Feb 25, 2022Liked by Sam Freedman, Lawrence Freedman

I lived in Donetsk in 2009-2010, as part of my degree. I taught English and my students were very pro-Russia, although also adamant they were Ukrainians and proud to be bilingual. Their parents sometimes had a stronger Russian identity but most were proud to say they were distinctively Ukrainian. In 2014 Russia's actions decisively turned them all into anti-Putin Ukrainians, painful for many due to family links to Russia. Desperately sad for Ukrainians today, a beautiful country (Donetsk - city of Roses!), great people and a potentially bright future. I hope they overcome.

Expand full comment

Moral of the story: Nobody likes to be invaded or colonized. It’s a basic truism that a shockingly large portion of humanity somehow doesn’t understand.

Expand full comment
Feb 26, 2022Liked by Lawrence Freedman

Top 10 Putin Misunderstandings:

1. People all over the world are very connected to each other unlike any time in history.

2. There is a different global mindset from Putin’s generation.

3. Truth and misinformation are better revealed in the modern day.

4. Cameras show all

5. World Public Opinion Matters

6. Ukraine has been a free nation for 30-years 7. The under 30 year old Ukraine generation does not have a strong connection to Russia.

8. Aggression is not a sign of strength in 2022

9. Russian people do not agree

10. Accountability for the deaths and actions

Expand full comment
Feb 26, 2022·edited Feb 26, 2022

I’m from Moscow, and I didn’t want this war ever to happen. With those of you who say “God save the Ukrainians” I agree, but I want to add: God, save the Russians too. What is now happening is a big disaster for all of us.

Expand full comment

Great article. I always sided w/ Ukraine, but I admit I am surprised by my own feelings of...patriotism? What's the right word for feeling nationalism on someone else's behalf?...about this conflict. It's simply so outrageous and the initial defense so inspiring it's hard not to want to see a victorious Ukraine and reeling Russia.

Expand full comment
Feb 26, 2022Liked by Lawrence Freedman

"The Ukrainians shot down several of the helicopters and then in a fierce battle overwhelmed the Russian forces"

It's awesome to see how motivated the second largest country in Europe (after Russia) is. Think I would also feel the same where all I took for granted stood at risk.

What was it Colonel Kurtz said about motivated soldiers, in apocalypse now?

On paper Russia is taking high risks to legitimacy. Putin is no puppet! Protracted guerrilla war or a swift capture of Kyiv to save the country from Nazi drug addicts.

His special operation to avoid 'war'.

Morale is Putin's greatest challenge now and that's not going to swing favourably for him.

Maybe Putin has gone full Tonto and that's quite scary how he'll unravel...

Expand full comment

From Morocco 🇲🇦 I thank you for enlightening analysis !

God save Ukrainians people 🙏

Expand full comment

Great Article. I'm surprised the 'analysis' in the popular media seems to assume when the fighting stops in the big cities it will all be over. The really difficult bit might just begin and the significance of the fighting for the Ukrainians will be how much it will corrode the Russian public's enthusiasm for a war they weren't consulted with. The ferocity of the Ukrainian resistance strongly suggests that they'll be willing to fight for some time after the cities are taken.

Expand full comment

There is definitely something wrong with Putin’s head.

In fact, there has been a lot wrong with Russia’s invasion. They just sent their airborne in several times now in to hostile fire without control of the skies to be chopped up.

Expand full comment

Putin's only realistic hope is to force Ukraine to accept a neutrality agreement like the one signed by Austria in 1955 to end the Soviet occupation or the neutrality Finland observed during the Cold War.

This invasion would then just be used to remind Ukraine of the cost of breaking that agreement.

It would be a limited gain from a limited war that would mark the end of NATO eastward expansion but allow Ukrainians to live freely in a Westernized society outside Russia's orbit. A fate citizens of Belarus would envy.

Expand full comment

Great analysis. Very thoughtful. The world community needs to realise tha appeasement of Putin would be a tragic mistake - not just for Ukraine, but for all of us. He is already threatening Finland and Sweden with reprisals should they have the temerity to join NATO. If you were in Georgia or Moldova you must be worried that Putin will thaw those frozen conflicts next.

Expand full comment

It's also worth noting that the Russian and Belarus public has been told by the state news agencies that the fighting in Ukraine is being done by Nato troops (the "false flag" scenario). As this conflict draws out that narrative will be harder to defend. Source: conversations with Ukrainians.

Expand full comment

Had Mr Putin negotiated for a neutral zone in the two eastern regions where the culture is significantly pro Russian, and as discussed with France, some form of stability would have been possible with the caveat that neither Russian troops nor arms were imported.

Instead he is prepared to sacrifice thousands of young people in both armed forces, and commit war crimes against civilians, to further no actual strategic end game.

43.2m people going about their daily business have been assaulted and provoked to respond. Given the potential of 5 to 10m people prepared to fight for their nation’s existence, this cannot end well for Mr Putin both domestically and internationally.

The end result may well be the repelling of the invaders, NATO then inviting the Ukraine to join and Mr Putin’s worst original scenario coming to pass but entirely self inflicted.

