RAND Corp. report: “U.S. Policy and the trajectory of the Russia-Ukraine conflict”


Analysts in the United States are saying increasingly that the ‘conflict in Ukraine should be resolved through negotiations.’

Nevertheless, RAND is issuing another report calling for a settlement. They understand that the Ukrainian side, with all the support of the West, began to lose heavily. And the only way for Washington to maintain influence on the situation is to seat Russia and Ukraine at the negotiating table, where the decisive word will remain with the United States. A naive policy…The world will never be the same.

But it is worth to pay attention to the main provisions of the RAND Corp. report in order to assess the degree of American concern about the successful outcome for Moscow and the unsuccessful outcome for the United States, NATO and the Kyiv regime.

There are some excerpts from the big RAND report:

– How does this end? Increasingly, this question is dominating discussion of the Russia-Ukraine war in Washington and other Western capitals… Fighting still rages across nearly 1,000 km of front lines. Negotiations on ending the conflict have been suspended since May.

– There is evidence that the Kremlin perceives this war to be near existential.

– The trajectory and ultimate outcome of the war will, of course, be determined largely by the policies of Ukraine and Russia. But Kyiv and Moscow are not the only capitals with a stake in what happens. This war is the most significant interstate conflict in decades, and its evolution will have major consequences for the United States.

– It is appropriate to assess how this conflict may evolve, what alternative trajectories might mean for U.S. interests, and what Washington can do to promote a trajectory that best serves U.S. interests.

– Some analysts make the case that the war is heading toward an outcome that would benefit the United States and Ukraine. Ukraine had battlefield momentum as of December 2022 and could conceivably fight until it succeeds in pushing the Russian military out of the country. Proponents of this view argue that the risks of Russian nuclear use or a war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will remain manageable. Once it is forced out of Ukraine, a chastened Russia would have little choice but to leave its neighbor in peace — and even pay reparations for the damage it caused. However, studies of past conflicts and a close look at the course of this one suggest that this optimistic scenario is improbable.

– In this Perspective, therefore, we explore possible trajectories that the Russia-Ukraine war could take and how they might affect U.S. interests.

– We also consider what the United States could do to influence the course of the conflict.

– It is perhaps more useful for U.S. policymakers to consider which particular aspects of the conflict’s future development will have the most significant impact on U.S. interests. In lieu of rich, descriptive scenarios, we examine five key dimensions that define alternative war trajectories:

  • possible Russian use of nuclear weapons
  • possible escalation to a Russia-NATO conflict
  • territorial control
  • duration
  • form of war termination.

(The details of each of these scenarios are discussed below.)

– The debate in Washington and other Western capitals over the future of the Russia-Ukraine war privileges the issue of territorial control. Our analysis suggests that this debate is too narrowly focused on one dimension of the war’s trajectory. Territorial control, although immensely important to Ukraine, is not the most important dimension of the war’s future for the United States.

– We conclude that, in addition to averting possible escalation to a Russia-NATO war or Russian nuclear use, avoiding a long war is also a higher priority for the United States than facilitating significantly more Ukrainian territorial control.

– Russian use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine would have large and unpredictable effects on allied policies toward the war, potentially leading to a breakdown in Transatlantic unity.

– Furthermore, the U.S. ability to micromanage where the line is ultimately drawn is highly constrained since the U.S. military is not directly involved in the fighting. Enabling Ukraine’s territorial control is also far from the only instrument available to the United States to affect the trajectory of the war.

– We have highlighted several other tools — potentially more potent ones — that Washington can use to steer the war toward a trajectory that better promotes U.S. interests.

– Whereas the United States cannot determine the territorial outcome of the war directly, it will have direct control over these policies.

– President Biden has said that this war will end at the negotiating table. But the administration has not yet made any moves to push the parties toward talks.

– Although it is far from certain that a change in U.S. policy can spark negotiations, adopting one or more of the policies described in this Perspective could make talks more likely.

– We highlight four options the United States has for shifting these dynamics:

  • clarifying its plans for future support to Ukraine,
  • making commitments to Ukraine’s security,
  • issuing assurances regarding the country’s neutrality,
  • setting conditions for sanctions relief for Russia.

– A dramatic, overnight shift in U.S. policy is politically impossible — both domestically and with allies — and would be unwise in any case. But developing these instruments now and socializing them with Ukraine and with U.S. allies might help catalyze the eventual start of a process that could bring this war to a negotiated end in a time frame that would serve U.S. interests.

– The alternative is a long war that poses major challenges for the United States, Ukraine, and the rest of the world, emphasizes RAND report.


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