How and why Russia lost the war in Ukraine

  • Dr. Stephen Blank
    Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy Research Institute - United States.
Foreign Policy & International Relations

How and why Russia lost the war in Ukraine

We are now 14 months into the Russia-Ukraine war and both sides acknowledge and are preparing for a long war of attrition,[1] hence the mass mobilization of forces and Ukraine’s insistent advocacy for stepped-up weapons deliveries that is enjoying some success. This outcome is the polar opposite of what Vladimir Putin had planned for and the number of Russian casualties has led many observers to believe that Russia no longer possesses the capacity for sustained offensives or simultaneous multiple operations.[2] Indeed, many even argue that Russia has already lost the war.[3] By this they mean that it is no longer possible for President Putin to attain any of the political goals he outlined in his decision to go to war, such as no NATO enlargement and the destruction of the Ukrainian state and national idea. Thus, the question becomes how and why did Russia, especially Putin as Commander-in-Chief, lose this war? In addition, a second question must also drive our analysis, namely to what degree this failure reflects larger pathologies in the Russian state and/or society. 

To ask this second question is equally critical since an unsparing assessment of the causes and consequences of Russia’s failure is essential if Russia is ever to move beyond its current state. As Leon Trotsky famously observed: “The army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases, usually at a higher temperature.”[4]  Furthermore, this larger point is not merely a question for Russia and Russians, but also for the world, which has a tremendous stake in Russia’s domestic development that is indissolubly linked to its foreign and defense policies. 

Many reports have listed or described the problems that have afflicted the Russian military from top to bottom, so there is ample evidence of problems related to morale, logistics, insufficient tactical learning, disarray in command structures, corruption, etc. Some of these reports and articles are cited in this paper, but it is not enough merely to reiterate those reported shortcomings. Instead, we aim to provide a larger, strategic-level analysis of Russia’s failure. Not surprisingly, we therefore have recourse to Clausewitz and other theorists of war and strategy. 

Arguably, the foremost reason for Russia’s failure, and one for which Vladimir Putin must accept responsibility, is the violation of one of Clausewitz’s most penetrating observations: "The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish the kind of war on which they are embarking."[5] By failing to determine the correct nature of the war, Putin and his subordinates obliged the Russian military – i.e. not just the ground forces – to fight a war for which it was not suited or prepared. As one recent study states, “if the decision maker decides to deploy the armed forces to a crisis area, their capabilities need to reflect the circumstances of the operating environment.”[6] 

Thanks to the preceding failure to assess the correct nature of the war, this did not happen and Russian forces, as deployed, were signally ill-suited to the requirements of the operating environment. Thus, these armed forces, who did constitute a formidable force when correctly used, were subjected to strains that quickly revealed the defects in command, tactical learning, logistics, morale, defense industry, and domestic support, as well as the inability to conduct joint operations.  Moreover, it is also clear that Putin woefully misread the foreign reaction to his war and the impact it would have, inter alia, on Ukraine’s capacity to resist and on the Russian defense industry’s ability to sustain the demand for weapons by the government and military. Putin’s self-enclosure in an information bubble due to his own pathologies continues to affect his and his government’s understanding of external realities. The fact that Russia has had to seek weapons and components from China to no avail, and rather more successfully from Iran and North Korea, also testifies to Putin’s grievous misreading of the nature of the war, of Russia’s true military capabilities, and the logical political consequences thereof. 

Today, thanks to Putin’s willful misjudgment of the war’s nature, both in terms of Ukraine’s capacity to resist and the domestic Russian situation, as well as the international situation, a number of consequences have ensued. First, Russia is now fighting a war of attrition where its defense industry’s long-running difficulties in providing the weaponry the government demands is increasing,[7] its high rate of casualties – largely due to corrupt and incompetent leadership – shows no sign of falling, and the army, as shown at Bakhmut, is unable to realize the leadership’s political objectives and bring the victory it requires.[8] Leaked U.S. intelligence reports suggest that as of March-April 2023, about 354,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured in the Ukraine war with about 2/3 of those being Russian casualties.[9] In the case of the defense industry, its dependence on Western components for high-tech, and even upon ball bearings, means that due to sanctions the industry’s ability to produce quality weapons or replace lost weapons is severely degraded.[10] 

