No One Could Have Predicted Russia’s Military Failure in Ukraine

No One Could Have Predicted Russia’s Military Failure in Ukraine
Ukrainian National guard soldiers fire at Russian positions with an anti-aircraft gun in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Nov. 11, 2022 (AP photo by Andrii Marienko).

The war in Ukraine has generated a fair number of bad takes, and by that I don’t mean the ones justifying Russia’s invasion or calling for Kyiv to immediately cede territory to appease Moscow. Instead, I’m referring to how wrong the pre-invasion assessments of Russia’s military capabilities—and as a result, the predictions about the initial course of the war itself—turned out to be.

U.S. intelligence agencies expected a quick Russian victory. But they were not alone in overestimating Russia’s military prowess. In the late 2010s, similar estimates of Moscow’s overwhelming capabilities informed the decision by NATO’s members to increase the number of alliance troops forward-deployed in the Baltic states. Given that Russia did not achieve a quick victory in Ukraine and is now on the defensive, many observers have turned a critical eye to the prewar assessments.

But misjudgments of military capabilities and prowess is not limited to either Russia or the current war in Ukraine. Pointing to the recent history of mistaken predictions—both overly pessimistic and optimistic—regarding various wars over the past few decades, Eliot Cohen noted, “Failing to project the actual course of a war is, after all, a phenomenon on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, and quite as common among serving officers and intelligence officials as among journalists and commentators.” Similarly, in a systematic evaluation of pre-2022 assessments of Russian military capabilities, Bettina Renz acknowledged that “Western misjudgment of the Russian military in 2022 was hardly unique in the history of diplomatic and military affairs.”

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review