I love Russia, I love Russian and I love Russians. My favorite physics professor was a nuclear scientist from the Soviet Union. I studied Russian in college where a classmate gave me my first copy of Foreign Affairs Journal. Catherine the Great is #4 on my list of heroes.

I don't know much about Ukraine or Ukrainians, but it is hard not to love them too after the swagger and humor they have exhibited since the Russian invasion.

A week ago I wrote "The Russian Armed Forces is among the three most capable militaries in the world". Since then, I have been astonished by the incompetence of the Russian Armed Forces.

Russian Equipment

When I found out Ukraine issued 10,000 automatic rifles to civilians my first thoughts were "Those rifles could arm an insurgency but using them in conventional battle against Russian forces would be suicide". That's because there's more to fielding an effective soldier than giving a man or woman a gun. He or she needs to know what direction to point it.

Here is an interesting comment thread between people who (I assume) are mostly American infantry.

Having heard over the past 18-24 months about LSCO [Large Scale Combat Operations] and russia, I have to admit they have been exposed pretty badly. Also one of my friends noted during all of the combat footage we have not seen any night infantry combat, let alone any IR lasers. Now objectively I haven’t seen every single piece of combat footage and presumably there is night combat. ―regularguyofthenorth

I saw a report from Ukraine that said that Russian forces wait until dawn to attack because they don't have NVGs, nor the training on using them, not sure how accurate that is. ―IllustriusDot1866

Everything I've seen has said the same. No NODs, no optics, for anyone but leadership positions in infantry units. That's insane to me. I can't imagine life in a combat zone without NODs or optics. ―bang_the_drums

That was something that stuck out to me too - even for the UA. I see maybe 1:20 with anything but an iron sight and a dream. ―Roastage

I've seen an AS VAL [a Soviet assault rifle] and a VSS Vintorez [a silenced Soviet sniper rifle] as "combat trophies" so far, neither one of them had optics, which basically defeats the point of a suppressed gun shooting subsonic ammo that can penetrate armor.

I also saw the VDV [Russian Airborne Forces] guys at the Hostomel airport, one of them had an AK-12 with no optic, no light, no laser, nothing. "Next gen" AK with ironsights. WTF? ―xyolikesdinosaurs

Yep more or less the same for me. Expected for the Ukrainian Militia but surprising to see so few amongst the Russian infantry. There is a photo on combatfootage of some SF [Special Forces] guys who were fully kitted out with MCXs [gun] and all the jewellery. Unclear if they were FOG but there was more glass in that photo than I'd seen in all the footage to date. ―Roastage

reddit thread

"IR" stands for "infrared [nightvision]". "NVG" stands for "Night Vision Goggles". "NOD" stands for "Night Observation Device". These American troops are shocked to discover their Russian counterparts cannot see at night. My bicycle has better optics than Russia's paratroopers. American door-kickers in Iraq and Afghanistan operated at night because the best time to do battle is when you can see and the enemy can't.

How can Russia's frontline troops be missing such basic equipment? Because Russia has a GDP the size of Florida's. Subtract oligarchic graft and what's left is Soviet hardware.

When I found out the Ukrainians were defacing signs I thought "that's the right thing to do but I expect it won't do much because Russians can navigate via GPS instead."

It appears unlikely that the majority of Russian military armored vehicles are using GPS, which would be a shock to any US soldier if you told them they had to operate that way. If you told me in Iraq that we wouldn't have GPS in our vehicles I would have reclassed from infantry to admin right there.

Task & Purpose

The Russian military is under-funded and under-equipped. Russia pauses its operations at night because they can't afford the kind of equipment that (ignoring sanctions) a civilian could buy for $100 on Amazon.

Peacekeeping Mission

There are several videos of Ukrainians forcing/allowing captured Russian soldiers to call their mothers. I am entirely in favor of this because ① if I was a Russian mother and my son was a Ukrainian Prisoner of War (POW) then I would prefer to receive a call from him than not receive a call from him and ② filming POWs being treated humanely incentivizes the humane treatment of POWs. It's great propaganda for Ukraine too.

Here's a video of a Russian POW calling his mother.

Soldier: "I'm in Ukranian territory, as a prisoner of war. But I am fine."