Second, apart from consigning Russia to years of economic and even demographic stagnation and disaster, Putin’s war to assert Russia as an independent great power/empire has resulted in its possibly forced acceptance of what Russian writers call vassalage, or at least subordination to China.[11] This outcome is plainly visible from the language of the recent Xi-Putin summit and from the documents signed there, which ratified Russian submission to Chinese economic-political, if not geopolitical, dictates and perspectives.[12] This is particularly dangerous for it may also entail Russian alignment or even de facto alignment with China in Northeast Asia, and even possibly with such rogue states as Iran and North Korea.[13] Russia also committed itself to following China’s lead in Africa as well.[14] The risks to regional and international security from an active Sino-Russian alliance, which is de facto and undeclared if not de jure, should be obvious to all observers of international affairs. To give one example, The Economist reports that at the recent Sino-Russian summit: 

Although it was not discussed publicly, Mr. Xi has gained leverage to seek high-end Russian military technology, such as surface-to-air missiles and nuclear reactors designed to power submarines – and to press Mr. Putin to withhold or delay supplies of similar items to Russian customers that have territorial disputes with China, such as India and Vietnam.  Russia could also help upgrade China’s nuclear arsenal, or work on a joint missile-warning system.[15] 

Beyond these costs, Putin has consigned Russia to years, if not decades, of economic stagnation, as well as repression that increasingly evokes Stalinism, and has impelled Sweden and Finland to join NATO. 

Taken together, these outcomes to date represent a heavy indictment of Putin’s leadership and a staggering butcher’s bill of Russian losses. Worse yet, Putin clearly has no intention of cutting his losses because, inter alia, he cannot accept responsibility for these disasters lest his power and that of his underlings be called into question or even taken away. And still worse, it appears that officials will not tell him the truth for fear of losing their jobs. Evidently, he is leaning on a small circle of hardline advisors, who are possibly even more benighted in their views than he is and who will not disturb him with unpalatable truths.[16] 

As The Economist and the Institute for the Study of War observe, Putin still maintains that time is on his side, continues to reinforce failure at every opportunity, e.g. continuing to throw thousands of soldiers into the meat-grinder at Bakhmut, insists on micromanaging the war, refuses to listen to sound military advice, and prizes loyalty over competence.[17] Like a Shakespearean villain, having killed so many people for no purpose other than to enhance his power, he now has no way out other than to send more Russians to their death with little or no hope of retrieving or winning anything thereby. Indeed, apart from the strategic and geostrategic rationales he has offered for this war, there is good reason to suspect that he launched this war in an attempt to improve his and his government’s domestic standing and security.[18] And therefore a defeat would put them both at risk. 

Putin’s many strategic failures 

Within the framework of the aforementioned strategic failure to grasp the nature of this war, we can denote three components of that decision in ascending importance. First is the failure to forecast accurately the Western response, which has had withering and lasting economic consequences as well as an obvious strategic impact in the West’s support for the Ukrainian armed forces. Next comes Putin’s refusal or inability to understand the true nature of his own armed forces and defense industry, and under what conditions they could successfully maximize their performance. Third, and most critical, Putin and Russian planners completely misread Ukraine despite the fact that Russia had “honeycombed” Ukraine with all kinds of agents operating under its intelligence agencies. This intelligence failure, as is often the case, stems from a profound policy failure. What was supposed to be intelligence gathering was imposed from the top down in advance, thus no truthful, critical views were allowed to reach the top of the government. Moreover, this strategic failure in all of the dimensions mentioned here, highlights a deeper and more comprehensive failure of leadership and governance across multiple dimensions of Russian politics.  

Putin, by all accounts, clearly harkened to Ukrainian emigres and intelligence reports that told him Ukraine would immediately collapse upon a military demonstration, thus corrupting the intelligence process and the output of the agent network. Since the conclusion was foreordained, dissenting voices were dismissed and the plan described here and in the accompanying sources was imposed from above and brooked no dissent.[19] As Marc Galeotti has observed: 

There was no real concept of what this war would be because Putin didn't think there was really going to be a war. There wasn't the establishment of the specialized structures. There wasn't the long-term planning. There weren't all the necessary logistics in place. There wasn't a central commander. I mean, essentially, it broke every single rule, and that's simply because, as far as Putin was concerned, this was not going to be a war. He genuinely seems to have believed that Ukraine, this noncountry, would not be defended by its own people and it would basically fall apart at the first push.[20] 

