The Vilnius Summit Communiqué was quite clear:

“We seek stability and predictability in the Euro-Atlantic area and between NATO and Russia. NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia. In light of its hostile policies and actions, we cannot consider Russia to be our partner. Any change in our relationship depends on Russia halting its aggressive behavior and fully complying with international law. We remain willing to keep open channels of communication with Moscow to manage and mitigate risks, prevent escalation, and increase transparency.”

Western leaders remain firm in the conviction that a Western misstep in Ukraine could start a broader confrontation with Russia and – in the worst case – World War III. For the last nine and a half years, they have feared that Western support to Ukraine – any kind of defense aid or military intervention – could result in an escalation of the war into a broader confrontation.

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The West has feared that:

·      Any kind of weapons would trigger an escalation. Yet after having provided everything short of combat aircraft and ATACAMS, Russia has not escalated the military confrontation beyond Ukraine.

·      Attacks against legal targets on Russian territories would trigger an escalation. Yet after multiple Ukrainian strikes against Moscow, airbases for long-range strategic bombers and naval bases, Russia has not escalated the military confrontation beyond Ukraine.

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·      Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOPS) in the Black Sea would trigger an escalation. Yet after multiple Ukrainian strikes with unmanned surface vessel (USV) and missile attacks against the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF), Russia has not escalated the military confrontation beyond Ukraine.

The US and parts of Europe still believe that military intervention in Ukraine – not as an attack on the Russian Federation but for the defense of a sovereign and independent country – will start a broader military confrontation between Russia and NATO.

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Even a Ukrainian NATO membership in line with the Charter of Paris for a New Europe which recognizes the freedom of states to choose their own security arrangements, is seen as an action that could drag the Alliance into a war with Russia.

Fantom red lines

Despite Ukraine’s repeated breaches of Russia’s “red lines,” the West remains fearful of acting in a manner that might lead to an escalation of what already is a Russian-instigated hybrid war into a full-fledged war. 

These are political considerations. Furthermore, they are only relevant if there are reasons to believe that the war can be resolved through political means.

That hope ended on Feb. 20, 2014 when Russia decided to wage war against its neighbor because it sought democracy instead of autocracy. Russia actively nourished the hope for a political solution to its war of aggression while it prepared for the full-scale invasion (and tested Western resolve). Any lingering hope for a political solution to the war ended on Feb. 24, 2022.

Russia’s end game

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Russia intends to fulfil its strategic aim and objectives using military power. As clearly stated on December 17, 2021, its strategic aim and objectives go far beyond Ukraine. Only military power will convince it that its aim and objectives are unobtainable.

This becomes even more crucial when acknowledging the fundamental nature of Russia’s war of aggression. It has put the very foundation of the state at risk in the pursuit of Great Power status, a sphere of special interest covering all the former Soviet member states and the integration of Ukraine and Belarus into the Russian Federation. The potential gains from the war – hoping to control Ukraine’s enormous natural resources and vast technology – far outweigh the costs inflicted upon it by the international community. A victory is needed to create the economic, technological, and demographic basis for its Great Power aspirations.

NATO’s Strategic Concept 2022 states: “The Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace. The Russian Federation has violated the norms and principles that contributed to a stable and predictable European security order. We cannot discount the possibility of an attack against Allies’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Politics must, at least temporarily, take a back seat to sound military strategy.

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Inevitable escalation

The distressing fact is that despite the political hope for de-escalation, the war will continue to escalate.

Russia has already turned peace into a full-scale war. It has long engaged both Europe and the US in a hybrid war. Worse, the war has continued to escalate since Feb. 24, 2022. That’s reflected both in Ukraine and beyond.

Whenever the West believes that Russia has done its worse, it does even worse.

The escalation includes – but is not limited to – its massive attacks on critical infrastructure in Ukraine, its weaponization of food and energy supplies globally, the destruction of the Kakhovka dam and its nuclear blackmail.

The escalation is happening because the international community allows it to happen.

The war will continue to escalate as Ukraine is fighting for its right to exist and Russia fails to find an off-ramp.

The War of Drones will escalate as both Russia and Ukraine are developing their capabilities. The world will witness a war never seen before. 

Ukraine will succeed in turning Crimea into an island. I am in no doubt that its attempt to cut the Russian ground lines of communication along the Sea of Azov will be successful. It will also destroy all bridges linking the peninsula to mainland Russia and Ukraine. Russia will be facing increasing problems sustaining both its forces in southern Ukraine and Crimea.  

