Think-tank advises US how to avoid war with Russia

A RAND Corporation report outlines possible scenarios in which NATO could get involved in a shooting, possibly nuclear war with Russia

Think-tank advises US how to avoid war with Russia

Think-tank advises US how to avoid war with Russia

Rand Corporation has outlined four “escalation pathways” that could lead to NATO-Russia war

The US and its NATO allies need to take a series of steps to avoid a direct conflict with Russia over Ukraine, the Pentagon’s foremost think-tank advised in a report published on Tuesday. Sanctions against Russia have created conditions for one of the escalation pathways already, while the continuing flow of weapons and volunteers to Ukraine may trigger others, the RAND Corporation warned.

“escalate to a Russia-NATO clash” are “warranted,” said the outfit, which has been doing research and analysis for the US military since 1948. While plausible, such escalation is not inevitable if the US and its allies take some steps to fend it off, according to the report. 

RAND researchers laid out “four plausible horizontal escalation pathways,” starting with the anti-Russian sanctions already implemented by the US and its allies. The other three possibilities involve Moscow coming to believe a direct NATO involvement is imminent; that weapons delivered to Ukraine are making a major difference on the battlefield; or that unrest within Russia is threatening the government.

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“Moscow has yet to respond directly in any substantial manner,” to Western actions, from sanctions to arming Ukraine, which RAND assumes have “immiserated Russia and led to the death of many Russian soldiers.” The researchers explain this by offering up speculation that the “Kremlin’s preoccupation with its faltering campaign in Ukraine might be consuming senior leaders’ limited bandwidth.”

The most acute risk of a Russian decision to escalate directly to a kinetic strike on NATO allies would result from Moscow perceiving that large-scale, direct NATO attacks on Russian military forces in Ukraine are imminent.

“plausible” use of nuclear weapons.

“Continue to signal that the United States and NATO allies have no plans to directly enter the conflict,” RAND advised Washington, as this is needed to counter public statements by “current or former government officials” about Russian “atrocities” and calls for regime change.

“increase force presence in the east” but focus on “defensive” capabilities and re-evaluate activities such as drills “to avoid creating a false impression of preparation for offensive action,” the researchers said.

“turn the conflict dramatically against Russia,” Moscow might target their supply nodes, the report claims. Such attacks could start out as “covert or non-kinetic” and escalate from there; one example given is the 2014 explosion at the Czech ammunition depot, which Western media and the intelligence-adjacent outfit Bellingcat blamed on Russia, without evidence. 

“dispersed and covert, wherever possible.” 

“turn the conflict dramatically against Russia.” 

The last scenario envisions Moscow interpreting large-scale protests as “a non-kinetic NATO attack.” While mass demonstrations are yet to take place in Russia, “the dramatic economic contraction that has resulted from the war might well be the spark for such broader popular unrest once economic pain is felt over the medium to long term,” the RAND report said.

“evidence of a coordinated Western campaign to topple the Russian government,” so NATO needs to “maintain the message discipline” that its objective is “the cessation of conflict, not the end of the Putin regime.”

At the very end, the report cautions that the US and its allies “could be the engine of escalation as easily as Russia could,” and that any escalation spiral is as likely to start with their actions. As the report focused on possible Russian actions, however, that warning was left unexplored.