The resort to force majeure in 2022 was supposed to represent a culmination operation in and of itself to a long-term strategy that had operated for years and so to speak took wings in 2021. The long-term operation to subvert Ukraine represented a paradigmatic example of what Dmitry Adamsky has called “multi-domain coercion”, where the military is only one element of a broader mosaic that comprises all the elements of power, information, diplomacy, economics, and large-scale subversion.[21] In conformity with this strategy, in 2021 Moscow began orchestrating coordinated energy, economic, intelligence and information operations along with a menacing diplomatic campaign against Ukraine and NATO, plus an early military build-up to gauge the extent of Western response, and the obvious display of war games targeting Ukraine.[22] This reconnaissance in force as Westerners would call it – Razvedka Boem (Intelligence through War) in Russian) – elicited no Western response, and duly encouraged Putin in his beliefs that he could then remobilize 190,000 troops and attack Ukraine with impunity. 

Alongside these operations, Russia conducted a large-scale, long-term subversion operation reminiscent of Hitler’s Anschluss in Austria, the takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948 and more recent Russian operations. As Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds learned through a series of interviews with Ukrainian officials before the war: 

[Russia’s] threat is exacerbated by the widespread penetration of Ukrainian politics and governmental institutions by agents of the Russian services, handled by both the FSB and the SVR. A network of around 30 personnel linked to the SVR have been involved in building financial mechanisms for astroturfing protests, ballooning the size of demonstrations relating to energy tariffs, tax reforms and other legitimate concerns. Meeting with Ukrainian security officials there is a widespread acknowledgement that many of their colleagues – even in some quite senior positions – are working for or sympathetic to Russia. A shadow structure has emerged inside the Ukrainian government to move information around known Kremlin assets. […] The result is that Russia has a bureaucracy in waiting. […] The Russians are also laying the groundwork for spreading chaos across Ukraine through direct action. Ukrainian assessments of GU strength vary, but there is believed to be around two companies of Russian covert special forces operating in Kyiv. For the Ukrainian security forces there is a significant risk at protests that Russian agent provocateurs – disguised as demonstrators or police officers – will initiate acts of violence. It is a tactic that has previously been observed in Ukraine and was particularly noticeable in the recent internal turmoil in Kazakhstan, where what was initially just a protest against price rises was turned into a violent showdown between different factions of the security apparatus amid greater bloodshed. But the Russians have also made extensive use of their intelligence network to recruit Ukrainians to conduct attacks on government personnel, as when a Russian team coordinated the assassination of a senior SBU counterintelligence officer in Mariupol in 2017. Another attack targeted a military intelligence officer in Kyiv that year.[23] 

Thus, the initial plan was actually more of an orchestrated internal takeover of a collapsed or collapsing state than a classical military invasion. Russia intended to use this vast network of subversion to destabilize and disorganize the Ukrainian government to the point of its internal collapse and isolation from foreign partners, with the military operations being a kind of coup de grace. Hence, there was little expectation of resistance from Ukraine or the West. In effect, it was an attempt based on a willful misreading of the internal Ukrainian situation to replicate the seizure of Crimea in 2014.[24] Based on Russian intelligence practice to have agents in place recruit large numbers of subordinates in the belief that they were working for Ukraine, i.e. a false flag operation, this agent network was not only intended to collapse the state, vital infrastructures, and socio-economic structures so that Moscow could take them over, but these networks would then serve as the nuclei or basis for a rapid turnover to Russian administration that would quickly root out, imprison, or kill members of the current government, military, etc. and then destroy any ideational or material basis of Ukrainian statehood.[25] As another RUSI study observed, “the whole logic of the employment of forces was premised on the success of Russia’s unconventional operations” even though the preconditions for their success had clearly not matured.[26] 

This strategy appears to have failed because the agent network was not yet sufficiently ready to collapse the state in February. Indeed, senior intelligence officials reportedly argued for postponing the operation till July 2022. But Putin, apparently obsessed with Ukraine, and basing himself on self-serving emigre arguments and intelligence reports, rushed the timetable. Moreover, the agent network was set up so that many Ukrainians believed they were working for the government and apparently would not play along further in the false flag operation, while other – perhaps more opportunistic actors – realized that they were at risk for being too close to Russia and ceased cooperating with pro-Russian actors.[27] 

