How to Fight Putin by Offering Russians “a Million Little Carrots”

Protest against war in Ukraine Moscow, 24 February 2022 This sign reads: “Peace to Ukraine, Freedom For Russia”. (AP).


A few days ago I wrote a post on Timur Kuran’s suggestion of combating Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. He suggested that Russian troops surrendering to the Russian army should be granted asylum, increasing deserters’ motivations. Scott Gilmore from Canada, who is a political commentator, offers a more expansive version of the idea. It’s not limited to soldiers. He suggests Western nations take a wide range of steps to encourage  Russians to join with us in opposing Putin:

The western alliance has moved quicker and implemented more sanctions than anyone would have predicted just a week ago…

And, unfortunately, this historically harsh set of sanctions has failed to move Putin….

The west might consider an alliance strategy that offers a million small carrots to Russia.

The Ukrainian government has offered Russian deserters 5,000,000 rubles, which amounts to approximately US $47,000. This is almost 450 times the amount that the Kremlin is paying the families of fallen soldiers. NATO and the EU could match that and add an offer of asylum for them and their families….

Even though each Russian soldier who deserted would receive a substantial bounty (say $100,000), it would still prove to be very cost-effective when you consider the price of supporting protracted wars, as well as the cost in man and material required to get that soldier out of the field in traditional manner.

This strategy could also be used in a wider context. Some of the million-dollar carrots might be given to Russian diplomats. We have already seen at least one resign in protest, but there could be hundreds more if the western alliance also dangled in front of them a path to citizenship and a stipend to cover living costs. While this might seem unfair, it is important to remember that bigger fish need larger bait.

For senior military staff or Kremlin officials in Moscow, maybe even notable journalists or celebrities, we could also offer a path to citizenship and an even larger stipend….

For them, and for all others, however there is a very crucial catch. These little carrots require that they make a recording of themselves explaining how they feel about the war, and asking others to follow their lead.

The Kremlin would have a hard time controlling domestic narratives if there were thousands of testimonials from both powerful Russians or lowly conscripts. It would have a devastating effect on morale, as well as limiting further propaganda and disinformation efforts.

The most important thing is that a million small carrots strategies would eliminate Russian boots on ground. If you consider the slow progress of the Russian military after (according to Pentagon estimates) 90 per cent of the troops assigned to this invasion have already been deployed, it is clear that even a small number of deserters will have a disproportionately large impact on Moscow’s ability to fight this war….

Gilmore has many points that I can agree with. However, I think the mandatory video should be optional. Potential deserters and defectors may be afraid to record the video for fear of retaliation from their family back home. The video could also be seen as less credible by Russian viewers if they discover (as it is likely) that this was an obligatory condition for obtaining asylum in the West.

To encourage Russians towards our side, the strategy can be extended further by opening up the door for Russian migrants to enter, even if they aren’t high ranking government officials or celebrities. The Putin regime still has value for ordinary people with scientific and technical skills. Instead, it is better to have them at our side. In an opinion piece in the newspaper, I’ll have more to share about this topic. New York TimesThe upcoming release of the is scheduled for Tuesday. It addresses a variety of objections, among other things.

It is important to supplement this approach by taking all reasonable steps to prevent sanctions and cancellations aimed at ordinary Russians. You have good reasons to deny the government resources, such as freezing Russia’s foreign central bank assets and punishing its top officials and associates. However, collateral damage should be minimized to innocent civilians for both strategic and moral reasons. Yascha Munk, a political scientist and author of this article makes excellent points. Washington Post article:

While we may be fighting an ignoble war against Vladimir Putin, it is not at the expense of the Russian people. Acting as if we are is as immoral as it is counterproductive….

Putin enjoys unquestionable support. However, over the last week many Russians found it difficult to condemn Putin’s attack on Ukraine. This often meant that they were taking great risk.

Already thousands have been detained for their protests against the war. A total of 7,000 Russian academics and scientists signed an open letter demanding that all military operations against Ukraine be stopped immediately. Teachers, doctors, and other organizations are also signing similar petitions. Over a million people have signed the petition.

Even more Russians share these sentiments but lack the bravery or the opportunity to speak out….

All of this drives home the importance of continuing to draw the vital distinction between the Russian government and the Russian people — something that many pundits, politicians and institutional leaders are, sadly, failing to do….

Russians living in Russia will be subject to severe sanctions. They are morally justified because they are essential to help Ukraine and weaken Putin. It is right to stop doing business with Russian companies, to seize the property of oligarchs who got rich thanks to their connections to the Kremlin, and to ban sports teams from competing in international competitions under the Russian flag….

This is not a reason for individuals to be punished because of the circumstances of their birth, or to place Russia’s rich cultural heritage under suspicion. Dictators don’t speak for everyone who is of the same nationality as them. It is wrong to punish Russians living in Russia who have no official connection with the Kremlin. Stopping Russian academics from speaking in the West would be an injustice. It would also make it difficult to hold every Russian citizen to an ideological litmus exam or cancel Russian artist performances based on nationality.

Gilmore and Mounk explained that separating Russia’s government from its citizens is morally correct, as well as a way to counter Putin’s propaganda and weaken Putin’s regime.

The conflict with Putin, like the Cold War against Soviet Union isn’t just about a military confrontation determined by materialism, it’s also a war between ideas and ideologies. The liberal democratic ideology won over communism. This ideology can even prevail over Putin’s authoritarian nationalism. The latter is likely to have a lower appeal than communism at its peak. Putin’s Russian world is much less appealing than Lenin or Stalin’s utopia of unlimited abundance and freedom. However, we will lose a lot of potential Russian sympathizers if we lump them into the enemy.

Although the “million carrots strategy” isn’t a substitute for military assistance to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, it can be a useful addition. This strategy can be used to increase the effectiveness of existing measures and it is relatively inexpensive. As previous generations of Russian migrants and defectors have shown, they can be valuable contributors to Western societies and economies. In my next article, I’ll be addressing this point in more detail. New York Times article.