Author: Hans Petter Midttun, Independent Analyst, Hybrid Warfare, Non-resident Fellow at Centre for Defence Strategies, board member Ukrainian Institute for Security and Law of the Sea, former Defence Attaché of Norway to Ukraine, and Officer (R) of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

Despite the political hope for de-escalation, the war will continue to escalate. The escalation includes – but is not limited to – its massive attacks on critical infrastructure in Ukraine, its weaponization of food and energy supplies globally, the destruction of the Kakhovka dam and its nuclear blackmail. The escalation is happening because the international community allows it to happen.

The war will continue to escalate as Ukraine is fighting for its right to exist and Russia fails to find an off-ramp. The War of Drones will escalate as both Russia and Ukraine are developing their capabilities. Ukraine will succeed in turning Crimea into an island by cutting the Russian ground lines of communication along the Sea of Azov. Ukraine will also destroy all bridges linking the peninsula to mainland Russia and Ukraine. Russia will be facing increasing problems sustaining both its forces in southern Ukraine and Crimea.  

Ukrainian surface drones will increasingly challenge Russia’s attempt to turn the Black Sea into a Russian lake. The Black Sea Fleet will remain unable to ensure its own safety or the safety of any commercial vessel bound for Russian ports. The economic war will, consequently, increase in severity.

Russia will never accept being defeated by Ukraine (a country that, in its perception, does not exist). Ironically, the one option that the West fears the most – a NATO military intervention – would offer it an off-ramp in the face of a strategic defeat. In the absence of Western will to intervene, however, Russia will at one stage be forced to mobilize. The calls from the Russian ultranationalist community for Russia to do more and worse are growing louder as their frustration increases.

The bottom line is that the war will continue to escalate. The question is whether it will happen on Russian or Western terms. It will remain on Russia’s terms until the West decides to escalate to de-escalate. It’s time for the West to demonstrate the ability to de-escalate tension. That, however, requires it to take the initiative and temporarily escalate.

Will Russia like it? Not at all. Will it try to blackmail the world into submission? Absolutely. Will it stay and fight both Ukraine and the collective West? Not a chance because it would run the risk of losing everything. Will it use nuclear weapons? No, it will not. There are no scenarios in which a nuclear war serves Russian interests. It runs the risk of mutual destruction. It will lose the support of both China and India. It runs contrary to the purpose of the war itself. Not least, its use runs contrary to its nuclear doctrine.

The West needs to get over its fear of escalation. Escalation is very much needed to convince Russia that peace is a better solution than war.

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