Influential Policy Experts Send Message To Biden: Cut A Deal In Ukraine To Focus On Taiwan

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Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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A recent report from the RAND Corporation advises the Biden administration to seek an end to the war in Ukraine as soon as possible, and take active steps to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

RAND, which houses one of the world’s leading defense policy think tanks, published “Avoiding a Long War: U.S. Policy and the Trajectory of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict” as the war in Ukraine approached the one year mark. In it, analysts suggest that the U.S. cannot support an extended conflict in Ukraine while devoting the resources necessary to other pressing foreign policy issues, like protecting Taiwan from China.

Ukraine and the United States share a number of interests, the analysts write, but they aren’t exactly the same. Both parties would like to see Russia weakened, democracy fostered and a restoration of lost Ukrainian territory. But the report argues the Biden administration must prioritize avoiding a direct kinetic conflict between NATO and Russia and an escalation to the use of nuclear weapons.

According to the analysis, Russia sees the war as nearly-existential. This means that the threat of losing captured territory, particularly Crimea, or an increase in domestic pressure threatening regime change, may push Russia toward the use of nuclear weapons. The most likely pathway toward direct NATO involvement may be an accidental strike on NATO territory, which is increasingly likely the longer the war rages on.

These goals can be accomplished by ending the war as quickly as possible, RAND says. But the Biden administration has taken few steps toward this end.

At every turn, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have stressed that support for Ukraine, both humanitarian and militarily, will continue “as long as necessary.” No specific pathway to peace has been outlined by the United States. As Washington is not a direct belligerent in the conflict, the White House has consistently emphasized that it must be Ukraine, not the U.S., that sets terms for peace.

This mentality has led to billions of dollars worth of aid flooding to Ukraine, and it has made a positive difference for Kiev. Russian forces have not made nearly the progress many observers expected at the outset of the invasion, and Western-provided weapons and sanctions have resulted in heavy Russian casualties and political and economic isolation of Moscow rivaled by few other regimes.

However, the U.S. is facing diminishing returns, according to RAND. Russia has already been so weakened that any further losses, economically and politically speaking, are likely to be incremental, the analysts argue. Longer conflict will also push Russia closer to China and hurt the U.S. ability to direct resources toward defending Taiwan from a potential Chinese invasion.

The Biden administration can take further steps to foster peace that they have thus far ignored, the report claims. One would be structuring long-term military aid for Ukraine to diminish Russian optimism for a victory, while also conditioning that aid on a peace deal to encourage Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to come to the negotiating table. Biden should also propose a security deal that maintains Ukrainian neutrality, according to the report.

Also important is providing Moscow with a pathway to sanctions relief, RAND writes. Moscow has even less incentive to negotiate a peace deal if there isn’t an understanding that it will lead to the lifting of the historically intense sanctions it is currently facing. (RELATED: Biden’s Mixed Signals On Ukraine Aid Suggest Kyiv Must Earn Congress’ Future Support, Experts Say)

There remain no signs the Biden administration is intending to pursue these steps, though. Regular tranches of aid continue to be announced from the Pentagon and the State Department, with the same “as long as it takes” response to questions about a timeline. And, for now, Biden is seemingly still content to leave Ukraine in the drivers’ seat toward negotiations as the one-year mark of the invasion is days away.