Russian tank with Z

Putin’s Invasion Was Immoral but Not Irrational

May 10, 2022
Mark F. Cancian

This is a summary of an article originally published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 

The author, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, writes:

  • “With the evident failure of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many experts have jumped to explain why Putin’s invasion was doomed to fail. … Evaluating Putin’s decision requires capturing what was known at the time, not what became evident later. Putin’s decision was rational, though risky, like all judgments to go to war. He gambled and lost, but that did not make him irrational.”
  • “Here are five key assumptions behind the Russian invasion the proved wrong but were based on solid prewar data.”
    • “Assumption #1: Ukraine was deeply divided and would not provide a unified or effective response.”
    • “Assumption #2: Zelensky was a weak leader.”
    • “Assumption #3: The Russian armed forces were highly effective.”
    • “Assumption #4: The Ukrainian military was weak.”
    • “Assumption #5: The United States and NATO would be slow and limited in supplying weapons to Ukraine.”
  • “None of these five assumptions turned out to be valid once the war began. Thus, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to look back on Putin’s decision and dismiss it as obviously flawed. ... Even when all these assumptions proved wrong, the war was a near-run thing. … Russia might have succeeded. In the event, Putin failed, but failure was not inevitable.”
  • “It is critical to get this right for next time when the stakes might be even higher. Putin or some future Russian leader might make a similar calculation about an invasion of the Baltic states, China about invading Taiwan, North Korea about invading South Korea, or Iran about attacking its neighbors. … Postwar assessments must avoid excuses and take a hard look at why Putin―a smart and successful politician―saw opportunity while outsiders, looking at the same data, expected failure.”

Read the full article at CSIS.


Mark F. Cancian

Mark F. Cancian (Colonel, USMCR, ret.) is a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Photo by unknown author shared under a Creative Commons license.