Mark Galeotti Discusses “Putin’s Wars” at the Annual Fletcher U.S.-Russia Relations Book Prize Event

By Alexander Thomas, MALD 2023 Candidate, The Fletcher School

On March 28, 2023, Dr. Mark Galeotti, a distinguished political scientist and expert on Russian security affairs, joined students, staff, and faculty of the Fletcher School for a conversation on his award-winning book, “Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine.” Galeotti was awarded the Fletcher U.S.-Russia Relations Initiative’s fourth annual book prize for his insightful examination of Russia’s military engagements under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. 

In “Putin’s Wars,” Galeotti provides a comprehensive overview of the conflicts in which Russia has been involved since Putin’s rise to power, spanning from the First Chechen War to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Drawing from an extensive network of contacts within Russia and first-hand accounts from currently serving and retired Russian officers, Galeotti offers an unparalleled analysis of Putin’s military strategies and the ways in which Russia has adapted and expanded its capabilities to challenge Western powers, especially the United States. 

As part of the Fletcher U.S.-Russia Relations Initiative award, Galeotti was invited to discuss key findings from his book with the Fletcher community in an event moderated by Dr. Daniel Drezner and Dr. Chris Miller, the Russia and Eurasia Program’s co-directors. 

Dr. Drezner introduced the event and presented the physical award to Galeotti during a brief ceremony. Galeotti then spoke about his work, delving into the transformation of the Russian military under Putin’s leadership, from the near disintegration of the Soviet Red Army after 1991 to its recent conflicts in Georgia, Crimea, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Galeotti highlighted the changes in strategic military districts, the modernization of army maneuver units, and the development of the Russian Navy, Air Force, and strategic missile forces. 

One key topic of discussion was the use of mercenaries and covert operatives in Russia’s military strategy, a theme that Galeotti explores in depth in “Putin’s Wars.” He explained how the use of mercenaries and proxies has allowed Russia to hide its involvement in conflicts, while advancing its interests both overtly and covertly. Galeotti also discussed Russia’s information warfare tactics, which have played a crucial role in shaping public opinion both within Russia and abroad. He underscored the significance of understanding these tactics in order to effectively counter Russia’s disinformation campaigns. 

In response to questions about the future of U.S.-Russia relations, Galeotti emphasized the importance of engaging in dialogue and finding common ground while remaining vigilant about Russia’s actions and intentions. He highlighted that diplomacy and cooperation on shared interests are key in navigating an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.

Galeotti’s book holds particular importance for the study of Russian foreign policy against the backdrop of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. “Putin’s Wars” sheds light on the Kremlin’s strategic thinking and provides invaluable context to better understand Russia’s actions and motivations in the ongoing conflict. The book reveals how Putin’s efforts to rebuild, rearm, and modernize Russia’s military have succeeded in some ways, as seen in Georgia, Crimea, and Syria, but failed in others, as shown by Russia’s lackluster performance in the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Galeotti noted that the invasion of Ukraine did not go as Putin intended, and now the Russian military is bogged down in a conflict with a well-equipped and Western-backed Ukraine. 

The event concluded with a lively Q&A session, in which attendees posed questions about the implications of Galeotti’s research for Russia’s military capabilities and intentions, and how this information could be applied to American foreign policy. In particular, the audience sought to understand what Putin’s foreign policy and security desires might be in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The discussion with Dr. Galeotti ultimately provided attendees with valuable insights into the modern Russian military, its history, and its role in shaping Putin’s strategic goals for returning Russia to its status as a great power. As tensions continue to rise between Russia and the West, “Putin’s Wars” offers a crucial foundation for informed policy analysis towards Russia.


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