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How to Respond to Russia’s Aggression

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has raised numerous questions about the West's ability to comprehend and respond effectively to Russian actions. Recent events, such as the surprising mutiny led by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, have exposed the limitations of Western understanding of Russian politics and the Kremlin's decision-making processes.

Despite access to substantial intelligence and information, Western analysts have failed to provide reliable analysis, particularly when it comes to predicting Russian behavior. The traditional model of Russian politics, which focused on severing Russian elites from their assets in the West as a means to weaken Putin's power, has proven inadequate. The assumption that sanctions would prompt both elites and ordinary Russian citizens to react against the Kremlin's actions has not materialized.

This confusion highlights a significant gap between information and understanding. The overreliance on statistical modeling rather than in-depth field research has hindered accurate analysis of Russian motivations and actions. To bridge this gap, researchers need to return to the field and develop a new approach to comprehending Russian politics.

Much of Western Ukraine policy has been built on assumptions about Moscow's decisions. Delays in delivering military support to Ukraine, for example, were driven by concerns about escalation and outdated theories about Russian nuclear doctrine. The West has also relied heavily on sanctions, aiming to weaken Russia's ability to wage war and challenge Putin's regime. However, these measures have not produced the desired results, with Russia's billionaires continuing to support Putin.

Instead of persisting with a Moscow-centric approach, the West must shift its focus to empowering Ukraine. This includes strengthening Ukraine's military capabilities to hold and retake territory and bolstering its air defenses. While these actions may not force Russia to halt its aggression, they can help protect Ukrainian lives and territorial integrity.

Additionally, the G-7 security guarantees should concentrate on increasing military support in Ukraine, closing financial loopholes that benefit Russia, and fast-tracking Ukraine's integration with Europe. Western analysts have solid evidence of what works in supporting Ukraine's economy and weakening Russia's capacity for war.

The need for the West to prevent Russia from winning the war in Ukraine is evident. To achieve this, Western countries must move away from the presumption that they can predict and influence Russian decision-making in Moscow.

Instead, they should focus on tangible actions that can empower Ukraine on the ground. Until Western analysts gain a better understanding of Russia's internal dynamics, this pragmatic approach offers the best chance of success in preventing Russia's victory in Ukraine.


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