The Biden administration and its allies are assembling a punishing set of financial, technology and military sanctions against Russia that they say would go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine, hoping to make clear to President Vladimir V. Putin the high cost he would pay if he sends troops across the border.
In interviews, officials described details of those plans for the first time, just ahead of a series of diplomatic negotiations to defuse the crisis with Moscow, one of the most perilous moments in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The talks begin on Monday in Geneva and then move across Europe.
The plans the United States has discussed with allies in recent days include cutting off Russia’s largest financial institutions from global transactions, imposing an embargo on American-made or American-designed technology needed for defense-related and consumer industries, and arming insurgents in Ukraine who would conduct what would amount to a guerrilla war against a Russian military occupation, if it comes to that.
Such moves are rarely telegraphed in advance. But with the negotiations looming — and the fate of Europe’s post-Cold War borders and NATO’s military presence on the continent at stake — President Biden’s advisers say they are trying to signal to Mr. Putin exactly what he would face, at home and abroad, in hopes of influencing his decisions in coming weeks.
While the Commerce and Treasury Departments work on sanctions that would maximize America’s advantages over Russia, the Pentagon is developing plans that have echoes of the proxy wars of the 1960s and ’70s.
Understand the Escalating Tensions Over Ukraine
A brewing conflict. Antagonism between Ukraine and Russia has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, annexing Crimea and whipping up a rebellion in the east. A tenuous cease-fire was reached in 2015, but peace has been elusive.
A spike in hostilities. Russia has recently been building up forces near its border with Ukraine, and the Kremlin’s rhetoric toward its neighbor has hardened. Concern grew in late October, when Ukraine used an armed drone to attack a howitzer operated by Russian-backed separatists.
Ominous warnings. Russia called the strike a destabilizing act that violated the cease-fire agreement, raising fears of a new intervention in Ukraine that could draw the United States and Europe into a new phase of the conflict.
The Kremlin’s position. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has increasingly portrayed NATO’s eastward expansion as an existential threat to his country, said that Moscow’s military buildup was a response to Ukraine’s deepening partnership with the alliance.
A measured approach. President Biden has said he is seeking a stable relationship with Russia. So far, his administration is focusing on maintaining a dialogue with Moscow, while seeking to develop deterrence measures in concert with European countries.
To underscore the potential pain for Russia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, spoke with his Russian counterpart two weeks ago and delivered a stark message: Yes, he said, you could invade Ukraine and probably roll over the Ukrainian military, which stands little chance of repelling a far larger, better armed Russian force.
But the swift victory would be followed, General Milley told Gen. Valery Gerasimov, by a bloody insurgency, similar to the one that led to the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan more than three decades ago, according to officials familiar with the discussion.
General Milley did not detail to General Gerasimov the planning underway in Washington to support an insurgency, a so-called “porcupine strategy” to make invading Ukraine hard for the Russians to swallow. That includes the advance positioning of arms for Ukrainian insurgents, probably including Stinger antiaircraft missiles, that could be used against Russian forces.
More than a month ago, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, created a new interagency planning cell to examine a range of contingencies if Mr. Putin goes ahead with an invasion. The cell, which reports directly to Mr. Sullivan, includes representatives from the National Security Council, the intelligence agencies and the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, Energy and Homeland Security.
The cell is attempting to tailor responses to the many types of attacks that could unfold in the next few weeks, from cyberattacks aimed at crippling Ukraine’s electric grid and pipelines to the seizure of small or large amounts of territory.
Intelligence officials said recently that they thought the least likely possibility was a full-scale invasion in which the Russians try to take the capital, Kyiv. Many of the assessments, however, have explored more incremental moves by Mr. Putin, which could include seizing a bit more land in the Donbas region, where war has ground into a stalemate, or a land bridge to Crimea.
Several officials familiar with the planning say the administration is looking at European nations that could provide more aid to support Ukrainian forces before any conflict, as well as in the initial stages of a Russian invasion.
Lt. Col. Anton Semelroth, a Defense Department spokesman, noted in December that the United States had already committed over $2.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, including $450 million in 2021 alone. Over the past three months, it has delivered 180 Javelin missiles, two patrol boats, ammunition for grenade launchers, machine guns, secure radios, medical equipment and other items that U.S. officials describe as defensive in nature.
But the planning cell is considering more lethal weaponry, such as antiaircraft weapons.
After visiting Ukraine last month, Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts and a former Marine officer, said that in his view, “We need to make any incursion by Russia more painful — Day 1 painful, not six months from now painful.”
“We have a short window to take decisive action to deter Putin from a serious invasion,” Mr. Moulton said in an interview. “I worry our current deterrent tactics are responding to an invasion rather than preventing it.”
One option likely to be discussed at NATO this coming week is a plan to increase, possibly by several thousand, the number of troops stationed in the Baltics and in Southeast Europe.
Jake Sullivan is a Hil hawk.
More news, tweets, perspectives in the comments below. This serves as an open thread.