Mother: "WHAT?"

Soldier: "I'm in Ukranian territory as a prisoner—"

Mother: "What do you mean prisoner? Wait—"

Soldier: "Well, it is what it is."

Mother: "Please explain this to me."

Soldier: "Mom, please listen to me carefully. They are treating me fine. Don't worry about me. They are treating me fine. Don't you worry. You need to contact my unit. Write this down."

Mother: "I'll write down the unit number but what do I say?"

Soldier: "Tell them that this certain prisoner got captured. They told us we were going as peacekeepers to the DNR and LNR territory. But in fact there's a war. Meaning, we are the aggressor. Cities are being bombed hard. Please be aware of this and spread the word if you can."

Mother: "How can this be? Why won't they let you go?"

Soldier: "Mom. I'm a prisoner. I came here as the aggressor. How can they let me go?"

Mother [crying]: "What territory of Ukraine? Which city are you in?"

Soldier: "Mom, please don't panic and do what I'm telling you."


The problem with videos of POWs is that POWs are strongly incentivized to say whatever their captors want. If I was captured by America's enemies I'd happily shout "Death to America!" on camera in exchange for humane treatment. Death to America. Death to America. Thanks for the coffee, black please. Death to America.

Captured Russian soldiers are incentivized to tell their Ukranian captors "We were doing drills in the Kuzmynsky range. After about two weeks we were sent to the border. Told this is now our station. They we crossed it at night all of a sudden. We drove past it, stopped in a village…. [cut] I had no choice. If we refused to obey after we crossed we would be considered traitors. It's a 15-25 year sentence, plus insubordination which is additional jail time. That's almost your whole life."

Makes you kinda realize when the US Army says it cares it’s not “here’s a functioning lifestyle and decent garrison conditions” it’s “we won’t just tell you it’s a training op then send you uncovered and unsupplied against legions of javelins in cold war built vehicles” ―PaladinSL

The idea soldiers could be sent to conquer a foreign nation without being told they're in enemy territory is less ridiculous than it might sound to someone unfamiliar with how soldiers are treated.

My father was a soldier in the US Army. The US Army would randomly call him in the middle of the night and command him to appear at his airbase ready for deployment. He never had to go to combat but he never knew that for sure until after he arrived on base because if the US Army told soldiers "this time is for real" then there would be desertions. My father's commanding officer told him he was an idiot for answering the phone. USSR soldiers were often kept even more in the dark. They might not find out where they were or what they would be doing until after they had landed in enemy territory.

Russia employs conscripts and lacks a free press. It is entirely believable that in the Fog of War, many troops might find out they're in enemy territory by getting shot at.

Here is a video of a Russian armored personnel carrier (APC) instructing (via pre-recorded message) Ukrainian citizens to remain calm. The APC is sitting out in the open, stationary, without infantry support. A Ukrainian just walks up with an RPG and blows it up. The Russians in this video are acting like they actually believe themselves to be on a peacekeeping operation.

Russian Civil Society

I used to think that the jokes about the Soviet Union's propaganda were hyperbole. Now that I have to sift through real Russian propaganda, I appreciate the political propaganda in my own country. Russian propaganda isn't just anti-truth. The official Russian media has so little credibility it doesn't even care when it gets called out on its bullshit.

Russia is ostensibly invading Ukraine to remove the Neo-Nazis from power. The president of Ukraine is a Jew. How Jewish, you might ask?

Press: "Mrs. Zelensky, the whole world admires your son Volodymyr for his bravery and leadership. You must be very proud."

Mrs. Zelensky: "My other son is a doctor."

Barry Tigay on Twitter

That was a joke. But for real, President Zelensky's great-grandfather plus three great-uncles were murdered in the Holocaust.

The Russian media has zero credibility. It has zero credibility now. It had zero credibility in the late Soviet era. It had zero credibility in Stalin's time. It had zero credibility in Lenin's time. The Russian media has been a joke for longer than anyone in Russia has been alive.

Thanks to the Internet, I can just talk to people in Russia and ask what they think. It seems to me that some Russians are indifferent to the war in Ukraine but most Russians are opposed. I will not reveal my sources because spreading "false information" (i.e. contradicting Russia's official media) carries a prison term between 10 and 50 years [Edit: see comment].

