Peter Clement (Interim Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies; Adjunct Professor) published an article in Foreign Affairs analyzing Putin’s risk calculus during the various stages of escalation in Ukraine.
Before Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, he had built a reputation as a pragmatic risk-taker. In Russia’s interventions in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014, Russian forces simply overpowered an undermatched and surprised adversary; in Syria beginning in 2015, Iran and Hezbollah did the heavy lifting on the ground while Russia offered materiel and air and naval power. In short, all three cases were relatively low-risk, high-gain situations with limited casualties. So how to explain Putin’s high-risk decision to invade Ukraine, putting some 180,000 soldiers on the front line, of which to date an estimated 15,000 or more have been killed?