As I write this, the tragic unjustified conflict in Ukraine drags on, with anguishing reports of civilian casualties and needless destruction mixed with encouraging news of the valor of the Ukrainian armed forces and the resolve of the Ukrainian people and their leaders. I won’t pretend to have any idea what will happen. I’m just hoping that outnumbered the Ukrainian resistance can hold out long enough for the political and economic pressure to have some effect—if not in changing the Russian leadership’s policy, then at least in undermining its capacity to wage war or maintain a long-term occupation.
In trying to slow the Russian army’s advance and deny Russia control of major cities and other strategic targets, the Ukrainian military may have the help of an unexpected ally: corruption. The corruption, that is, of the Russian military and defense sector. Without taking anything away from the skill and bravery of the Ukrainian armed forces, many analysts have noted that the invading Russian force appears to have been hampered by cheap and poorly maintained equipment, shortages of fuel, rations, and other supplies, and deficiencies in training and coordination. And some of these analysts have suggested that while no one factor can explain Russia’s poor showing in the field (so far), pervasive corruption in the Russian defense sector may be an important contributing cause (see, for example, here, here, and here). Continue reading