That hasn't stopped Russians from protesting and getting arrested by the thousand. If you are going to protest in Russia, please keep it peaceful. Violent resistance might oust Putin and his cronies from power but peaceful resistance is way more effective than violent rebellion at transforming a backwards nation into a thriving liberal democracy.

I always thought it'd be cool to visit Russia, but after publishing this blog post I don't think I will feel safe doing so. Oh well.

If you live in Russia you should consider getting out ASAP. Borders are open until suddenly they aren't. You don't want to be trapped behind the next Iron Curtain.

[Advertisement] Want to hire a Russian rocket scientist to write your software?

I have never met a Russian whose intelligence failed to impress me. I don't think Russians are smarter than other people. I think it's sampling bias. Russian-Americans are smarter than both Russian-Russians and American-Americans because smart Russians migrate to America.

I have a friend in Russia who wants to escape Putin's rule. He's easy to get along with. He speaks good English. He's a nerd. He's good at math. He's technically a rocket scientist but he has worked as a commercial software developer too. He's brave and ethical. He's smart enough that he compares well even amongst the physics PhDs and Wall Street quants who read this blog. He's humble. He reminds me of this guy from Margin Call.

My friend is looking for software development jobs. He prefers to work on-site but he can work remotely for a few months while the visa/immigration stuff gets worked out.

If you have a job opening you'd like to fill, PM me on Less Wrong or send me an email.

Advertisement over. Back to the report.

Why conquer Ukraine?

Russia's ostensive reason for attacking Ukraine is obviously bullshit. Why is Russia really attacking Ukraine?

Only Putin knows for sure, but my guess is he wants a buffer state between NATO and Russia. That's why I would attack Ukraine if I was playing Europa Universalis.

But real governments aren't run by individual people the way videogame governments are. This article argues that the Russian military has been gaining power among Russia's oligarchy. If you are a hammer then everything looks like a nail.

It makes sense why a corrupt government run by its military would tend to fight more wars. My historical precedent is the Japanese Empire whose military had a de facto veto over the civilian government.

The Japanese Empire conquered Korea to use as a buffer state to protect the Japanese home islands. The Japanese Empire conquered Manchuria to use as a buffer state to protect Korea. The Japanese conquered the Chinese heartland to protect Manchuria.

There are two ways you can sell a war to your population. ① You can promise an easy victory and/or ② you can tell them they're fighting an important battle against the forces of evil. "We need a buffer state" doesn't spark the same degree of patriotism. Ukraine has never attacked Russia. Russians know Ukraine is no threat to them. Recently, Ukraine was even considered more Russian-aligned than NATO-aligned in the Great Game. The only way to sell the Ukrainian invasion was with an easy victory.

I thought Russia would win an easy victory. Western military analysts thought Russia would win an easy victory. I don't know what the Russians analysts think, but my guess is they were in the same boat.

I underestimated Ukrainian resistance and massively overestimated Russian competence. Last week I wrote "There is probably going to be a war. Ukraine is probably going to lose. The question is how much, how quickly and on what terms." That was my final, qualified, draft. The original draft didn't include "probably".

My framing of the question in terms of winners and losers was a mistake. Is it a "win" or a "loss" for Ukraine if Ukraine loses a little bit of territory but the government stays intact? My most likely futures result in the Russian government officially declaring victory, the Russian population hating the so-called "victory" and lots of Ukrainians dying.

How could we all be so wrong? The Russia-NATO relationship is a symbiotic conflict. Russia benefits from exaggerating Russian strength. NATO's military-industrial complex benefits from exaggerating Russian strength. Military analysts benefit from exaggerating Russian strength (because the stronger Russia is the more the West needs military analysts). Only the flower-loving hippies benefit from under-selling Russian strength, but it's not really their style. Anti-war pacifists don't write obsessively-technical blogs about how Russia under-funds its military.

Russian military strengh was a speculative bubble, and that bubble just popped.


Ukraine is fighting a total war for its survival. The last time Russia ruled over Ukraine, millions of Ukrainians starved in the 1932-1933 man-made Holodomor famine. The Ukrainian population decreased by more than 10% as they were forced to listen to Soviet propaganda. Most of Ukraine sees the Russians as invaders, not liberators.

