Following Sam’s example I thought I should try to assess my own performance over the past year. From the moment we set up the substack it was clear that the big issue for me was going to be the Russian threat to Ukraine. I wrote five pieces in the period before the war and another 35 once it started. In the pre-war pieces the question was whether there was going to be a war and if so what form it might take. Once the war began the issue became one of its likely course. The big questions were - and sadly still are - about who was ‘winning’, how long the fighting would last and what it would take to bring it to an end, along with the risk of nuclear use and the economic dimensions of the war.
Thank you for your analysis. Russia does not change. My grandfather was rounded up to serve in the Russian Army during WWI. The brutality of today’s Russian Army is strikingly similar to what he described. My only hope is George Smiley’s comment on Karla. May his (Putin’s) lack of moderation be his undoing. I look forward to reading more from you in 2023.
This survey underlines the key value of this series of assessments in 2022, which is to explore the imponderables as well as the evidence. I have shared Prof Freedman's pieces with Whitehall colleagues who have all welcomed his insight and expertise: please keep them coming in 2023!
Thanks so much to both of you for an instructive and informative guide through the two - domestic and European - crises of the moment. I only wish it were not necessary to continue in the same vein in 2023. All the best for the New Year to you both.
I and others doubted Russia would actually invade for the same reason we later believed that it would fail- insufficiently massed forces. The initial invasion force was less than 200K troops. Sufficient to defeat a peer army of 60-70K troops. The prewar strength of the Ukrainian Army was 200K troops. So a very dicey proposition just on the raw numbers front. Still, if those 200K troops pushed along a single or two mutually supporting lines of advance, they could have executed a significantly powerful advance. But no, Russia spread out its forces on 5 different axes basically dooming them to failure unless the Ukrainians simply pooped in their pants and ran at the first sign of a Russian tank. Anyone studying basic strategy should have seen this s--tshow coming from. Day 1 of this invasion.
Coming to this a little later than other readers but there is so much to digest yet the first thing that impresses is Professor Freedman’s honesty in critical self-evaluation, enlightening us as to why certain events did not develop in the way he had anticipated. Having listened to the Professor on (seeming innumerable) Ukraine war podcasts and read his many works on warfare, I can’t imagine anyone doubting his astute insights and analysis even if some expectations weren’t borne out by events. History is nothing if not protean and it goes without saying (sic) that unfolding events are always unpredictable. For laymen like myself Professor Freedman provides a valuable commentary that makes sense in the fog of war. The morality of this one, though, is beyond doubt. Thank you Professor.
Thanks for a very detailed review of your evolving perspectives on the Ukraine war. If I could, I'd like to suggest another angle you might explore.
Everybody is writing about the day to day situation in Ukraine. It's a big story for sure. But there is a bigger story I don't see receiving adequate attention.
Sooner or later, one way or another, one of these conflicts is going to spin out of control and result in some level of nuclear weapons exchange. Nobody can know the where and when ahead of time, but simple logic can confidently predict it will happen somewhere sometime. There's no credible rational reason to believe that human beings can maintain large nuclear arsenals and these weapons will never be used. If that's true, it may in the end not really matter that much who wins in Ukraine.
I'm new here, so if you've already addressed this subject, and plan to do more, please educate me on that. Thanks!
Don't you think that your reluctance (pre war period) to accept that Russia/Putin will initiate a full-fledge war was because of the limit of rational-choice or positive political theory, as a scholar of strategic studies, in which rational/rationality is often taken as a "given" rather than constituted/constructed of subjective schema, historical archeology, past experience or discursive regimes?
I wonder if Ukraine had been a member or NATO, would Putin have dared invade? And if he had, would the other members of NATO joined in the defence of Ukraine with troops on the ground and warplanes taking on the Russian airforce?
This is what I was thinking back in March: "And that last bit, written 25 years ago, is being carried out today. Crimea was the first chunk to be bitten off, now it’s Donetsk, Zaporhizia, and Kherson Oblasts, after that Odessa. Moldova appears to have been placed within the Moscow-dominated Eurasian sphere of influence. If this analysis is correct, then Romania is next, followed by Bulgaria - but Ukraine is the keystone. It should now be obvious - from this book written 25 years ago (whose full English translation I just found - French and German are easy, but Russian is hard work...) - that the outrage over the US-funded biological warfare labs and everything else was just a convenient pretext for something that was planned out decades ago." https://streamfortyseven.substack.com/p/putins-and-dugins-vision-of-a-greater
Here's a good article from 2004: https://tec.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/aleksandr-dugins-foundations-geopolitics My bet is that Putin will keep up the fight to grab and hold the parts of Ukraine adjacent to the Black Sea, then go after Transnistria/Moldova, then on down to Greece. Once he has that - and has convinced the West to let him have that - then there will be an interregnum, followed by a war of conquest for the Baltic states, aided by concentration of Russian troops in Kaliningrad. The neutralization of Germany, especially the eastern part, will play a key role.
Economic sanctions will do nothing, Putin will turn Russia into another Cuba if he feels the need. Once he completes the conquest and reabsorption of the former Eastern Bloc states, then Western Europe will be under threat. The only way to stop this will be militarily - and in Ukraine, with far more military force from the West than has been applied, because this is a war between Putin's Russia and the West. The weaponry supplied so far has created a stalemate, which Putin is looking for - the "decadent West" will not tolerate another "forever war" and will give ground. Putin (and his cadre), on the other hand, are in this for however long it takes. Only a relatively quick and decisive military defeat will stop them - and this means no more pulled punches, Russia must not be allowed to sit behind its borders or those of its client states and be able to shoot at Ukraine with impunity. That must be halted - and that will mean direct and open conflict between the West and the Russian Federation. But, in any case, this conflict will eventually occur, it just depends on how much the West is willing to cede to Putin and his cadre before the West says "here, and no farther".
Thank for this.
My only contribution to the discussion is that it seems to me that the structure of the government is reflected in the structure of the armed services and that a military that is governed by an autocratic structure is inherently weak. Attacking these weaknesses is where Ukraine gains its strength.
The Russian military is restricted and weakened by its political connections and this is something that China also needs to take on board.
Thank you. I value your contribution to this discussion.
If predicting politics is difficult, predicting war is even worse. One clever man (I think) wrote 'Before a war military science looks like a science. After a war it looks like astrology'. To be fair a few brave souls predicted Russian military incompetence of a scale we have seen so far but I'd want to see them pull of that predictive success in a few more wars (God forbid!) before I looked upon them as reliably superior sages. I recon you've done pretty well Lawrence!