger serious crisis in global economy
  • Xi and Biden both stress need for diplomatic solution

WASHINGTON/BEIJING, March 18 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden warned Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday of ‘consequences’ if Beijing gave material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House said, while both sides stressed the need for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

While the White House did not detail what those consequences could be, or how the U.S. would define “material support”, press secretary Jen Psaki indicated China’s massive trade flows could be impacted.

“Sanctions are certainly one tool in the tool box,” Psaki told a regular news briefing when asked whether China, the world’s largest exporter, could face trade tariffs or sanctions.

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Speaking after a nearly two-hour video call between Biden and Xi, Psaki said the United States would communicate any consequences directly to Beijing “with our European partners and counterparts.”

In the call, which came at a time of deepening acrimony between the world’s two biggest powers, Biden detailed efforts of the United States and its allies to respond to the invasion of Ukraine, including by imposing costs on Russia.

“He described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” the White House said in statement, adding that Biden “underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.”

A senior U.S. official briefing reporters on the call said Biden communicated that Beijing would face consequences not just from the United States but the wider world.

“The president really wasn’t making specific requests of China,” the official said. “I think our view is that China will make its own decisions.”

China’s foreign ministry said Xi told Biden the war in Ukraine must end as soon as possible and called on NATO nations to hold a dialogue with Moscow. He did not, however, assign blame to Russia for the invasion, based on Beijing’s statements about the call.

“The top priorities now are to continue dialogue and negotiations, avoid civilian casualties, prevent a humanitarian crisis, cease fighting and end the war as soon as possible,” Xi said.

Xi advocated Russia-Ukraine dialogue and negotiations, and suggested Washington and NATO conduct talks with Russia to solve the “crux” of the Ukraine crisis and resolve the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine.

“The Ukraine crisis is something that we don’t want to see,” Chinese state media quoted Xi saying in the call, which it said was requested by the U.S. side.

Xi warned against sanctions.

A TV screen shows news of a video meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Hong Kong, China November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

“Sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions would only make the people suffer. If further escalated, they could trigger serious crises in global economy and trade, finance, energy, food, and industrial and supply chains, crippling the already languishing world economy and causing irrevocable losses,” the ministry quoted him as saying.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was concerned China was considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment for use in Ukraine, something Beijing has denied.

Washington is also worried that China could help Russia circumvent Western economic sanctions.

Targeting Beijing with the sort of extensive economic sanctions already imposed on Russia would have potentially dire consequences for the United States and the world, given that China is the world’s second-largest economy and the largest exporter.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its fourth week, has killed hundreds of civilians, reduced city areas to rubble and sparked a humanitarian crisis as millions flee the country. read more

China has refused to condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine or call it an invasion.

Russia fired missiles at an airport near Lviv on Friday, a city where hundreds of thousands had sought refuge far from Ukraine’s battlefields, as Moscow tries to regain the initiative in its stalled campaign against Ukraine, which it calls a special military operation. read more

U.S.-CHINA TENSIONS

Ukraine has added a new front in a U.S.-Chinese relationship already at its worst level in decades, further deflating Biden’s initial hopes of easing a wide range of disputes by using a personal connection with Xi that predates his term in office.

Biden has been anxious to avoid a new “Cold War” with China, seeking instead to define the relationship as one of competitive coexistence, but China’s “no-limits” strategic partnership with Russia announced last month and its stance on Ukraine has called that into question.

Ahead of the call, a Chinese aircraft carrier sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Friday. The USS Ralph Johnson, an Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer, shadowed the carrier at least partly on its route. read more

China claims Taiwan as its own, and has stepped up its military activity near the islands, alarming Taipei and Washington amid concerns that Beijing might follow Russia’s example and use force.

While saying it recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty, Beijing has repeatedly said that Russia has legitimate security concerns that should be addressed and urged a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina, Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington and Martin Quin Pollard, Ryan Woo and Beijing Newsroom; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Raissa Kasolowsky

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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