On February 23th I wrote "If you live in Eastern Ukraine, the best time to flee is weeks ago. The second-best time is now." On Febrary 24th Ukraine forbid men of combat age (18-60) from leaving the country. This is a Ukrainian reservist commercial from several years ago.

Ukraine is led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a comedian whose political experience (prior to becoming President of Ukraine) was performing as actor on the show Servant of the People where his character is unexpected elected President of Ukraine. Zelenskyy's political party named itself after the television show and Zelenskyy was elected President of Ukraine for real.

President Zelenskyy wasn't very popular among Ukrainians until the Russians invaded. Now he's a war hero. On February 26th, the United States urged him to evacuate Ukraine and offered assistance in the escape.

The fight is here [in Kyiv]; I need ammunition, not a ride.

―President Zelenskyy

The Zelenskyy family remains in Ukraine. President Zelenskyy's is regularly filmed eating with his soldiers on the front lines.

Collateral Damage

Imagine you command a Russian squad marching through a Ukranian city.

You hear a sniper's gunshot. You can't identify exactly where it came from—just that it came from a specific apartment complex. Do you level the complex?

This is a video of Russians firing unguided (dumb) missiles into a residential population center.

This is a video of a missile strike on the Kharkiv regional administration.

A tank's armor is concentrated in the front. The best places to strike a tank are its sides, back, top and bottom. Driving a tank through a hostile city is dangerous because the top of a tank is visible from nearby buildings. You can solve this problem by burning the city to the ground.

War is awful. Content warning: This is a close-up video (with sound) of civilians getting shot in front of their loved ones.

If you want to get the feeling of what it's like to survive in a city under siege I recommend This War of Mine. The developers have promised to donate all profits for one week (ending March 2nd, 2022) to the Ukrainian Red Cross.

Good Sources of Information

Here are my favorite sources of information. They're not perfect. They make mistakes. Their mistakes are correlated. But they're created by knowledgeable nerds who have been paying attention to Russia since long before the crisis du jour.

  • Foreign Affairs Journal for expert debate.
  • The Eastern Border podcast for historical context. [Edit 2022/03/19. While The Eastern Border is a great source of information for historical context, I disagree with the author's contemporary political analysis. The author (who is from Eastern Europe) is in favor of the United States fighting a direct war against Russia. As an citizen of the United States, I do not like the idea of the United States fighting a direct war against Russia because I do not want the city I live in to get nuked in defense of a non-NATO state. [Edit 2022/03/23. The author has updated his position to no longer endorse NATO strikes into Russian territory after learning what a no fly zone requires.]]
  • Task & Purpose for a former US infantryman's perspective.
New Comment
59 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:42 AM

spreading "false information" (i.e. contradicting Russia's official media) carries a prison term between 10 and 50 years

What? I'm Russian, all people around me contradict Russia's official media all the time, never heard about something like this.

About 50 years looks simply implausible. It was rumored that the dissemination of false information in wartime would be prosecuted under the article on treason, which can be given a maximum of 20 years, and which is actually written in such a way that it can be interpreted very broadly, but based on this, even if you add others article for false information, then the maximum will be one and a half terms for the worst crime, that is, 30 years, not 50.

Your English is fine, and your comment seems informed and relevant. Unfortunately, upvoting and downvoting are not objective here.

I am very confused. I just looked into the vote history of this comment, and I can't find any point in time where this comment was in the negatives. Can someone explain to me? 

It was on zero.

Criminalizing things people do all the time is an important step in allowing arbitrary exercise of power.

Apparently spreading "fake news" about the military will soon carry a prison term of max. 15 years. (The Russian parliament passed a bill a few hours ago, which could be signed into law as soon as Saturday.)

It is unclear to me how easy it is get the full 15 years and how much of the law only applies to news about the military.

"For spreading false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation under the guise of reliable reports, a fine of 700 thousand to 1.5 million rubles or a penalty of up to three years in prison is provided.


