Washington needs a realistic policy toward Russia

by Janusz Bugajski | August 04, 2022 12:37 PM

Successive U.S. administrations have failed to develop an effective policy approach toward Russia. Decisions have not been informed by hard reality but by wishful thinking that Moscow can become a constructive partner in resolving international problems.

Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a realistic long-term plan is urgently needed to confront Russia’s imperialism and manage the consequences of its state failure driven by military defeat and a crippled economy. During each U.S. administration, influential reports are routinely issued by former officials and experts proposing either a new detente or “reset” with Russia, the pursuit of “strategic stability” based on cooperation in narrow arenas such as arms control, or simply “managing” the bilateral confrontation. Such approaches not only failed to transform Russia into a reliable partner, but they actually enabled the Kremlin to garner financial resources in the pursuit of empire.

Instead of repeating the same strategic mistakes, policy planning needs to concentrate on how the instability generated by war and sanctions will affect Russia’s statehood and foreign policy. The U.S. National Security Strategy issued in December 2017 affirmed that Russia was a major rival aiming to weaken Washington’s international influence and divide the United States from its allies. Given this accurate geopolitical assessment, Moscow’s offensives need to be reversed not only by arming Ukraine to liberate all of its territories, but also by capitalizing on Russia’s internal weaknesses to preclude future aggression.

A realistic policy should be based on a narrative of Western success and not on fear of a Russian threat.

Russia’s conventional military has demonstrated in Ukraine that it is no match for the U.S. or NATO. The overarching Western anxiety is based on Russia’s possession of the second-largest nuclear arsenal. The erroneous supposition is that Russia’s leaders are willing to commit national suicide rather than calculate how to salvage their political futures and economic fortunes, regardless of Russia’s fate. Tellingly, President Vladimir Putin recently admitted that no one would win a nuclear war, thus undercutting the veracity of previous Kremlin threats against NATO that paralyzed some Western leaders.

Moreover, Russia’s weapons of mass destruction are protected by the most loyal elements of the security forces and are highly unlikely to be seized by rebels and insurgents. Even in the eventuality that some states emerging from a collapsing Russian Federation acquire control of such weapons and, crucially, the means to deploy and fire them, they will have no reason to target any countries from which they will seek political backing, diplomatic recognition, and economic assistance. On the contrary, post-Russian states are likely to favor nuclear disarmament to help gain international support, much like Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Putin’s regime survival is thus based on stoking fear regardless of actual Western policy. To counter Kremlin disinformation, openly declared support for pluralism, democracy, federalism, the autonomy of dozens of republics and regions, and a broad range of civil and ethnic rights can help embolden citizens in Russia and demonstrate that they are not isolated on the world stage despite Moscow’s oppressive policies.

Ultimately, the West needs to ensure that Russia is sufficiently blunted militarily and economically so that it will no longer be capable of waging aggressive wars against its neighbors. A rump Muscovite state under intense international sanctions and shed of its resource base in Siberia and the northern territories when the state begins to rupture will have severely reduced capabilities for any militaristic policies.



  1. Alas, many appeasers have come and gone in the past, and there are more than enough here, in the present. Certainly, this species of loser will never go extinct. Appeasing has its place, for sure, but, like anything else in life, there is a time and place when its usefulness is expired. Overusing it brings only unpleasant results and is counterproductive. Drinking good wine until the bottles are empty makes you not a connoisseur, but a damned drunkard. Slopping a meal into your gullet in a fine restaurant doesn’t make you a gastronome, but a hog. Such things happened with mafia land. I won’t name the culprits. We all know who they are. The evidence was there for all to see, that Russia had become a crime syndicate, run by a batty ex-KGB runt with delusions of grandeur and illusions of a dangerous NATO. It became obvious years ago – to those with a functional brain – that appeasing such a regime is completely useless. Even now, as this fascist crime-ridden regime has unleashed a hellish war on an innocent country, there are those who wish to appease this evil monster. I will never comprehend such a mindset. They would appease Adolf Hitler, even after they saw the horrors of his concentration camps.
    In the article above, I like the last paragraph the best. Let us hope that this will be the final chapter of mafia land.

    • The final para is indeed what decent, civilised people everywhere should aspire to.
      The article has an optimistic tone; assuming that RuZZia will be defeated. But right now, several outcomes of putler’s holocaust are possible : 1/ putler declares victory, annexes all the land he occupies currently, pauses for a year or several and then unleashes a massive invasion all over again. 2/ Ukraine takes back Kherson oblast, pushes on to Crimea and eventually expels the orcs from all Ukrainian territory. Putler survives and spends the next few years preparing to do it all over again. 3/ All of 2/ happens, but putler is overthrown and/or killed and replaced with someone even worse. 4/ All of 3/ happens, but in this scenario putler is replaced by a human being that wants peace and reconciliation. 5/ the war goes on for years, with land being lost, retaken, lost etc. Ukraine’s air defences steadily improve and putler’s genocide of civilians is curtailed.

      Obviously we want scenario 4/. But the article does not even cover the most crucial part, which is the need for the allies to massively step up military support to ensure a crushing victory for Ukraine, whilst simultaneously enforcing the type of aggressive sanctions that will totally crash putler’s economy and cause mass starvation and rioting.

      • I would argue the USA already has a policy but we are just not following it. We used to stand by our friends and fellow democracies even if it meant standing by them half way across the globe, NATO or no NATO. Vietnam wasn’t in NATO, Korea wasn’t in NATO, Iraq wasn’t in NATO, but for some very strange reason we can’t stand with Ukraine because they aren’t in NATO.
        Where’s my vodka?……

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