These tactics concerning the nature of Russia’s initial operation not only explain many of Russia’s early military moves, but also lead us to some other conclusions. First, although the initial plan pointed to a coup de main joined by a series of internal actions to collapse and then terminate the Ukrainian state, its intent was and sadly remains genocidal, i.e. an effort not only to kill large parts of the Ukrainian elite and population but also to exterminate the very idea of a Ukrainian people and state.[28] Thus, as stated in FSB reports leaked to the West, Putin wanted a “total cleansing” of Ukraine with “house-to-house terror” designed to quell the Ukrainian people.[29] Emails leaked from the FSB, mention orders “from the very top” demanding the forcing of Ukrainian civilians into concentration camps.[30] In other words, the initial campaign would culminate in a reign of terror evoking Nazi and/or Soviet precedents. This fact explains the ongoing mass murders, rapes, deportation of children, and other war crimes that have occurred on a regular basis. 


Second, this large-scale effort to subvert Ukraine from within through combined coercive actions, and the activities of this pervasive agent network, replicate what Moldova has now accused Moscow of doing in an attempt to overthrow and Russify its government.[31] In other words, even with due tactical changes to suit local conditions, Moscow has a template and series of plans to subvert not just its neighbors but also other European governments, through the panoply of instruments that are also now on display, e.g. in Germany.[32] And this template, along with its diverse variants and connection to a police or intelligence intervention abroad, builds on Nazi, Soviet, and earlier Russian Federation precedents cited above. But beyond those precedents, the attempt to suborn Ukraine extended and developed the canonical Russian imperial strategies of expansion. These are the co-opting of neighboring elites to serve clandestinely (as in this case) or overtly in the empire’s governing institutions, or to create pro-Russian parties (again in this case clandestinely) to advance Russian interests.[33] 

Third, Russia’s initial plan of action reflects the high premium Moscow places on information and cyber warfare as it defines those terms – not as the West does.[34] The systematic and frequent employment of a strategy that relies primarily upon non-military elements to achieve decisive strategic results in Ukraine, Moldova, and other, not solely, European states betrays the primacy of intelligence operatives like Putin, the GRU – Glavnoe Razveditel’noe Upravlenie (Chief Intelligence Administration, i.e. Russian military intelligence) – and many other players in Russian policy and strategy-making, as well as the real fear of directly challenging Western governments.  This non-kinetic strategy comprises Russia’s practical implementation of sustained information and cyber-attacks, espionage, intelligence, and subversion operations that also comprise active measures, influence operations and policies designed to enlist the targeted state’s actions under the rubric of reflexive control – where actors think they are performing in line with their interests but are actually benefitting Moscow are critical and primary elements of Russian strategy. Russia habitually employs this tactic, e.g. in Georgia, in 2008, where it undertook a deliberate series of actions to provoke President Saakashvili to commit his forces first so that he could be portrayed as reckless and aggressive.[35] 

Russia has also used the war to prepare the peace. By rhetoric, as much as by bombardment and the movement of forces, Russia used every device to demonstrate that if Saakashvili did not go, he would be ousted. The military realities and atmospherics not only persuaded the Georgian government to evacuate the capital on 9 August, it persuaded the EU of the urgency of securing a peace accord. Yet in the absence of credible evidence that the storming of Tbilisi was ever seriously contemplated, one can conclude that Russia was driving its EU interlocutors to the negotiating table on its terms. The urgency with which French President Nicolas Sarkozy took over previously even-handed peace negotiations and drove through acceptance of a peace plan drafted in Moscow resulted from a false perception that Georgia could be lost altogether.[36] 

Indeed, many Russian commentators believe that through these methods they could actually bring about victory without actual combat operations.[37] Neither is it just a Russian patent. As David Kilcullen has observed: 

It is beyond the three-block war. It is more like 16-block war with multiple domains – cyber, space, political and economic warfare, alongside the physical and electromagnetic domains. One of the points I make about China is that we are dealing with an adversary that has dramatically broadened its definition of warfare beyond what we consider to be war. In fact, what they do in practice is to mobilize multiple dimensions of national power that are way beyond our traditional military domains. Even if we could conceive a lot of what the Chinese are doing as warlike, it is not clear that the Ministry of Defense of any Western country would be in charge of the response. We need to think carefully about reconceptualizing what we mean by war.[38] 

