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History As It Happens

Aug 18, 2022

As Russia prepared in the opening weeks of 2022 to invade its neighbor, many observers expected a quick victory. Russia’s modernized army vastly outnumbered the Ukrainian defenders, and Ukraine as a non-NATO member could not expect direct intervention from the Atlantic alliance to save it. Six months later, Russian forces find themselves in a war of attrition in southern Ukraine, having made little progress in seizing additional territory in the north and east of the country. A long stalemate looms. That is hardly what Russian president Vladimir Putin envisioned in February. In this episode, military historian Sir Lawrence Freedman discusses the reasons why war fails, from Russia in Ukraine to the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, to France’s colonial war in Algeria a half century ago. Certain kinds of conflicts, such as wars of occupation, have exposed the inadequacy of sheer military dominance, yet powerful states keep trying to make war work. Even if Russia batters its way to something it can call victory, its presence in Ukraine will never be seen as legitimate.