For spreading a fake using one's official position, by a group of persons or by a group of persons with artificial creation of evidence of the prosecution, the penalty will be from five to 10 years in prison. If deliberately false information entailed serious consequences, a penalty of 10 to 15 years in prison is provided."

This is a high-qualify comment. I appreciate you contributing to the discussion.

Thanks. I have edited the sentence in question to link to your comment.

Update: According to my original source, either I misheard him/her or he/she misspoke. 15 years is the correct number.

I will also answer this comment that such punishments are not massive (in Russia, autocracy, not totalitarianism), their purpose is to "public flogging", like the article for extremism.

Yeah, doesn't seem to be true. There is this law, and general attitude of treating posts on vk/facebook as a mass media -- but it is 'just' 3 years or a huge fine, and it is rarely enforced (yet). (There might be some other relevant laws that I don't know about, but I would be very surprised (and concerned) if they involved 10 year prison terms.) It might be wise to make some minimal precautions though -- like making all posts that are not meant to be read by tovaritch major "friends only".

Update: Prosecutor's General Office says that protest will be treated as "participation in radical group" which is up to 6 years. Probably won't be used too massively, at least initially.

About Russian media. My impression is that it works like that:

Everybody knows that it lies all the time. But it's the main example of media most Russians have for a majority of their life. So as a result lots of people assume that every other media lies just as much. This leads to the golden mean fallacy. Which Russian media manipulates by spreading even more outrageous lies.

There is also a lot of motivated scepticism. Very strong effort is made to find every mistake that every foreign media has ever commited (or just claim that they did) to preserve the "don't trust anybody" narrative.

I am from Russia, it will be quite problematic to find specific fragments, but this is not hidden or denied by them themselves. Russian government media does not just create an average effect, they directly say that everyone is lying, you will never know the truth, so it does not matter, look for who benefits, there is only your homeland propaganda and propaganda from foreign agents funded by the State Department. And many of my relatives (not just old people or those who do not have access to the Internet) really think so.

I don't know how i need to write to don't have negative karma. I already read Hpmor and The Sequences. Edited: Apparently, I really just got into an unfortunate percentage of statistics, as stated in the answer below, if three times my comments went into minus immediately after publication and never into plus. Now everything is in order, my karma has ceased to be negative, so I even understood why the double voting function is needed (with high karma, it really gives a larger vote).

I think you are doing it okay.

Just accept that there is a certain amount of noise in the votes. Unless the karma is -5 or lower, chances are than in an hour it will be positive again. Complaining about -1 karma (or whatever was the value) only increases the noise.

Also, a certain small fraction of perfectly reasonable and true comments is going to get downvoted for stupid reasons. We are fallible humans, no matter how much we may believe otherwise. As long as it only happens rarely, it can be mostly ignored. Sucks when that happens in one of your first comments.

Your writing is fine. Keep it coming, we want to hear what it looks like to Russians.

Also, for the opinion "we will never know the truth" in the state media, there was an undermining of trust in science: films about the fact that water has a memory, about the dangers of GMOs and its ban, the dangers of vaccinations and chipization through them (which unexpectedly became a problem when it was necessary sell your own covid vaccine to people), terrible radiation from microwaves, phones and calling a red indicator on the TV a dangerous laser, homeopathy in official state recommendations for medicines, a battle of psychics that is presented as something documentary, not fiction. Not to mention the fact that the TV channel, where there was a film about the fact that the Earth is flat, was awarded an award for education.

Since the reaction is positive, I will continue to write my "view from the inside." Many in Russia support what is happening, because they really believe that there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine, who are also called Russophobes, so the Jewish president does not bother anyone. When asked where these Russophobes are, they usually refer to the presence in Ukraine of someone like gopniks who can make you "explain for gear / Russian numbers." Reports of bombings only reinforce this opinion, because if there are no Nazis, then who is bombing their own people? They also refer to 8 years of shelling of the Donbass, and if you were silent then, and now you are against the war, then you are a hypocrite, although given the uniformity and inappropriateness of the messages, there is a suspicion that these are bots. The fact that Russia unleashed the conflict in the Donbass is denied on the grounds that if the Russian troops wanted to, they would have captured the Donbass in a matter of days, not years, but now the Russian army is moving as carefully as possible, so it will take a month to reach Kyiv, and not 96 hours, so they don’t fight at night to let civilians sleep.

