Assessing the Bear: Overestimating the Russian Military

Prior to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, analysts predicted a quick and decisive victory for Russia over Ukraine due the Russian military benefiting from a long and sustained modernization program. It soon became clear that analysts’ projections of a quick and decisive victory for Russia were shockingly incorrect. Why was the perception of the Russian military so divergent from its performance in the Ukraine war and why were assessments of the Russian military apparently so inaccurate? Rather than a total analytical failure, however, the answers to these questions aren’t so different from other historical examples of inaccurate military performance assessments. In part, analysts failed to adequately appreciate the political context and influence on Russian military operations and an inflated focus on technology and modern equipment. Understanding this case and the factors which contributed to overestimating the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine provide crucial insights into better assessing future dangers and conflicts.

Andrew Bowen is an Analyst in Russian and European Affairs at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) covering Russian and Ukrainian military and intelligence issues. He has a Ph.D. from Boston College in International Relations and a Masters in Global Affairs from New York University.