Ukrainian surface drones will increasingly challenge Russia’s attempt to turn the Black Sea into a Russian lake. The BSF will remain unable to ensure its own safety or the safety of any commercial vessel bound for Russian ports. The economic war will, consequently, increase in severity.

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As previously argued, Russia will never accept being defeated by Ukraine (a country that, in its perception, does not exist). Ironically, the one option that the West fears the most – a NATO military intervention – would offer it an off-ramp in the face of a strategic defeat. In the absence of Western will to intervene, however, Russia will at one stage be forced to mobilize. The calls from the Russian ultranationalist community for Russia to do more and worse are growing louder as their frustration increases.

Additionally, the present war remains highly dynamic. The war will change its nature and escalate the moment Ukraine potentially loses its air defense. It is running out of Soviet legacy air defense missiles and the inflow of Western-made systems is slow and incremental. Some of the systems are still under production and are not expected to be delivered before November 2025. Additionally, Ukrainian energy and transport infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable after 18 months of full-scale war. Its access to ammunition remains problematic. The inflow of defense aid is slowing down as the West is slowly running out of weapons it can provide without undermining its own security.

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Escalate to de-escalate

The bottom line is that the war will continue to escalate. The question is whether it will happen on Russian or Western terms.

It will remain on Russia’s terms until the West decides to escalate to de-escalate.

I have consistently argued in favor of Ukrainian NATO membership and/or military intervention (some weeks from the date of the decision to allow Russia time to withdraw).

An escalation is not an on/off switch. It is not a black-and-white situation. Russia has for the last nine and a half years demonstrated that European security can escalate from peace to crisis, conflict, and war. It’s time for the West to demonstrate the ability to de-escalate tension. That, however, requires it to take the initiative and temporarily escalate: Ukrainian NATO membership and/or military intervention.

Will Russia like it? Not at all. Will it try to blackmail the world into submission? Absolutely. Will it stay and fight both Ukraine and the collective West? Not a chance because it would run the risk of losing everything. Will it use nuclear weapons? No, it will not. There are no scenarios in which a nuclear war serves Russian interests. It runs the risk of mutual destruction. It will lose the support of both China and India. It runs contrary to the purpose of the war itself. Not least, its use runs contrary to its nuclear doctrine.

The West needs to get over its fear of escalation. Escalation is very much needed to convince Russia that peace is a better solution than war.

Hans Petter Midttun, Independent Analyst, Hybrid Warfare, Non-resident Fellow at Centre for Defence Strategies, board member Ukrainian Institute for Security and Law of the Sea, former Defence Attaché of Norway to Ukraine, and Officer (R) of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

 The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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Comments (4)

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Travis
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Agree 100%. The U.S. should have issued a firm warning and brought its military might to the Russian border the day Russia invaded. What are we afraid of? One must not fear the consequences of doing what one truly believes in. Anything else is just virtue signaling. How many U.S. politicians are making money off of this war and will continue to line their pockets as long as the war goes on. NATO and the U.S. in particular are nothing more than COWARDS.

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TPJ
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Sea drones strongly evoke the Kozak corsairs of the 16-17Cs. They sailed their small chaika (seagull) craft in successful piratical assaults on the Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire, even up to the walls of Constantinople. For one hundred years they roiled the waters of the Black Sea. Present foes of Kozaks and Ukraine, take note!!

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Maple leaf
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Is Nato willing to go their no. But they must stop being pushed around by these assholes in Russia yes. Nato should have been there in the first invasion and we wouldn't be here right now.

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Arthur Turnbull
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NATO is a great organisation and has stood the test of time and achieved its founding purpose. One of its major strengths is that it is made up of 30 different states, but this is also one of its major weaknesses. There are those countries that understood what needed to be done, even before the 2022 invasion, such as Poland, the Baltic Republics and the U.K. and there were those countries that were far too hesitant at first, especially the U.S., Germany and France. NATO is unfortunately often held back by the snakes within, particularly the lizard Macron and the closet Russian Scholz. The general populace of Europe tend to have bigger balls than the political class that represent them. I am a UK citizen for clarity. Slava Ukraini.

MARK SZASZY
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@Arthur Turnbull, Bang on Arthur, but you forgot to mention the Coward Biden.

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