Kilcullen further observes the impact of this multi-dimensional war upon foreign audiences and its typical character: 

Liminal warfare is about threshold manipulation. It is a style of warfare that the Russians in particular have perfected, which is about riding the edge of observability, surfing the threshold of detectability so a lot of their activity is literally sub-liminal (“below the threshold” of perception), and we don’t even notice what is happening. They manipulate their signature so as to only pop up into the ambiguous zone of operations long enough to achieve very specific short-term goals and then to drop back down into the sub-liminal environment before we can respond. It is about manipulating their own signature, it’s about creative ambiguity and it’s about time – operating in the blur of the “gray zone” and surging rapidly to achieve key objectives and quickly getting back below the threshold of response before we can react. There are a few techniques that they apply. For example, reflexive control, a theory with a long history in the Russian political warfare. Another is decisive shaping, where the decisive phase of operation is not the maneuver phase, but the pre-maneuver shaping phase. Some Russian strategists want to win the operation before the first tank rolls or before the first air strike goes in. If they don’t believe they already won, the tanks will never roll. That means that a lot of liminal warfare is political warfare, economic warfare, weaponization of oil and gas, the use of special forces in very small numbers to work with local groups, and then rapid strike ops.[39] 

Here, too, the military element was, as noted above, premised on the success of an agent network, where that success was taken for granted by Putin and then imposed vertically on a network that was ultimately not ready for war, and where nobody would tell the boss the truth for fear of his career if not worse. Military commanders were not fully informed of the mission and its objectives, and certainly not accurately briefed about the enemy, and even less so about the troops. Therefore, it was not surprising that when they encountered unexpectedly stiff resistance, they could not react to it effectively.[40]    

The ensuing military disaster manifested itself in many areas but we only have limited space so we must confine the discussion to one example, in this case logistics. It appears that the original plan mandated seizing and occupying Kyiv within 3-5 days, based upon the presumed collapse of the Ukrainian state.[41] Although the logistical plan might have sufficed had that been the outcome, Russian logisticians had planned for Zapad-2021 exercises that had recently ended and most likely were not briefed about the onset of an attack on Ukraine.[42] In the absence of information about the commander’s operational plans and courses of operations, they could not begin to formulate an adequate logistical plan. Since the new post-Soviet logistical plans still stemmed from old principles and structures, they could not fully support combat forces when the operational plans proved to be unrealistic. Thus, the troops became to a considerable degree insupportable, a fact whose wide-ranging implications reverberated throughout the armed forces.[43] 

In like fashion, the unrealism of initial plans also led to the ongoing inability, right up to the present, to organize an appropriate command structure. In support of these initial missions, Moscow undertook a substantial build-up of land and sea forces in and around the Black Sea throughout 2021.[44] This build-up also included an equally demonstrative augmentation of Russia’s amphibious forces in that area.[45] Yet, it neglected the need for a coordinated command structure to oversee and synchronize these operations.  As Aleksander Golts recently revealed, the command structure needed to execute those tasks was nowhere to be found. And this failure represents a major cause of Russia’s failures through the first 11 months of the war.


At first, a joint command was not even created (at least nothing was officially reported about it). Based on official information, the command of each of the four military districts led the fighting in the first months of the conflict. Each of the generals commanded units from “his” district. The air force and navy were subordinate to their own command. That is seemingly what motivated the creation of a hitherto unknown: the Joint Headquarters of the Armed Forces Engaged in the SVO, the existence of which became known from press reports after Putin visited it. The very emergence of a “joint headquarters” spoke to the fact that a “joint operation” – with a command system and including combat units from the ground forces, navy and air force – had never been realized. It follows that the units and formations of various branches of the armed forces had their own management, support, supply and communications systems. The headquarters was created to coordinate them. Naturally, such coordination takes time.[46]


Many of these and other continuing flaws stemmed from the fact that Putin and his team not only misjudged the nature of the war, but they also failed to envision the stiff U.S., European, and Ukrainian resistance. Though nobody is sure why little Western resistance was expected – whether due to the pell-mell retreat from Afghanistan in 2021, or due to the urgings of Putin’s Ukrainian friends – it has been reliably reported that the allied failure to act when Russian forces were first mobilized in 2021 convinced Putin that there would be no resistance of consequence from the West.[47] They imposed their view on subordinates, brooking no opposition, much as Stalin did in 1940-41, and did not inform the commanders, troops, or the population of their objectives, and consequently completely misapprehended the nature of the war upon which they were embarked. 