This point about Ukrainian neo-Nazis is very misunderstood by the West.

During the Maidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014, neo-Nazi groups occupied government buildings and brought about a transition of government.

Why are there neo-Nazis in Ukraine? Because during WWII, the Nazis and the USSR were fighting over Ukraine. Ukraine is today quite ethnically diverse, and some of the 'western' Ukrainians who were resentful of USSR rule and, later, Russian influence, have reclaimed nazi ideas as part of a far-right Ukrainian nationalism. Some of these nazi groups that were originally militias have been incorporated into the Ukrainian military.

This is all quite well documented:



One of the regiments most well known to have Nazi ties was defeated at the Siege of Mariupol


Naturally, this history is downplayed in presentations of Ukrainian nationalism targeted at the West, and emphasized in Russia depictions of Ukraine.

I’m not sure if this is a relevant/necessary/new addition, but I’ll say for testing that according to the Russian media, any reports of civilian casualties are either fake, or Ukrainian neo-Nazis are bombing their own citizens in order to denigrate Russia, and the destruction of tv towers and other own infrastructure due to the stupidity of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

And in the Russian media they say that Zelensky threatened Russia with nuclear weapons that he can produce, and if Russia had not invaded Ukraine, then NATO would have attacked Russia, Yugoslavia is cited as an example.

There is also this isolating effect when the media tells a lie, e.g. denies some true fact X, and most people don't buy it, but they decide "this is what we're all conspiring to tell our enemies". And while you're busy trying to "convince" your opponent that X actually happened, you never get to discuss whether X is the right thing to do.

My take is that Putin's pursuing a resounding victory in Ukraine. He'd have preferred it to be easy. But a hard fight can be spun as just showing that Ukraine was a credible security threat that needed to be taken down. Plus, he now needs a justification for the blood that's been spilled, along with the sanctions. Zelenskyy is an international symbol now, and leaving him in power would humiliate Putin.

At this point, Russia has had 1.2 troops killed for every 1 Ukrainian; there are about 2 wounded for every 1 killed. At that rate, to kill or wound 25% of Ukraine's military (215,000 strong) would require about 20,000 Russian deaths and 40,000 Russian wounded - about 5% of their total military manpower, at about half of the casualties America suffered in Vietnam. Note that Russia's already a sixth of the way there, six days into the conflict.

Beyond that point, I expect that dwindling Ukrainian manpower would lead to accelerating Russian advantage. Very, very roughly, I expect that Russia needs another month to reduce Ukraine's military to 160,000. The fighters will take the brunt of casualties, and the tooth-to-tail ratio means that this may represent a disproportionately large fraction of their real fighting power. So I will go out on a limb, predicting very far from my areas of knowledge, and estimate Russia is 75% likely to capture Kyiv by April 20th, 2022. I will also put them at 25% likely to stop the invasion without capturing Kyiv and installing a puppet government.

edit: my second prediction means “Russia is 25% likely to stop the invasion, without having captured Kyiv and without having installed a puppet government in Ukraine.”

edit 2: I was foolish to believe any casualty numbers coming out of this war. However, I think the numbers I quoted are Ukraine's propaganda, so I'll take them as an exaggerated upper bound of how well they could possibly be doing. Given that, I think their prospects are even more grim than I originally thought. I'm going to just leave up the prediction as it stands, though.

I appreciate you registering your falsifiable predictions on a public forum.

[Putin would] have preferred it to be easy. But a hard fight can be spun as just showing that Ukraine was a credible security threat that needed to be taken down.

I believe precisely the opposite. I will take the reverse side of your prediction. I am confident Putin cannot sell a hard fight in Ukraine to the Russian people using the logic "Ukraine's fierce resistance to the Russian invasion proves Ukraine was a credible security threat". (More generally, I predict Putin cannot sell a hard fight in Ukraine to the Russian people at all. (Coercion doesn't count.))

Consider this comment to be a public, registered counter-prediction.


edit: my second prediction means “Russia is 25% likely to stop the invasion, without having captured Kyiv and without having installed a puppet government in Ukraine.”

Why not just go back and actually edit the comment?