This would still end up with a final negotiation and a likely neutral zone solution but with ultra high tech weapons right on the borders of both sides. That cannot be a good position either.

The best he can do now is to withdraw, apologise to all the grieving families and the UN and retire from office.

His legacy is unlikely to be the one he coverts without the backing of young people in Russia and its neighbours. Young Russia is far more open in its outlook and tech savvy than these older generations understand. Young Russia wants peace, prosperity and the ability to travel and be welcome in a free and peaceful world not 20th century paranoia, bullying and corruption.

As time goes by the old guard, including Mr Putin, will fade out of the picture. Let’s hope this happens sooner rather than later. Withdraw, retire with some semblance of dignity, whether deserved or not and save tens of thousands of lives. Or am I being too rational?

Expand full comment

This is how strong nations-countries are built: with fire and blod! I bet Ukraine will overcome this dificult days and will be a free and a very strong country!

Expand full comment
Feb 27, 2022·edited Feb 27, 2022

Very insightful article thank you for this Prof Freedman.

things that Putin miscalculated include

a) the social media amplifier effect.

b) thinking China will be friendly or the concept of my enemy's enemy is my friend is one that everyone subscribed to. The enemy of Russia's enemy (USA), China, is NOT Russia's friend. China has always been for itself and itself only. The Chinese are more driven by not having to 'kowtow' to anyone more than anything else. This may manifest itself as the Chinese want to be a superpower replacing America (which they may or may not harbour), for even if the Chinese did harbour such thoughts it would most certainly be a 'symptom rather than the root cause. The single driving force is self-determination. China is NOT for Russia, China is merely indifferent and doing what is in its own long-term best interest.

c) the current Z-generation (born between1997-2012) after the millennial generation is two generations removed from Putin's archaic, outdated, and strongman rule mentality.

d) Putin (communist residual/leftover mentality) that Ukraine if it is not owned and controlled by Russia, it must be owned or controlled by NATO. At no point, does another possibility exist that, Putin can or would contemplate, i.e- Ukraine is and wants to choose its path of self-determination, democracy, and sovereignty.

e) Zelensky is a capable leader, despite being a TV/funnyman. Putin would have been wise to remember that Ronald Regan (one of USA’s most highly regarded President in recent history) a Republican, was a Hollywood actor famous for cowboy movies before he became US President. Regan’s famous speeches include “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Regan was funny, endearing to everyone known for his sense of humor, and remembered for many of his one-liners and quips. It was Regan whom I learned this Russian proverb.. Doveryay, no proveryay, (Trust, but verify).Like Regan, Zelensky innately understood how to connect with the 'audience'. Channeling his inner Regan with the "I need ammo, not a ride" one-liner. This is something a dictator/autocrat like Putin would never consider or need. Reddit and social media are now exploding with Zelensky's "I need ammunition, not a ride" memes (I just ordered the T-shirt and hoodie, no joke!)

f) Putin thought a 2-year President of Ukraine who is a comedian and TV actor is an easy target... whom now the West and Europe is describing as a 'showing a masterclass in leadership' and making European leaders and EU look weak, Zelensky may be under the influence of the West, but he is surprising Western and EU leaders too (not just Putin and Russians)

When videos surfaced of Putin publicly humiliating his spy chief, he is well and truly in his echo chamber. I cannot help but notice the similarities between him and Hitler at that point. The subliminal visuals from that video spoke louder than the actual words and context (dressing down his spy chief). From Putin’s position at the table, relative distance to the rest of his cabinet/oligarch, the Presidential table, the way he spoke, his mannerisms, looking downward (a sign of superiority/contempt), his micro gestures, were all too eerily similar to Hitler.

Russians are intelligent and well-meaning and straightforward people, but Putin and his followers/leaders in Russia, by and large, embodies an administration/government that lacks depth, judgment, or wisdom which comes out of an accumulation of knowledge that comes out of human beings and human situations over a long period of time. That is lacking. It is not the Russian leader’s fault. The world, in the past century, has had only a few major (historically significant) experiences dealing with Russia/Soviets. They did not intend any harm in each one of them, but the tragedy was Russian/Soviets did real harm, to themselves, and the rest of the world).

First, (it was World War I) this is old stuff now.

Second, it was after World War II which Soviets fought so gallantly against Nazi Germany and suffered unspeakable casualties against an aggressor (Hitler). Yet the aftermath and end of WWII, the Soviets closed themselves off (due to Communism) setting the stage for the birth of NATO which we see the outcome today.

More recently, Crimea and now, the events in Ukraine.

It is for these reasons (though not exhaustive) that those of us who once regard Putin as a shrewd leader, now find that his rhetoric does not match his actions. Unfortunately, some of us now believe we over-estimated Putin’s statesmanship and ability as a world leader and underestimated the scale of his hubris, lack of wisdom, and judgment. As a quote that is often misattributed to Winston Churchill and John Maynard Keynes goes - “When the facts change, I change my mind, ”

“Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” If Putin cannot change his mind, the world certainly hopes Russians can change their mind on Putin as their leader.

Expand full comment

Russia may be good at wars, but they are poor at occupation. Afghanistan and Chechnya comes to mind. Thousands of body bags returned to Russia. This will be the same...

Expand full comment