RAND Corp is a government and industry financed large research institute. Founded shortly after the end of the second world war it mostly works for the Pentagon by developing policies and strategies.
In April 2019 RAND published a report about Extending Russia (pdf).
The report summary explained its purpose:
As the 2018 National Defense Strategy recognized, the United States is currently locked in a great-power competition with Russia. This report seeks to define areas where the United States can compete to its own advantage. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative data from Western and Russian sources, this report examines Russia’s economic, political, and military vulnerabilities and anxieties. It then analyzes potential policy options to exploit them — ideologically, economically, geopolitically, and militarily (including air and space, maritime, land, and multidomain options).
RAND developed policy options in those four fields. It then evaluated their benefit, cost and risks as well as their likelihood of success.
Here is their summary table for economic measures:
The first three measures were implemented when the war in Ukraine was launched.
The geopolitical measures included an option of providing lethal aid to Ukraine. This would create the risk that Russia would respond militarily and eventually take more of Ukraine than the two Donbas republics:
Taking more of Ukraine might only increase the burden [for Russia], albeit at the expense of the Ukrainian people. However, such a move might also come at a significant cost to Ukraine and to U.S. prestige and credibility. This could produce disproportionately large Ukrainian casualties, territorial losses, and refugee flows. It might even lead Ukraine into a disadvantageous peace.
While they at times underestimate Russia’s capabilities RAND people are not dumb. They knew of the likely outcome of a war.
Other geopolitical measure RAND evaluated included more support for ‘Syrian rebels’, regime change per color revolution in Belarus, to exploit tensions in the southern Caucasus and to reduce Russian influence in Central Asia.
RAND’s summary for geopolitical measures:
The Trump and Biden administrations both implemented the measures that seemed to have high benefits as well as high risks.
The use of ideological measures against Russia was seen as having rather low benefits.
There follow more options, mostly in military categories, that the RAND report developed and evaluated. They emphasize industry pork.
The Trump administration took some of the measures RAND provided but seemed not too enthusiastic about them. Its regime change attempt in Belarus failed. The Biden administration changed tact. He endorsed Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the color revolution candidate that had failed the elections in Belarus. Biden also allowed for the delivery of more offensive weapons to Ukraine. The regime in Kiev was encouraged to retake the rebellions Donbas republics. The green light for that was given in early 2022 even as the White House knew that Russia would respond militarily. The consequences for Ukraine that RAND had predicted in 2019 ensued.
The U.S. aim for the war is, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in April 2022, to ‘weaken Russia’:
A National Security Council spokesperson said that Austin’s comments were consistent with what the US’ goals have been for months – namely, “to make this invasion a strategic failure for Russia.”“We want Ukraine to win,” the spokesperson added. “One of our goals has been to limit Russia’s ability to do something like this again, as Secretary Austin said. That’s why we are arming the Ukrainians with weapons and equipment to defend themselves from Russian attacks, and it’s why we are using sanctions and export controls that are directly targeted at Russia’s defense industry to undercut Russia’s economic and military power to threaten and attack its neighbors.”
That, however, will take a very long time.
Letting the conflict extend longer, concludes a newly released RAND report, is itself a danger. The U.S. must avoid a long war:
The authors argue that, in addition to minimizing the risks of major escalation, U.S. interests would be best served by avoiding a protracted conflict. The costs and risks of a long war in Ukraine are significant and outweigh the possible benefits of such a trajectory for the United States. Although Washington cannot by itself determine the war’s duration, it can take steps that make an eventual negotiated end to the conflict more likely.
The study (pdf) argues that Ukraine’s retaking of territory Russia controls should not be relevant for U.S. plans. It has little benefits but high costs. Prolonging the war, while having some benefits for the U.S., has even more risk and costs attached to it.
Especially important to RAND seems to be that the war in Ukraine diverts the U.S. from starting a war with China:
Beyond the potential for Russian gains and the economic consequences for Ukraine, Europe, and the world, a long war would also have on sequences for U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. ability to focus on its other global priorities —particularly, competition with China— will remain constrained as long as the war is absorbing senior policymakers’ time and U.S. military resources.
And although Russia will be more dependent on China regardless of when the war ends, Washington does have a long-term interest in ensuring that Moscow does not become completely subordinated to Beijing. A longer war that increases Russia’s dependence could provide China advantages in its competition with the United States.
The U.S., says RAND, can take measures that make a quick end of the war possible. It can press Ukraine to start negotiations and to accept a bad outcome by threatening to stop financing the war. It can encourage Russia to enter into negotiations by offering substantial sanctions relief.
The reports final policy advice concludes:
A dramatic, overnight shift in U.S. policy is politically impossible—both domestically and with allies—and would be unwise in any case. But developing these instruments now and socializing them with Ukraine and with U.S. allies might help catalyze the eventual start of a process that could bring this war to a negotiated end in a time frame that would serve U.S. interests. The alternative is a long war that poses major challenges for the United States, Ukraine, and the rest of the world.
Start working on this now, says Rand.
It is likely not by chance that the previous call for an immediate start of negotiations to end the war came from the U.S. Chief of Staff Mark Milley. That he did so publicly was a sign that he had lost the internal White House debate on that issue. He probably asked for the RAND study to bolster his argument.
But the neocons, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, State Secretary Anthony Blinken and his deputy Victoria Nuland, who together wage their war against Russia, have Joe Biden’s ears and can control the information he gets. Milley and other realist will have a difficult stand.
Steady Russian progress in its campaign will be the best argument for them to win the internal war in Washington DC.