It’s Time to Strike Russian Targets Inside Russia

Matthew R. Bishop
6 min readDec 5, 2022

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The Appeasing of Tyrants has Failed again. Now is the Time for the West to Win.

by Matthew R. Bishop — December 5, 2022

Ukrainian Defense Forces conduct anti-terrorist operations in April of 2020. Photo provided by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. CCL 2.0

As the war rages on — and the avoidable civilian death count continues to rise — we must confront the harsh reality of this time-sensitive crisis. To stave off further unnecessary death and suffering, NATO and the West must now conduct direct strikes against Russian military targets inside of Russia itself.

Short of this, they must at the very least provide Ukraine with the arms to do so — including long-range artillery munitions, fighter jets, air support, and other advanced systems which NATO has so far withheld.

As Russians lose more and more ground, their tactics are becoming increasingly genocidal. Victorious Ukrainian soldiers are discovering more and more mass graves in each new recaptured town. Millions of Ukrainians are already believed to have been “relocated” to prison camps inside of Russia over the past nine months, and there’s no way of knowing how many of them might still be alive.

Russia’s justification of the war — that Ukraine doesn’t exist and that there is no such thing as a Ukrainian people — certainly suggests that this genocide is deliberate, pre-meditated and intentional. It also suggests that it will continue to escalate until someone stops it — or until the genocide is complete.

Appeasement never works with genocidal tyrants. History has at least taught us this much. The West can no longer pretend that a strategy of measured appeasement can end this war. If the West truly wants this war to end, then the West must become directly involved in facilitating and carrying out strikes against Russian military targets inside of Russia itself.

The United States should lead these precision strikes, and it should do so now, before the unraveling humanitarian crisis worsens even further. As of today, per the Atlantic Council’s on-location reporting: “Putin’s bombing campaign has plunged the country into darkness and left tens of millions of Ukrainians without heat, electricity, and water. This is happening on the cusp of winter with snow already on the ground and temperatures below zero. We are staring at a humanitarian catastrophe of barely imaginable proportions.”

A humanitarian crisis on top of a genocide is perhaps the most time-sensitive situation one can imagine. Each hour we spend continuing to pretend that appeasement can work with violent dictators is another hour we leave our allies to die. And seriously — have we not already learned this lesson?

The United States and its NATO allies should clearly articulate why and where they conduct their strikes. Russia — although they’ll surely spin the attacks however they want to within their domestic propaganda machines — should not be given room to misinterpret our actions on the global stage. These should be precision strikes carried out against specific and legitimate military targets — targets associated with, and co-responsible for, the terroristic bombing campaign against Ukrainian civilian targets and the campaign of ethnic cleansing in Russian-occupied Ukraine. NATO strikes must be both necessary (to immediately halt the bombing campaign and to protect an endangered civilian population at risk of elimination) and justified (as a less-than-proportional response to that bombing campaign). Legitimate targets should be discussed between NATO allies and multilaterally approved.

Furthermore, NATO should immediately deploy whatever forces and resources may be necessary to sustain a displaced civilian population numbering in the tens of millions without heat, shelter, food, medicine, or water through the coldest, darkest months of winter.

At the same time, international investigators should work to determine where, exactly, several million Ukrainians have been abducted and shipped off to inside of Russia — and how to get them out alive, without allowing Putin to use millions of live hostages to negotiate for his regime.

Accomplishing all of this might prove to be more daunting of a task than defeating Russia itself. But NATO was not created to accomplish easy missions.

There are those who would caution against “escalation” in this conflict, even while Putin consistently escalates on his end. Before closing this article, we should address their fears and reservations and the counter-arguments they bring forth.

The argument that NATO should avoid direct involvement misses the reality of the situation — that Russia, and Putin himself, has already declared war on NATO. From the start, Russia has framed this invasion as a war against NATO, and has told its citizens that they are already fighting NATO soldiers in Ukraine. Russians — unfortunately without any information sources outside of their mandated propaganda channels — already believe that they’re actually fighting a war against NATO, complete with NATO soldiers in ground combat. In a classic-Putin move, they’ve even been told that it was NATO that started the war, not Russia. In summary, Russia has already declared war on NATO. So why is NATO still telling itself that it’s not at war?

The fear of nuclear escalation is similarly misplaced. NATO and the West have an overwhelming nuclear deterrent force against any conceivable Russian offensive — nuclear or otherwise. NATO’s force in conventional arms is so overpowering that it would not even need to respond to a Russian tactical nuclear threat with its own nuclear strike. The West could retaliate with only a conventional force and still fully mitigate that threat.

Moreover, Putin’s miscalculation here would actually work in the West’s favor. The use of tactical nuclear weapons would justify, rationalize and legitimize a direct US ground invasion of Russia itself, the forced toppling of Putin’s regime, and the subsequent occupation of Russia to establish a transitional government and an international war crimes tribunal.

These are easily predictable outcomes by any scholar or student of political science. We should assume Russian political and military actors are also aware of this, and that they would resist any order or impulse to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon. Yet again — even if they did deploy such weapons — NATO is perfectly capable of mitigating Russia’s entire tactical nuclear arsenal using only conventional strikes, without needing to resort to nuclear weapons itself. In this scenario, the West maintains both the moral and legal high ground while also dealing a death blow to Putin and his regime.

And yes, perhaps Putin himself might go truly berserk and order a large nuclear strike against a major city in his “bunker moment” — when he sees suicide as the only alternative. The chances of that are very, very slim, though not inconceivable. If Putin were to employ the use of a strategic-level nuclear weapon against a densely-populated city, it is unlikely that either Putin or his regime would live to see the next morning. NATO (and at that point, most of the non-NATO world as well) would declare total and unconditional war against Russia, and Russia would face dire odds as dozens of countries declare war against it all at the same time. Russia would face an immediate ground invasion on so many fronts and by so many nations that it would collapse into rubble overnight. China, too, would abandon Russia in this scenario, and would formally join the war on the side of NATO and the West, sending its own forces against Russia’s eastern flank. Doing so would create a tense US-Chinese, dual-hegemon alliance that leaves Russia entirely wiped off the map and completely irrelevant in global affairs for at least the next hundred years.

No Russian who grasps even a tenth of such consequences would ever consider obeying a direct order to deploy a strategic-grade “city-buster” nuclear weapon. It is certainly unlikely that any trained Russian officer would obey such an order, knowing both the horrific humanitarian cost of such an order and the swift, brutal vengeance that the entire world would then exact from the ruins of what once was Russia.

In the end, such fear-induced counter-arguments distract us from the grim reality of the ongoing war — a war in which true genocide and imperial territorial conquest appear to be the motives, complete with the mass execution of a whole civilian population, the total annihilation of a civilization, and the imperial conquest of land by force of arms. When we confront the reality of what this war really is — of what it means for the world, what it means for history, and of what damage it will continue to wreak unless someone stops it — can there be any excuse left not to act?

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Matthew R. Bishop

Matt is an author, journalist, international affairs writer, and a federal civilian crisis responder for the United States.