80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

#135 – Samuel Charap on key lessons from five months of war in Ukraine

80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

After a frenetic level of commentary during February and March, the war in Ukraine has faded into the background of our news coverage. But with the benefit of time we're in a much stronger position to understand what happened, why, whether there are broader lessons to take away, and how the conflict might be ended. And the conflict appears far from over.

So today, we are returning to speak a second time with Samuel Charap — one of the US’s foremost experts on Russia’s relationship with former Soviet states, and coauthor of the 2017 book Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia.

Links to learn more, summary and full transcript.

As Sam lays out, Russia controls much of Ukraine's east and south, and seems to be preparing to politically incorporate that territory into Russia itself later in the year. At the same time, Ukraine is gearing up for a counteroffensive before defensive positions become dug in over winter.

Each day the war continues it takes a toll on ordinary Ukrainians, contributes to a global food shortage, and leaves the US and Russia unable to coordinate on any other issues and at an elevated risk of direct conflict.

In today's brisk conversation, Rob and Sam cover the following topics:

• Current territorial control and the level of attrition within Russia’s and Ukraine's military forces.
• Russia's current goals.
• Whether Sam's views have changed since March on topics like: Putin's motivations, the wisdom of Ukraine's strategy, the likely impact of Western sanctions, and the risks from Finland and Sweden joining NATO before the war ends.
• Why so many people incorrectly expected Russia to fully mobilise for war or persist with their original approach to the invasion.
• Whether there's anything to learn from many of our worst fears -- such as the use of bioweapons on civilians -- not coming to pass.
• What can be done to ensure some nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia remains in place after 2026 (when New START expires).
• Why Sam considers a settlement proposal put forward by Ukraine in late March to be the most plausible way to end the war and ensure stability — though it's still a long shot.

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Producer: Keiran Harris
Audio mastering: Ben Cordell and Ryan Kessler
Transcriptions: Katy Moore

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