The Return of Diplomacy?
Will NATO Attack Russia?

The growing bitterness of Western countries towards Russia is consistent with the logic of ‘preventive war’ in the initiation of armed conflicts. Rather than linking interstate confrontations with aggressive opportunism, this model views escalation as a product of fears about the future. The conviction that the situation will worsen over time encourages states to take increasingly more adventurous steps, even using force.Throughout history, major wars, as a rule, became the product of precisely this preventive logic – the desire to strike in advance of an expected weakening, writes Igor Istomin.

The issue of a major war in Europe is more pressing today than at any point since the mid-20th century. Western analysts have discussed a variety of potential conflict scenarios, and officials openly speculate about its likelihood and have even discussed specific time horizons.

In a recent speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the actions of Western governments have brought the world “to the point of no return.” At the same time, the prevailing belief in domestic discussions is that the United States and its allies are aware of the catastrophic risks of a direct military clash with Moscow, and following the instinct of self-preservation, will try avoid it.

Such judgments are based on the assumption that the West, despite its aggressiveness and arrogance, is guided by the rational correlation of benefits with costs, starting from the existing balance of power. Meanwhile, previous experience does not convince us of the ability of the United States and its allies to pursue a balanced, calculated course of action.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, they repeatedly got involved in military adventures, from which they painfully searched for a way out. Suffice it to recall the example of interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Of course, in all these cases, the risks for the West remained significantly lower than in the case of a hypothetical war with Russia. But the rates were noticeably lower.

The recent admission of US President Joe Biden is indicative: “If we ever let Ukraine go down, mark my words: you'll see Poland go, and you'll see all those nations along the actual border of Russia, from the Balkans and Belarus, all those, they're going to make their own accommodations.”

 It can be stated that the good old “domino theory” has re-established itself in the minds of Western strategists.

Multipolarity and Connectivity
Swiss Summit on Ukraine: Moscow Hijacked the Agenda
Ivan Timofeev
The summit in Switzerland ended with a quite unclear document, which actually contains no algorithm for resolving the conflict in Ukraine. Russia, on the contrary, has come up with specific and clear proposals. Their implementation is hardly possible here and now. But the very fact of forming guidelines and an agenda for the future can be recorded as a Russian asset, writes Ivan Timofeev.

The split consciousness of the West

The growing bitterness of Western countries towards Russia is consistent with the logic of ‘preventive war’ in the initiation of armed conflicts. Rather than linking interstate confrontations with aggressive opportunism, this model views escalation as a product of fears about the future. The conviction that the situation will worsen over time encourages states to take increasingly more adventurous steps, even using force.

Throughout history, major wars, as a rule, became the product of precisely this preventive logic – the desire to strike in advance of an expected weakening. Thus, the disintegration of the continental blockade system prompted Napoleon to attack Russia. German concerns about the prospects for modernising the Russian army acted as a trigger for the First World War.

A similar dynamic is observed today in the politics of the West, which has invested significant resources in the confrontation with Russia.

The fact that it does not want to lose, but on the contrary is gradually moving towards achieving its goals, cannot but cause frustration in the United States and among its allies. Washington pushes not towards reconciliation, but towards the search for more potent means.

Due to the failure of the West’s plans to destroy the Russian economy through restrictive measures and inflict a strategic defeat on Moscow using Kiev as a proxy, it is moving ever closer to the brink of direct military conflict with Russia. At the same time, it has demonstrated a decreasing sensitivity to the possible consequences of such a scenario. It is like how casino players in the United States and their allies raise their stakes more and more with each successive game.

The growing adventurism is clearly visible in the debate over the deployment of Western troops in Ukraine. Moreover, thehysterical European leaders speaking out on this topic have been joined by seemingly more responsible American generals. Thus, Charles Brown, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded that sending NATO troops into the country is an inevitable prospect. 

Western countries' willingness to take risks is reinforced by a contradictory, if not schizophrenic, view of Russia. They never tire of repeating that Moscow’s potential was previously greatly overestimated, and as a result of the special military operation it was weakened even more. At the same time, without any awareness of the dissonance, they justify the build-up of their own forces by citing the increased Russian threat.

The inconsistency also manifests itself in the portrayal of Russia as an insatiable expansionist bent on conquering its neighbours, coupled with its belief in its reverence for Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which guarantees mutual assistance to NATO member states in the event of an attack on one of them.

The portrayal of Russia as a “paper tiger” - an aggressive but weak player - lays the foundation for preventive escalation in order to reverse the trends in the development of confrontation that are unfavourable for the West. Moreover, they can be undertaken beyond Ukraine.

Evidence of this is the idea periodically introduced into Western discussions to limit Moscow’s access to the Baltic, ignoring the inevitable response to threats to Kaliningrad.

Quo Vadis?

So far, Western politicians have not directly voiced the idea of ​​an armed attack on Russia. Currently, we are talking about raising the issue on the assumption that Moscow will not dare to respond. Moreover, the thesis continues to be heard that NATO and its member states do not want a direct military confrontation. These assurances fail to eliminate two types of dangers.

First, counting on the reliability of nuclear deterrence, the West may play too much - to pursue a provocation that will force Moscow to defend its vital interests by all available means. The aforementioned projects for closing the Baltic Sea promise to evoke just such a response.

