US mulls technology restrictions on Russia to stymie Putin

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US President Joe Biden.
US President Joe Biden.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The Biden administration and US allies are discussing possible export controls on Russia, including curbs on sensitive technology and electronics, to be imposed if President Vladimir Putin seizes more of Ukraine, a person familiar with the discussions said.

While no decisions have been made, the trade restrictions could apply to exports from the US to Russia and possibly to some foreign-made products, according to the person. Also being considered are measures to deprive Russia of microelectronics made with or based on US software or technology, the person said. 

As President Joe Biden’s administration steps up its rhetoric against the Kremlin ahead of a series of talks involving Russia next week, the scenarios would seek to leverage U.S. dominance in technology to hit Russia’s military, civilian sectors and technological ambitions.  

The impact could range from aircraft avionics and machine tools to smartphones, games consoles, tablets and televisions, the person said. Under some actions, Russia could face export controls as stringent as those for Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria, according to the person.

Separately, a senior US official said Saturday that the Biden administration will hold off on making firm commitments during talks with Russia next week aimed at easing tensions over Ukraine, and plans discussions with allies before any agreements.

The US plans to seek areas of concurrence, and is willing to explore reciprocal restrictions on strategic bombers and ground-based exercises, the official said on Saturday. But the US won’t negotiate scaling back troop deployments, the official said, denying an NBC News report. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday accused Moscow of using military threats, disinformation and targeted killings to build a sphere of influence beyond its borders.

The remarks by Blinken and the US official were in keeping with what he and other administration officials have said in recent weeks. The comments offered more signals that the U.S. isn’t going to offer major concessions - in tone or substance - when senior American and Russian officials begin talks in Geneva on Monday.

Russia isn’t optimistic going into the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with Interfax. The country’s negotiators want a quick resolution, Ryabkov said. He reiterated that Moscow is demanding security guarantees to halt NATO’s expansion, including that it pulls back some forces and keeps missiles out of border countries, according to the news service. 

Those discussions will be followed by meetings between members of the North Atlantic Treaty OrganSiation and Russia in Brussels and then a gathering of the OrganiSation for Security and Cooperation in Europe later in the week as Western officials try to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back the more than 100,000 troops he has massed at Ukraine’s border in recent months.

The U.S. official said the U.S. and Russia may be able to reach an understanding on the placement of an offensive missile system in Ukraine. Putin has raised concern over the prospect of such a system even though Biden has told Putin he isn’t planning on one, the official said.

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