Was the Russian Military Overestimated?

Russian Military
217th Guards Parachute Landing Regiment 98th Airborne Division (during the first open rehearsal in Alabino). Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin.

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Did we Overestimate the Russian Military

Today’s episode of The Daily highlights the systemic challenges and problems in the Russian military. The episode is titled “A Tactical Disaster for Russia’s Military.” It begins with an attempt of the Russian military to cross a river where they exposed their troops to catastrophic losses. The guest, Anton Troianovski, explains the attempt had little chance for success, so it raises larger questions about why they even tried. The episode goes on to chronicle efforts to reform the Russian military. But Anton also explains why those efforts did not succeed as well as observers believed.

Many Russian observers believed the Russian military was the most effective fighting force in Europe before the war began. European powers routinely underinvest in their military capabilities so it’s possible Russia still does. Nonetheless, the war has tarnished Russia’s reputation. Moreover, it raises doubts about whether Russia will remain a great power after the war comes to an end. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine many commentators questioned Russia’s long-term relevance for geopolitics. A common phrase was Putin plays a poor hand well. The phrase implied Russia had an outsized influence on foreign affairs despite its limited resources.

Last year Kathryn Stoner was a guest on this podcast. She argued Russia was frequently underestimated, because its geopolitical resources were nontraditional. Among its most important assets was a reformed military that was the most effective in Europe. But recently she wrote an article titled, “How Putin’s War in Ukraine Has Ruined Russia.” She argues Putin overreached in his invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, it has brought unanticipated challenges for the Russian military and the Russian economy. The disruption of supply chains will affect the war effort as it evolves. So, does this all mean Putin’s regime is no longer a great power… or that it never was?

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