2022 was bad, but it could have been worse. this essay is part of an end of year series looking at the silver linings.
I have never been so grateful to be wrong.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, after the delivery of perishable blood to Russian units made it clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s saber-rattling was not just an exercise, after it became clear that Russia would invade the largest country in Europe, but before the tanks started rolling: I predicted that Russia would take Kyiv quickly, possibly within a week. . He was mostly convinced that the brave and strong Ukrainians would fall to the inexorable logic of numbers in war.
I was wrong.
He was mostly convinced that the brave and strong Ukrainians would fall to the inexorable logic of numbers in war.
To be fair, I had good company when I was wrong; General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior US Army officer privy to daily briefings from the world’s best intelligence community, supposedly i was wrongalso.
Also Putin himself; the Russian leader expected such a quick victory that he could have made his officers pack up their dress uniforms with his invasion team for a victory parade in Kyiv.
Putin’s overconfidence was one of the reasons why he, General Milley, and I were wrong about the prospect of a quick Russian victory. I have fought in tanks in two wars; there is no free space for dress uniforms. Any incredibly limited surplus space should have been filled with rations and bullets. Preparing for a short war also meant that some Russian forces they have literally run out of gas on the way to Kyiv. Other planning failures included not destroying Ukrainian air defenses early in the invasionresulting in a catastrophe for the Russian air force and for the airborne troops tasked with seizing Kyiv airport as part of a rapid Hand strike. The Russian army did not plan a long fight.
The Russian army also did not train for a long fight. Russia’s vaunted military, at least as far as Ukraine is concerned, looks like a paper tiger. Putin’s efforts to restore the Russian military to its Soviet-era glory have been marred by corruption. For months he refused to name a single commander in charge of the entire operation, maybe scared that someone with that much power could turn against his regime. Some soldiers reported being given less than an hour notice that they were about to engage in a shooting war. The list of Russian mistakes is almost endless.; the invasion violated almost all early warand the results have been dire, resulting in the destruction of some of the most elite units.
Of course, the main reason why I was wrong was the courage and skill of the Ukrainians, whose combative fury it exceeded any reasonable expectation of even the best-informed military analyst; spectacular political leadership it has certainly helped too. In my partial defense, I did not underestimate the Ukrainian’s attitude. will to fight; I hoped that after losing a conventional war, they would emulate my old enemies in Iraq by leading an insurgency that I predicted would ultimately bleed Russia dry. This would be an echo of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan 30 years ago, a disaster in which brave Afghan fighters armed with US anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles it defeated a much larger and better-equipped force, ultimately forcing it to retreat in disarray and contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union only a few years later.
History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. US supplies arms again to a brave people resisting a Russian invasion. Three decades ago, the abject failure of Russian weapons in Afghanistan helped destroy the Soviet Union; Putin’s failed attempt to restore the glory of the Soviet Empire through the capture of the Ukraine has made lasting economic damage to Russia and will likely end with Putin’s removal from power.
A key remaining question is whether Putin is capable of lashing out with a catastrophic escalation. But such an outrage would have the gravest consequences for Russia and would likely hasten Putin’s downfall. Like the rapid fall of Kyiv, nuclear weapons did not materialize in 2022. And that is something we can really be thankful for. Up to this point.