Ukraine’s recent military offensives have upended many people’s expectations of how Russia’s invasion will end. Western supporters have been pleasantly surprised by Ukraine’s successes east of Kharkiv.
That is nothing, however, compared to the complete surprise of Russian observers. As Ukraine recaptured more territory in two weeks than Russia had gained in six months, Russian television was littered with analysts attempting to cope in real time with the cognitive dissonance of failure.
Russian shock at the country’s reversals on the battlefield is unsurprising. Russian experts have inculcated a fair number of myths about the war and the broader state of the world in the seven months since the start of war. As Columbia political scientist Jack Snyder noted in his book Myths of Empire, self-serving nationalist stories that make territorial conquest sound easy are common in regimes that mix elements of autocracy and democracy...
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