Second, the established trend of increasing adventurism paves the way for a further shift in the boundaries of what is acceptable for the United States and its allies. The logic of confrontation works to increase rates, including due to the accumulation of costs already incurred. As a result, the available means begin to dictate the goals pursued.

An additional factor that increases the risks of confrontation is the collective nature of the West. In domestic discussions, it is customary to emphasize the unequal nature of relations in NATO, due to the unambiguous dominance of Washington. Meanwhile, it is the vassal status of European states that increases their interest in escalation.

Americas’ allies are terrified by the prospect that Washington, preoccupied with competition with China, will lose interest in them and refocus on Asian affairs. The embodiment of this horror story is the figure of Donald Trump, but in Europe there are fears that this scenario will be realised regardless of the personality of a particular leader.

US allies assume that time is against them. Accordingly, the confrontation with Russia takes on an instrumental function, in helping to justify keeping Washington’s attention on the European agenda. Already the disputes in the US Congress regarding the financing of Kiev in early 2024 have served as an alarm bell, demonstrating that the United States is immersed in its own kitchen.

Following the logic of pre-emption, European NATO members might conclude that provoking a confrontation now, while the United States remains involved in the conflict in Ukraine and containing Russia, would be a preferable scenario to the prospect of bearing the burden of confronting Moscow alone in the future—a scenario which they do not rule out.

It is not surprising that the European politicians have been the ones who have made the most irresponsible and radical proposals, such as sending troops to Ukraine or extending NATO guarantees to territory controlled by Kiev. Internal dynamics within the West encourage competition for the status of the most intransigent fighter against Russia. 

From plans to practices

In practical terms, NATO member states are really preparing for a military clash with Moscow. The new model of the alliance’s forces, approved by the Madrid 2022 summit, and the regional plans prepared on its basis involve the deployment of a significant group of 300 thousand people within 30 days in addition to the troops already stationed along Russia’s borders.

The basis of the latter is the actively expanding and modernising contingents of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Poland is especially different in this regard; it claims the status of the main NATO bastion, the same that that the Bundeswehr held in the second half of the 20th century. The increase to 300,000 people is intended to turn its armed forces into the largest land army of the alliance among the European member states.

NATO members are openly practicing combat scenarios in potential theatres in Eastern and Northern Europe. Great emphasis is placed on mastering the lessons of the armed struggle in Ukraine. For this purpose, a special centre is being created in Bydgoszcz, Poland, designed to ensure the regular exchange of experience between Western and Ukrainian militaries.

For a long time, the weak link in Western efforts was the limited capabilities of the military industry. However, NATO member states are paying increasing attention to overcoming this limitation. It would be reckless to expect that over time they will not be able to increase production, including by strengthening the ties between European companies and the American military-industrial complex.

Characterising the intermediate results of Western efforts, experts from the influential Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies in a recent report summarised that NATO is ready for a future war. This loud conclusion was accompanied by a clarification that the alliance still needs to work to prepare for a protracted confrontation and a clash with Russia.

Such inconsistent expert conclusions are clearly dictated by political expediency - the desire to confirm the correctness of the chosen course to contain Moscow, but at the same time the need to mobilise the member states of the alliance to prepare for further efforts in the military sphere. They once again reinforce the logic of the game to increase the stakes. 

Search for the “golden mean”

In relation to the question in the title, the analysis shows that with a high probability the answer may be positive. In this regard, Russia faces the difficult task of containing escalation amid conditions of low receptivity of the West to the signals sent to it. Attempts to convey the seriousness of the situation are either brushed aside or interpreted as manifestations of Russian aggressiveness.

In the face of such indoctrination, there is a danger of slipping into a similar exaltation, trying to force the enemy to abandon his adventurous line with even more risky demonstrations of determination. So far, the Russian leadership has managed to overcome these temptations.

Of course, Western attempts to raise stakes must be responded to. At the same time, it is worth focusing the damage on the NATO member states themselves, and not just their proxies (this is where the emphasis should be on the notorious “decision-making centres”). Statements about the possible transfer of long-range weapons to US opponents, as well as the visit of Russian ships to Cuba, are logical steps in this regard.

Perhaps the range of responses could also include the defeat of drones conducting reconnaissance for Ukraine over the Black Sea. Moreover, the latter circumstance legitimises the announcement of a direct ban on their flights in adjacent waters. Russian measures of deterrencecould also be complemented by holding manoeuvres in the Baltic, Mediterranean or North Atlantic together with other states that have earned the status of adversaries of the West.

At the same time, the calculation of intimidating actions should be weighed against historical experience, which shows that the reaction to them is often bitterness, rather than concessions. This, in particular, calls into question the validity of the previously expressed proposal for nuclear strikes for demonstrative purposes. Such actions are more likely to lead to consequences opposite to those assumed by their instigators - they will hasten, rather than delay, a direct military clash with NATO.

Logic Under the Mask of Chaos: Contextualizing NATO’s Anniversary
Igor Istomin
Behind the hype about disagreements within the Western community, the discussions at the anniversary jubilee NATO summit and the decisions made during it conceal another step towards a new bipolarity. They push European states to further aggravate relations with China.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.