What Conventional Military Analysis Missed About Russia

Barry Gander
13 min readAug 27

Conflict is more than accountancy.

Remains of the attacking Russian column in February 2022.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be over fast, experts believed, because they had counted the equipment available and men in the field, and it was a no-brainer about what would happen when the Russian and Ukrainian armies exchanged fire on the battlefield.

The experts put a huge emphasis on the weapons that each side had at its disposal — an area where Russia had a clear advantage. The numbers of troops each side could deploy also made for an obvious Russian killer blow.

Looking at human motivations — and human determination — is much harder to do, but a case can be made that it is in fact the major determinant of war.

Since the 2014 Crimea take-over, most experts opposed the West sending arms to Ukraine. In a 2015 survey by Foreign Affairs which asked, ‘Should the United States Arm Ukraine?,’ 18 experts disagreed and only nine agreed with sending arms. Prominent among those who disagreed were scholars of Russia and Eurasia, such as Angela Stent, Anatol Lieven, Robert Legvold, Ian Bremmer, Robert Jervis, Jack Snyder, William C. Wohlforth, Mary S. Sarotte, Keith Darden, and Valerie Bunce. The ‘realists’ said that sending arms would not make any difference anyway, as Ukraine would be defeated by Russia. Why send weapons that Russia would only capture after a few days?

And Ukraine’s showing in the Crimea take-over did not invite confidence.

Otherwise great forecasters can be sidetracked in this field. Lawrence Freedman, a professor emeritus of war studies at King’s College London, predicted that Putin would not invade. He said: “Clearly, I did not make the big call, which would have been to join those who had been convinced for some time that a big war was about to start. I was becoming increasingly persuaded of its possibility, but it still seemed to be such a self-evidently stupid move that I assumed that Putin had better options.”

We can have sympathy with a man who thinks that a leader of a major country cannot possibly be as stupid as he really is.

Something else that’s very hard to weight on a spreadsheet is the ability of the coming opponent. Russia’s main domestic security agency — the Federal Security Service —…

Barry Gander

A Canadian from Connecticut: 2 strikes against me! I'm a top writer, looking for the Meaning under the headlines. Follow me on Mastodon @Barry