Finally, these failures are not altogether accidental as the Stain example suggests. They stem from an autocratic system based on paranoid threat assessments regularly served up by the armed forces within a long-running structure that suppresses any dissent. Thus, the defense correspondent Pavel Felgenhauer reported in 2005 that: 

Russia has a Prussian-style all-powerful General Staff that controls all the different armed services and is more or less independent of outside political constraints. Russian military intelligence – GRU, as big in size as the former KGB and spread over all continents – is an integral part of the General Staff. Through GRU, the General Staff controls the supply of vital information to all other decision-makers in all matters concerning defence procurement, threat assessment and so on. High-ranking former GRU officers have told me that in Soviet times the General Staff used the GRU to grossly, deliberately and constantly mislead the Kremlin about the magnitude and gravity of the military threat posed by the West in order to help inflate military expenditure. There are serious indications that at present the same foul practice is continuing.”[48] 

Likewise, in 2007, Putin told the G-8 press corps that Russia and the West were returning to the Cold War: 

Of course, we will return to those times. And it is clear that if part of the United States’ nuclear capability is situated in Europe and that our military experts consider that they represent a potential threat, then we will have to take appropriate retaliatory steps. What steps? Of course, we must have new targets in Europe. And determining precisely which means will be used to destroy the installations that our experts believe represent a potential threat for the Russian Federation is a matter of technology. Ballistic or cruise missiles or a completely new system. I repeat that it is a matter of technology.[49] 

It is therefore no surprise that Russian security policy begins from the generalized presupposition of threat, and this outlook is apparent in every Russian official doctrinal and official statement of the last two decades.[50] 

Yet, the real army, as often occurred under the Tsars, was more impressive on the parade ground than in actual combat. And pace Trostky, this army clearly reflects the pathologies of Putin’s Russia as revealed in the innumerable accounts of poor training, corruption, brutality, war crimes, etc. As James Sherr has written: 

Before 24 February, Russia’s state leadership never doubted the capacity of its armed forces to crush Ukraine’s impertinence and its pseudo-identity. About Ukraine, it misjudged everything of importance: its nerve, its resourcefulness and, not least, its determination to live ‘apart from Russia’. It also misjudged itself. The deficiencies of Russian military culture have proved impervious to modernization, ‘snap exercises’ and battlefield experience. The military establishment has been neither willing nor able to insulate itself from the venality, servility and mendacity that permeate the ‘vertical’ of the state.[51] 

At the same time, the command structure and Ministry of Defense was and is still shot through with this corruption and venality.[52] Its careerism and incompetence are regularly displayed, most recently in the costly and unending battles for Bakhmut, a city of little strategic significance in itself that has nonetheless been the target of repeated Russian offensives, all of which have been unsuccessful and extremely costly to Moscow.[53] Neither is there any sign of Putin’s readiness to engage his commanders in the search for the truth of the combat situation, based on rigorous and honest mutual discussion that is a prerequisite for victory.[54]  Similarly, Putin seems to have learned the wrong lessons, if any, and continues to micromanage the war, and thus reinforce failure as noted above.[55] Indeed, “Putin has become so involved in the war in Ukraine that he's taking operational and tactical decisions that would normally be the responsibility of ‘a colonel or a brigadier’."[56] 

There is much more that could be added to this or any account of how Russia has lost this war.  But it is obvious that Moscow lost the war at its inception by planning for a war that could not materialize with an army that suffered from serious defects and was not given any ideas how to fight the actual war, to which we can add its fundamental misreading of the enemy and its allies.  Those failures have ensured a bloody war of attrition with genocidal aspects and no prospect of a Russian battlefield victory. This may be, though it is unlikely, the last example of a leader succumbing to his own propaganda and mirage of a short war. But it is certainly the latest such example in a very long line of catastrophes. And in all such wars, their progenitors, like Putin here, failed to grasp the nature of the havoc they unleashed. However, in Putin’s case, should that failure end as other such misconceived wars in Russian history with the Tsar and empire’s decisive defeat, not only will his regime face the threat of political death, but he too will face those nightmares. History exacts severe punishments upon those who fail like Putin and Russia. But just how, when and where that reckoning will occur remains to be seen.


