I don’t see Putin backing down as long as he has an army to command. As a result, the world needs to get a lot more creative if we want this war to end without a holocaust.
Putin’s soft underbelly is the fact that he isn’t the only Russian decision-maker, and he isn’t risking his life on the battlefield. If his army refuses to fight, he cannot prevail.
Russian soldiers need to know that they have a different and better option to following Putin’s orders and that they will be given protection and a new life if they decide to vote with their feet and leave the conflict.
What would it take to give Russian soldiers a better option and a real choice?
Not much relative to the cost of war.
Russian soldiers who lay down their arms need to know that the West will guarantee their safety, embrace them, pay them, and help them immigrate to the EU or USA. Given the approximate 700 million people in the EU and USA, absorbing a few hundred thousand defecting soldiers has a meaningless cost.
If given the choice of a better and different life, many soldiers, especially the teenage conscripts, will quickly abandon their posts. This is just a case of figuring out what package of money and protection will induce Russian soldiers to defect.
According to media reports, scores of soldiers are already abandoning their positions. Others are surrendering or sabotaging their equipment. These soldiers are taking an enormous risk and have no assurance that they will not be shot or imprisoned after the war by their own government.
Many Russian soldiers are teenage conscripts, so in figuring out what to offer defecting soldiers we need to put ourselves into the shoes of a teenager who doesn’t want to die and hasn’t seen much of the world.
The West should embrace Russian soldiers who want to defect by protecting them with a guarantee of asylum and Western education.
And, since many of the soldiers are teenagers, an immediate bonus payment of $100,000 combined with a trip to Disneyland (after all, every kid dreams of what he would do with a pile of cash at the Magic Kingdom ) can only help.
Sure, I am suggesting bribing kids to stop killing and leave their homes, but this is not a time to be proud or stand on ceremony.
And, we don’t need to worry about the costs of this plan. Russia has hundreds of billions in foreign banks and the oligarchs have hundreds of billions of additional assets in the West. There is plenty of Russian money to pay Russian soldiers to stop murdering Ukrainians.
My guess is many of the conscripts will carefully consider the cash, trip, asylum, and education. And, if it doesn’t work, the West should sweeten the pot until Russian conscripts see a better life outside of Russia than inside it.
On the other hand, Russian soldiers need to know that if they don’t take the offer they will be charged as war criminals and have no future.
Historically, Russia has not been kind to its military after a loss. Putin will not protect them forever (if only because Putin is mortal and will eventually die) and the next regime may not look kindly on the war criminals who impoverished their nation.
Soldiers need to know that the consequence of not taking the West’s offer is that they can never leave Russia and will be forever subject to Russian accountability. They need to understand that if they leave Russian territory they will be arrested, charged with war crimes, tried, and most likely imprisoned for the rest of their lives. And, within Russia they need to know that they will never work for a Western company, an export company, or be paid Western wages. War crime charges will doom ordinary soldiers to life inside Russia as international fugitives, which is a terrible and poverty-stricken alternative to living in the West.
What you need to know
We need to give Russian soldiers a choice and stop pretending Putin is the only Russian actor or decision-maker.
It won’t take many defections to stop the Russian military in its tracks. And it won’t take much to undermine unit cohesion and the will of individual Russian soldiers to fight.
If the initial package of cash and benefits doesn’t do the trick, the West can keep on making the offer richer and richer until mass defections take place.
The strategy of asylum and protection has worked in the past
Asylum and protection as tools to undermine a military machine from within is not a new idea and has worked in the past.
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed Confederate States’ slaves and provided asylum guarantees for those who could defect to the Union. Lincoln immediately turned millions of slaves into potential insurgents behind enemy lines and converted them into a potent military force after they escaped to the North.
In 1863 and 1864, the Confederacy was forced to divert scarce military resources to protect its rear. By the end of the Civil War, more than 200,000 former slaves fought for the Union and were a necessary force to end the war.
This strategy worked in the 1800s, and it can work now.
So, let’s give the Russian military a choice. Go down in flames with Putin or have a new affluent life in the West.
Will every Russian soldier make the right choice and take the deal?
But we only need enough Russians to defect, not all Russians, in order to fatally undermine Putin and take down his criminal regime.