A few years ago RAND put out a report Overextending and Unbalancing Russia.
This brief summarizes a report that comprehensively examines nonviolent, cost-imposing options that the United States and its allies could pursue across economic, political, and military areas to stress—overextend and unbalance— Russia’s economy and armed forces and the regime’s political standing at home
One of the things recommended was exploiting Russia’s “greatest point of external vulnerability” by “providing lethal aid to Ukraine.” (Only someone as paranoid as Putin, of course, could see any hostility in this).
Well, they did it and it’s time for a new RAND report – Avoiding a Long War.
To save you the bother of reading this trivial effort, I will summarize – they start with the usual posturing – “morally repugnant Russian invasion”, “international community”, “illegitimate and illegal”, “aggression”, “humanitarian reasons”, “international norms.” Then on to how Russia is losing – “Russia’s conventional capabilities have been decimated in Ukraine”, “the weakened state of Russia’s conventional military”, “It will take years, perhaps even decades, for the Russian military and economy to recover from the damage already incurred.”
But, as you wade on, you begin to suspect that the authors aren’t as triumphant after all – perhaps victory is not quite so close “given the slowing pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensives in December 2022, restoring the pre-February 2022 line of control—let alone the pre-2014 territorial status quo—will take months and perhaps years to achieve” or even so certain “Continued conflict also leaves open the possibility that Russia will reverse Ukrainian battlefield gains made in fall 2022.” The authors spend some space explaining what a long war is not to America’s advantage.
So, RAND, they followed your advice but things aren’t going very well. Time to try and get out of it.
Since avoiding a long war is the highest priority after minimizing escalation risks, the United States should take steps that make an end to the conflict over the medium term more likely.
Here are their suggestions assuming something can be negotiated between Russia and Ukraine. After more poli-sci-ese about how wars end, they say the US and its allies should send more weapons but with a precise description and schedule, give a firm security commitment to Ukraine and ease off on sanctions against Russia. In other words, more of the same.
But, to my surprise, there actually is something different – neutrality for Ukraine. The authors realize that that is something Moscow will insist on. Washington and its minions will have to concede this. Or will they?
A U.S. and allied commitment to Ukraine’s neutrality would create a major additional hurdle—a change in Western policy or even law depending on the nature of the commitment—to Ukraine joining NATO in the future.
(A commitment to neutrality would be an a major additional hurdle to Ukraine joining NATO in the future!!?? Do these people even read what they’ve written or do they mean that Ukrainian neutrality as guaranteed by NATO will be another Minsk deception? And what makes the authors think Russia would ever trust these people again?)
The paper suffers from the usual self-delusion that NATO is tremendously powerful, that the war is confined to Ukraine, that Russia is losing and desperate for a Western-brokered settlement, that Russia desperately wants sanctions lifted. (Amusingly the authors rule out total victory by saying they don’t think Ukraine can do it but they never entertain the possibility that Russia could).
So, to summarize – Ukraine is winning and Russia is losing but it may take so long for Ukraine to win that Russia might win instead and we don’t want a long war anyway so we’ll support a negotiation which we will assist by doing more of the same stuff that didn’t work the last time but offer Ukraine neutrality but we probably don’t mean it. This is not defeat – oh no! – because “Russia has already been weakened dramatically.” Got it? Yay! Props all round!
Don’t bother reading the thing – the only interesting bit is the very tiny step towards accepting the failure of the proxy war in Ukraine that RAND helped start and a trial balloon for the cover story (Russia won but it cost it so much it that we really won).