[1] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Russia and Ukraine Make Recruitment Pushes as They Prepare for a Long War,” New York Times, March 31, 2023, 

[2] Institute for the Study of War, “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment,” April 13, 2023, 

[3] Brent Peabody, “Russia Has Already Lost in the Long Run,” Foreign Policy, February 13, 2023, 

[4] Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (New York: Dover Publications, 2012). 

[5] “100 Von Clausewitz Quotes about War from the Prussian General,” Kidadl, (accessed April 2, 2023). 

[6] Michal Hrnčiar and Jaroslav Kompan, “Factors Shaping the Employment of Military Force from the Perspective of the War in Ukraine,” Vojenské Rozhledy (2023): p. 70, 

[7] Can Kasapoğlu, “The Russian Defense Industry: A Distressed Brand – Analysis,” Eurasia Review, April 16, 2022,
[8] Matheo Malik, “‘Les Nouvelles Règles De L’art Militaire S’écrivent Ailleurs Qu’en Ukraine’, Une Conversation Avec Louis Gautier,” Le Grand Continent, April 21, 2023,
[9] Guy Faulconbridge, “Ukraine War, Already with up to 354,000 Casualties, Likely to Last Past 2023 - U.S. Documents,” Reuters, April 12, 2023,  

[10] David Axe, “What’s Perfectly Round, Made of Metal, and Keeping Russia from Replacing the 2000 Tanks It Lost in Ukraine,” Forbes, April 19, 2023, 

[11] Alexander Gabuev, “China’s New Vassal: How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow into Beijing’s Junior Partner,” Foreign Affairs, August 9, 2022, 

[12] President of Russia, “Joint Statement by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on Deepening Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation, Entering a New Era,” March 21, 2023, 

[13] Ibid; Stephen Blank, “The Russo-Chinese Alliance and Northeast Asian Security” (Forthcoming). 

[14] Mercy A. Kuo, “China-Russia Cooperation in Africa and the Middle East,” The Diplomat, April 3, 2023, 

[15] “What Does Xi Jinping Want from Vladimir Putin?” The Economist, March 19, 2023, 

[16] Evan Gershkovich, Thomas Grove, Drew Hinshaw, and Joe Parkinson, “Putin, Isolated and Distrustful, Leans on a Handful of Hard-Line Leaders,” Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2022, 

[17] “Waiting For D-Day: Ukraine’s Counter-offensive Is Drawing Near,” The Economist, April 16, 2023,; Institute for the Study of War, “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 22, 2023,” 

[18] James Sherr and Igor Gretskiy, Why Russia Went to War: A Three-dimensional Perspective, International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), January 30, 2023, 

[19] “Investigative Report Says Putin Made Decision to Invade Ukraine in March 2021,” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFERL), April 25, 2023, 

[20] As quoted in Christopher Woody, “How Putin Spent 20 Years Rebuilding Russia's Military 'and Then Just Simply Destroyed It' in Ukraine, According to an Expert Who Watched It Happen,” Business Insider, April 25, 2023,

[21] Dmitry Adamsky, “ Cross-Domain Coercion: The Current Russian Art of Strategy,” Proliferation Papers, No. 54, French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), November 2015, 

[22] Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, The Plot to Destroy Ukraine, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), February 15, 2022, 

[23] Ibid., pp. 11-13. 

[24] Jack Watling, Oleksandr V. Danylyuk, and Nick Reynolds, Preliminary Lessons from Russia’s Unconventional Operations During the Russo-Ukrainian War, February 2022–February 2023, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), March 29, 2023, 

[25] Ibid. pp. 5-19. 

[26] Ibid, p. 19. 

[27] Ibid., pp. 12-14. 