Epistemic legibility. LW isn’t a scientific publication, but it is standard practice not to edit published scientific work directly. Instead, new versions and addendums are released. This way, there’s a record of the changes it’s gone through, and if a version gets cited, the person citing it doesn’t look like they misquoted the document if a new version comes out.

Reading this, I am truly baffled by how underinformed/misinformed Americans (even in the rationalist community) were on eastern Europe. Analysts from central and eastern Europe have now for some time been pointing out that A) Ukrainian military in 2022 is on a whole different level than in 2014. Since the annexation of Crimea and start of civil war in Donbass, Ukrainians were expecting they will have to face Russians directly sooner or later and with the help of NATO have beefed-up it's military significantly. On the other hand the Russian military is based on their age-old (and often successful) "nas mnogo" ("there's a lot of us") strategy. It's direct investment into technology was squeezed in past years by western sanctions and general downfall of Russian economy and because their own bias about their military might it was not prioritised. The military does have some pretty neat machines and weapons, but they seriously lack in logistics, rendering their deployment slow and less effective. The consensus was that while Russian army clearly is bigger and stronger, the Ukrainian army will likely give them a really hard time. 

I recommend recent, criminally underrated videos by Adam Something on this conflict. For those who prefer reading, Anne Applebaum is an amazing source on Russian geopolitics, Peter Pomerantsev is great source on the inner workings of their propaganda machine. 

A lot of the Ukrainians and Russians I’ve spoken with online also have seemed surprised at how well the Ukrainian army has been holding up, so I’m not sure it’s that baffling.


Swap out "Ukrainian military" for "Afghan government" and you'll see how it wasn't obvious that Ukraine would put up resistance at all.

Our track record in recent memory for "supplying weapons and training will make this country/government able to defend itself" is not great; Afghanistan in particular seemed to be seeking a world record on how quick they could fall apart and how limp a defense could be.  It's a pleasant surprise to actually be seeing results in Ukraine.  One could argue that's not the best comparision to make, but it's undeniably the most salient.

Pakistan supplied weapons and safe havens to the Afghan insurgency. It worked extremely well.

I assume by "Our" you mean the United States? Russia invaded Afghanistan within living memory too. The United States supplied the Afghan mujahideen with weapons to fight the Soviet Union in the Soviet–Afghan War. I think Operation Cyclone is a better comparison to make than the 2001-2021 War in Afghanistan because the United States was on the side of the insurgents (and opposed to the invader-installed government) in the Soviet–Afghan War.

I was mostly responding to the implied "Why did Americans (and possibly people from other NATO countries) have such a bad prediction miss about how the conflict would play out."  I think I agree with everything you wrote above - in particular the invader-installed government seems to be an important distinction, and in a way that casually following world events from the US perspective would not lead one to realize.

On the first day of the war I predicted (although not publicly) that Russian army will be very ineffective due to huge levels of corruption and incompetence, while the Ukrainians would be prepared to fiercely defend their country. (For context: I grew up in Moscow, now live in US). Part of my intuition is that under Putin all the non-public-facing government institutions had little reason to maintain competence and hugely open to corruption - the most obvious (to me) example being the degradation of the special services, as exemplified by the failure to successfully poison Navalny, exacerbated by then actually blabbing the details of the operation to Navalny himself (leaving aside all the moral, practical, legal, etc questions of whether they should have tried to do it in the first place, there is undeniably staggering level of incompetence in how they went about it). The other side of it, is that Ukrainians had years to prepare for this - both morally and practically, and over these years Putin did a very good job constantly reminding them why they strongly dislike him, and why they would not want to find themselves under his rule.

It seems that I myself became a victim of the conviction about "one of the most combat-ready armies in the world" and that while other areas are not developing, the army is developing very strongly. Although it would be a very logical assumption that corruption will indeed not even be at the same level, because it is impossible to destroy all areas except one, but higher due to non-publicity and the lack of market mechanisms.

The thing of which I am currently very afraid is any kind of accident happening to a refugee train. People say there will be no more taking prisoners.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaporizhzhia_Nuclear_Power_Plant is on fire. I wasn't afraid of that. I didn't believe it possible.

