What Ukraine most wanted from the West, the West was least likely to give. That was the inherent tension between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Biden. Closing the skies, as Zelensky repeatedly asked of the United States and NATO, would stop Russia from bombing Ukrainian cities. But enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine could lead to the United States entering a war with Russia — or even, Biden warned, “World War III.”
The Biden administration has drawn its line at actions that it thinks could provoke Russia. But the demarcation between proxy war and real war is getting fuzzier. The United States has been supplying Ukraine weapons for years and ramped that up as the Russian invasion began. They’ve sent them missiles, antitank weapons, some 50 million bullets and systems that can shoot down Russian aircraft. Biden has accused Russia of war crimes and genocide, and regularly announces that he’s sending Ukraine more aid, including lethal weapons like mines and even helicopters.
As the war enters its fourth month, Congress approved tens of billions more in aid for Ukraine, most of it for weapons and military assistance, at Biden’s request. Biden used some of that money to send even more powerful rockets to Ukraine, which Russia called “unprecedented.” He is also increasing economic pressure on Russia, and has asked Congress to give his administration controversial new power to take yachts and planes from Russia oligarchs, liquidate the money and give it to Ukraine.
As the Biden administration increases the amount and even lethality of weapons going to Ukraine, officials insist they’re not escalating the war in a way that could aggravate Russia.
“America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression," Biden wrote in the New York Times in June.
Where would you draw the line on helping Ukraine? Weigh the pros and cons, from the United States’ point of view, of how to help Ukraine fight off Russia.
The West is determined to keep choking off Russia’s economy the longer the war goes on. Russia already faces more sanctions than any other nation, according to Castellum.AI, a global database that tracks such penalties. The United States is leading on this front. The United States has placed sanctions on all 10 of Russia’s largest banks, many Russian oligarchs, and it has banned imports of Russian oil.
“It has caused the Russian economy to, quite frankly, crater,” Biden has said of the sanctions regimen already in place. But in a globalized economy, these sanctions have ricocheted. Biden was initially reluctant to ban Russian oil because of the likelihood that it would push up gas and energy prices. (It has.)
Here are the options the Biden administration is already doing or has considered.
How to help Ukraine’s military is a much thornier topic for U.S. policymakers. They’re very worried about starting a much larger war by provoking more Russian aggression to NATO allies bordering Ukraine and Western Europe — or, in a worse-case scenario, opening the door to nuclear war. “We will not fight the third world war in Ukraine,” Biden has said. But Ukraine says the only way to stop its war is for the West to get more aggressive toward Russia.
Here’s a menu of military options. Some of these the Biden administration is already doing or has considered. Others it has ruled out entirely.
This has been updated with the latest news.