[28] Jacob Geanous, “Putin Wanted ‘Total Cleansing’ of Ukraine with ‘House-to House Terror’, Leaked Spy Docs Reveal,” New York Post, March 25, 2023,; Tariq Tahir, “Murder Machine: Putin Planned ‘Total Cleansing’ of Ukraine with ‘House-to House’ Terror & Victims Dragged Off to Camps, Leaked Docs Show,” The Sun, March 25, 2023, 

[29] Max Parry, “Sickening Leaked Russian Spy Emails Show Putin Planned 'Total Cleansing' of Ukraine,” Express, March 25, 2023, 

[30] Ibid.
[31] Tim Lister, “Secret Document Reveals Russia’s 10-year Plan to Destabilize Moldova,” CNN, March 18, 2023,
[32] Catherine Belton, Souad Mekhennet, and Shane Harris, “Kremlin Tries to Build Antiwar Coalition in Germany, Documents Show,” Washington Post, April 21, 2023,

[33] Alfred J. Rieber,  Storms over the Balkans During the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022): p. 17. 

[34] Timothy L. Thomas, Russian Military Thought: Concepts and Elements, MITRE Corporation, August 2019, 

[35] Keir Giles, James Sherr, and Anthony Seaboyer, Russian Reflexive Control (Kingston: Royal Military College of Canada, 2018). 

[36] Ibid., p. 20. 

[37] T.S. Allen and A.J. Moore, “Victory without Casualties: Russia's Information Operations,”  Parameters 48, no. 1 (2018), 

[38] “Liminal and Conceptual Envelopment: Warfare in the Age of Dragons,” Small Wars Journal, May 26, 2020, 

[39] Ibid. 

[40] Watling, Danylyuk, and Reynolds, Preliminary Lessons from Russia’s Unconventional Operations. 

[41] “Russia’s Initial Plan Involved Capturing Kyiv within Three to Five Days – Deputy Defense Chief,” Ukrinform, April 11, 2023, 

[42] Per Skoglund, Tore Listou, and Thomas Ekström, “Russian Logistics in the Ukrainian War: Can Operational Failures Be Attributed to Logistics,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies 5, no. 1 (2022): pp. 99-110, 

[43] Ibid. 

[44] Sergey Sukhankin, “Crimea: The Expanding Military Capabilities of Russia’s Area Denial Zone in the Black Sea,” Eurasia Daily Monitor 18, no. 27 (2021), 

[45] Tim Ripley and Bruce Jones, “Update: Russia Amasses Amphibious Forces in Black Sea,” Janes, April 20, 2021,; David Axe, “Russia Has Rehearsed an Amphibious Invasion of Ukraine. But That’s the Least of Kiev’s Problems,” Forbes, January 18, 2022,   

[46] Alexander Golts, “What Is Behind the Reshuffle in the Command of the ‘Special Military Operation’?” Russia Post, January 24, 2023, 

[47] Sherr and Gretskiy, Why Russia Went to War, pp. 13-15. 

[48] Pavel Felgenhauer, Russias Imperial General Staff,” Perspective 16, no. 1 (2005), 

[49] “Russian President Putin Interviewed by Journalists from G8 Countries,” Global Research, June 11, 2007, 

[50] “Morskaya Doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii,” July 26, 2015; “Voyennaya Doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii,” February 5, 2010; “Voyennaya Doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii,” December 26, 2014; “Natsional’naya Strategiya Bezopasnosti Rossii, do 2020 Goda,” May 12, 2009; “Natsional’naya Strategiya Bezopasnosti Rossii,” December 31, 2015. 

[51] James Sherr, “The Dangers of an Undefeated Russia,” National Institute for Strategic Studies (NISS), August 17, 2022, 

[52] Clarissa Ward and Mick Krever, “Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Is Under Sanctions. His Ex-Partner Is Still Living the High Life in Europe, Investigation Reveals,” CNN, April 24, 2023,
[53] Ian Stubbs, “Astounding Levels of Incompetence in the Russian Military Leadership Have Eroded Russia’s Military Reputation: UK Statement to the OSCE,” GOV.UK, March 29, 2023,; “Russia’s ‘Mechanical’ Tactics Making It Impossible for It to Capture Bakhmut, Ukrainian Military Says,” New Voice of Ukraine, March 19, 2023,
[54] Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (New York: The Free Press, 2002).

[55] The Economist, “Waiting For D-Day.” 

[56]  Giulia Carbonaro, “Putin's Micromanagement of Ukraine War to Blame for Russian Failures – Report, Newsweek, May 17, 2022,

: 10-September-2023

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