The old maxim of Russia being impervious to rationale but susceptible to a show of force remains as true as ever, writes journalist and security expert Edward Lucas in a piece which appeared on the website of think-tank the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).
Lucas argues that Ukrainian victory can be realistically aimed for in 2026, if all nations opposing Russia pull together and get a better grasp of the sheer blowfish-like way in which that country puffs itself up, in so doing unnecessarily scaring people off.
A 2023 draws to a close, gloom reigns, Lucas writes, but not so much in Ukraine, where gritty determination abounds, but rather in many Western capitals.
This gloom includes the false perception that Ukraine can't win, that the counter-offensive has failed and that a deal with Russia is inevitable.
Far from leading to peace, Lucas argues, these arguments lead to more war.
Russia's goal is not a modest territorial adjustment with a neutralized neighbor, he adds, but the total evisceration of Ukrainian statehood and national identity.
With one neighbor thus tamed, it is only a matter of time before the Kremlin tackles another
One small shaft of light in the situation comes from from the Estonian defense ministry in Tallinn, whose 22-page report, "Setting Transatlantic Defense up for Success: A Military Strategy for Ukraine's Victory and Russia's Defeat, "should be required reading over the holiday break for every decision-maker," Lucas continues.
This report's opening contention is that defeatism is in fact the product of Russian information warfare.
This makes the first and most urgent step to be to dump the current strategy, shaped by fears of escalation, and to concentrate instead on making it clear that victory for Russia is not, as the Kremlin would like to believe, inevitable, but on the contrary - impossible.
"While Russia is still impervious to the logic of reason, it is continuously sensitive to the logic of force," the report states.
Increasing military and economic pressure on Russia and continue until a breaking point is reached is the means whereby, Lucas goes on, adding tht this is achievable - the 54-member "Ramstein" group, which coordinates help for Ukraine, has a combined GDP of €47 trillion ($51 trillion). Russia's national income is less than one-twentieth of that, while the defense budgets alone of the Ramstein 54 come to €1.24 trillion combined, 13 times that of Russia – a country with an economy roughly comparable with that of Florida, for instance, or of Italy.
At the same time this will require patience and forbearance, while human figures are also put on the plan - 50,000 Russian troops need to be put out of action one way or another every half-a-year, the report states.
This will enhance a phenomenon already seen, of hastily assembled units of poorly trained soldiers, lacking in initiative and led by an often vain officer caste.
Meanwhile Ukrainian armed forces will need much better training, equally in terms of length, quality, scope and sophistication, Lucas adds
This could ultimately lead to a Russian defeat by 2026, which, while in political and public opinion terms may seem like a long time, will be much shorter than the length of time in which we will be living in a vastly changed world, were Ukraine not to emerge victorious
"Estonia understands that all too well. Do we?" Lucas concludes.
CEPA states on its website that its main aims include fostering a strong and enduring transatlantic alliance and to build networks of future leaders well-versed in Atlanticism.
Edward Lucas is a columnist with The Times and formerly with The Economist, and is a prospective Liberal Democrat candidate at next year's U.K. general election. He is the son of the philosopher John Lucas (1929-2020).
Editor: Andrew Whyte