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Boiling frog versus blitzkrieg

The West must change its strategy vis-à-vis russia, or else it will lose this war.

In early 2014, when russia annexed Crimea, a diplomat from a friendly European country told me that we should play a “good cop, bad cop” game winning time to become strong enough to win back the lost territory. It will take time, he said, but time is on our side, because a war is basically a competition of economic power and financial resources; Russia will be getting weaker, and the collective West with Ukraine will be getting stronger.

Looking back from 2024, it looks like this is indeed the “grand strategy” adopted by our partners a long time ago. It is the equivalent of a famous fable about a boiling frog, who will eventually die if we turn up the temperature very slowly and gradually. In addition, this strategy is perfectly finetuned with the tactics of “do not provoke the aggressor” and “manage escalation”. The ultimate reasoning behind this approach is that we may not allow a situation when moscow would use nuclear weapons, so we cannot afford any sharp actions or even rhetorics.

Well, ten years later we are nowhere near the end of this war, with the enemy even making new military advances. Let us consider why this Western strategy is not working and shall never work.

First, the boiling frog method can be effective in two cases: when the adversary is not aware of it and/or when it cannot counter it. Obviously, russia is aware and can counteract. The slow process gives russia time to adjust and diversify.

Second, kremlin does not need any provocation to hit another country. If he chooses to bomb Oslo or Madrid or to move into Latvia or Estonia, he will do so regardless of Western lamentations. Only crude preventive force will stop him. Today, putin is always first to make a move, while the West is always reactive and on the defensive. President Macron tried to introduce the strategic uncertainty for moscow making it double-guess NATO intentions. But this uncertainty only emboldens putin, because he regards it as the absence of unity and clear policy.

Third, the resources is a very wide term. Russia may indeed become a very poor country, but as long as it has enough manpower and possibility to manufacture weapons, it can go on with this war for a very long time. Besides, assistance from China with electronics and other critical equipment, let alone weapons, could make this war eternal, as correctly remarked by Secretary Blinken.

Fourth, procrastination of the West costs it very dearly moneywise. Democracies pay twice: first by continuing to buy any russian products and thus financing its war machine, and second by having to give help to Ukraine to defend from russia. This is not a very wise policy.

Fifth, inability of the West to get the job done quickly and decisively undermines its credibility in the eyes of the non-aligned states. After initially greatly sympathizing and rallying behind Ukraine, today they tend to distantiate themselves from this prolonged war, instead looking up to China and keeping the door open for russia.

Sixth, the Russian federation is still pretty much integrated in the global economy. When you cut these ties very abruptly and completely, that will mean a very big shock to its economy with massive social tensions, which will catalyze needed internal changes. If, however, this isolation is taking place very slowly, russia has time to adapt and live on like North Korea indefinitely.

Seventh, at present vladimir putin is quite sane and rational, in his own perverse way, and he is very fearful for his personal life, which makes this aspect our strongest leverage. With time and aging, he and his cronies might indeed become dement and really crazy, which will increase the likelihood of a nuclear war. So, it is in our interest to make it swift.

Finally, it seems that rapid climate change and multiplying natural disasters are not factored in at all in European or American military considerations. In a decade or so, Southern Europe will experience non-stop prolonged droughts or flash floods ruining its agriculture, so life in these territories will gradually become intolerable. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (whose part is the Gulfstream) is slowing down, which will make Northern and North-Western Europe get very cold in winter. The melting of the Alps glaciers and depletion of groundwater reserves will add to tensions and conflicts everywhere on the continent. Similar challenges await the USA.

On the contrary, the vast Eurasian landmass of the russian federation will be just fine from the climate point of view, relatively speaking. In fact, this huge territory will be one of the very few safe places on planet Earth. russia can even afford doing nothing waiting till Europe disintegrates and collapses to pick up the remnants.

So, time is really on the side of russia. By sitting and waiting and managing escalation, Europe is doomed to lose. And we cannot solve imminent human overshoot and climate crisis without solving the geopolitical problem of imperialist russia.  

Now, how would a blitzkrieg look like?

First of all, the West must make a very clear statement that the russian federation is its enemy, that we are all in a state of war, and that the entire Western military machine can and shall be used to defeat russia. Military assistance for Ukraine must be very swift, absolute and unconditional.

An important pre-requisite is to shift the war onto the territory of the russian federation as soon as possible. The Ukrainian Armed Forces should be allowed to hit the russian territory with any Western weapons, and, if that does not stop the aggression, the Ukrainian army shall enter the russian territory to coerce the aggressor to peace.

Whenever putin threatens to use nuclear weapons, tell him in the face that he personally will become a legitimate and immediate military target; this is the only argument he understands.

Introduce total and immediate embargo on any deliveries and travel to and from russia.

Pull out all Western citizens from russia to avoid hostage situations.

Kick out all russian citizens from Western countries, including all their embassy members.

Tell China that if it helps russia, all economic and financial ties of the West with China will be suspended immediately.

If a few smaller NATO members decide not to support this plan of actions, it’s OK; unanimity is not important if major players take part.

Blitzkrieg is called this name, because it does not last for long. Moscow may not be captured in three days, but it may fall in a few months, if the above measures are taken very quickly and in earnest. It will fall because of the avalanche of simultaneous big shocks: military defeat, economic collapse, societal fear and upheaval, internal mutiny of elites, logistical chaos, denial of escape outside, enormous psychological stress etc. Russia will simply have no time to adapt. The relatively short duration of the blitzkrieg will not destroy European economy nor disrupt economic ties with China irrevocably. A quick victory will also help relax frightened European societies, save huge amounts of money and make room for coping with many other important challenges.

As for the russian WMDs, the US military will be in close touch with the central command and all the locations of those weapons in russia to make sure there will be no nuclear proliferation. Yes, there is a risk here. But the risk of doing nothing or too little is no less, if not more severe. Hopefully, the inevitable change of Western strategy vis-à-vis russia will not take too much time. After all, in the last ten years Ukraine’s partners eventually always did what they initially categorically refused to do. So why repeat the same mistakes over again? Delays cost lives, erode trust and bring infamy and ultimate defeat. The time has come for the West to be aggressive against the aggressor.

Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, Ukrainian diplomat, specially for the Kyiv Security Forum

© Arseniy Yatsenyuk Charity Foundation "Open Ukraine"
locationUkraine, Kyiv, 01001
Kyiv Security Forum
Arseniy Yatsenyuk Foundation
© Arseniy Yatsenyuk Charity Foundation "Open Ukraine"