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What Putin Got Wrong About Ukraine, Russia, and the West

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What Putin Got Wrong About Ukraine, Russia, and the West

A Conversation With Stephen Kotkin

Foreign Affairs,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Vladimir Putin misread the West when he invaded Ukraine.

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What is the endgame for Russia in its war with Ukraine? Historian Stephen Kotkin assesses Russia’s and the world’s options in this illuminating conversation with Dan Kurtz-Phelan, host of the Foreign Affairs podcast. They discuss Russian history and culture as these relate to present-day events, and they assess the effects of the West’s Ukraine support on the war’s evolution and on post-conflict global geopolitics, particularly in regard to China. Readers interested in understanding the conflict’s many variables will find much food for thought here.


Russian leadership has long been bound up with the country’s history of autocracy. 

Russian history informs its present-day aggression in Ukraine. For centuries, Russia has been an autocracy, but tyranny and oppression have continually failed to modernize the nation. Russia has long aspired to first-world status, achieving it on rare occasions, such as Peter the Great’s victory in the 18th century or Stalin’s defeat of Hitler during World War II. Yet the country’s ambitions typically exceed its might, not only militarily but also economically. Russia’s efforts to build a powerful state regularly degenerate into a cult of personality.

This demonstrates how Vladimir Putin has changed over...

About the Podcast

Stephen Kotkin is a professor of history at Princeton University and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Dan Kurtz-Phelan is editor of Foreign Affairs and the host of its podcast, The Foreign Affairs Interview.

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