The situation at Zaporizhzhia (currently) does not seem to be an impending disaster. The fire is/was in an administrative building. Fires at nuclear power plants can be serious, but the reactor buildings are concrete and would not easily catch fire due to nearby shelling or other external factors.

Some click-seekers on Twitter have made comparisons to Chernobyl. That kind of explosion cannot happen accidentally at Zaporizhzhia (it's a safer power plant design with sturdy containment structures surrounding the reactors). If the Russians wanted to cause a massive radioactive cloud like Chernobyl, they would have to use their own explosives, and I think it would take a very big bomb to do it. They would have to blow the roof off the containment building first, and then somehow break open the massive steel reactor vessel and spread the contents into the air.

A Fukushima-style meltdown also does not look very plausible unless someone takes over the plant and intentionally disables safety systems. 

More info here: https://mobile.twitter.com/isabelleboemeke/status/1499594126521679872


Thank you, this is great. I still have lots of misgivings, safety-wise, but I guess this is how it is for now.

thread that will explain the implied poor Russian Army truck maintenance practices:


I feel like the biggest item here is the peacekeeping mission charade. 

The Russians in this video are acting like they actually believe themselves to be on a peacekeeping operation.

Though clearly implied, I want to make it explicit for emphasis: peacekeeping operations and offensive operations are maximally different. Let us put aside the question of night vision or optics, since the Ukrainians don't have them either, and consider this problem instead: how the hell do you get your people to do what you need them to do when you won't tell them what they need to do?

I was in the 82nd Airborne Division with the infantry for 5 years. Before we went anywhere, we got information about the kinds of things we are likely to need to do. By this I mean anywhere - it was common in Iraq or Afghanistan to move to a different location for a few days/weeks/months quite aside from the big deployment build-up. What I want to emphasize is the extremely low-tech nature of this: it was just leadership talking to us while we take a knee, so we knew what to expect and prepare for. Room clearing? Recon? Security for an election? Assaulting objectives?

For the Ukrainians this is crystal clear and universally understood:
1) Stop the Russians, wherever they are.
2) Having stopped them, throw them out.

This is so simple and so clear that it isn't even necessary for different militia groups or military formations to talk to have an impact (though naturally, it is much more effective if they do).

The Russian soldiers rolled in actively wrong. This would have been a severe mistake even if the war was being fought with rocks and sharp sticks.

This is great info, thanks. I will be waiting for the next report

Alternate theory for what FOG means: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_Support_Activity#Field_Operations_Group

Given I'm not sure why you'd put a gyroscope on a gun, we're not that high tech.

Given I'm not sure why you'd put a gyroscope on a gun, we're not that high tech.


Nothing is fielded yet, but it's definitely in development. Gyros allow for the motion to be measured, which allows it to be corrected.

Thanks. I have removed the bracketed annotation in question.

A week ago I wrote "The Russian Armed Forces is among the three most capable militaries in the world". Since then, I have been astonished by the incompetence of the Russian Armed Forces.


Has this changed your ranking of world military capabilities?

It has lower my confidence enough that I would not write the sentence again if I were doing so today. Military capabilities are multidimensional. There is still an axes on which the Russian Armed Forces rank #3 but there are other axes where they don't.

Note that the Russian perspective on what "Nazi" represents doesn't necessarily look the same as your perspective of what "Nazi" represents.

What is, based on your understanding, the Russian perspective on what "Nazi" stands for?

"Anti-Slavic" is a bit reductionist and slightly skew of the truth, but basically, anti-Slavic, in the same way that an overly reductionist version of the Western perspective on what "Nazi" stands for would be "Anti-Semitic".


I guess the floodgate for political content is now open on LessWrong?

I treat domestic politics and geopolitics as separate domains because geopolitics is so ruthlessly calculating it tends to avoid most of the emotive hijacking associated with domestic politics. I frequently write about geopolitics and the dialogue is usually high quality.


The difference is that all the other posts are not news-related, and with the exception of the US-China post they were not specific to current rivalries between countries. I'm not so much worried about the discussions themselves as the people that will be attracted to LessWrong.

It seemed to me that the said rules about the prohibition on specifying how one should behave were enough to keep the discussion going at a normal level.