Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Repeated Learning Failure? Putin’s Recurrent Ukrainian Mistake



Stephen Hall1
1 University of Bath, UK


The paper investigates the role of cognitive bias in the Russian decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022. We argue that Putin has long held the belief that Russia and Ukraine are the same country, and this has led the Russian regime to make repeated mistakes over Ukraine since Putin became President in 2000. The recent invasion is but one of these mistakes. However, a cognitive bias seeing Ukraine as a non-state, or provinces of Russia has been a crucial component of Putin’s thinking and worldview. In the past, the Russian authorities have been effective at developing best practices for consolidation through learning. Through the case of Russia and analysis of Putin speeches on Ukraine we argue that cognitive bias dramatically effects authoritarian learning. If autocrats possess a prejudice than this affects their capacity to learn and results in learning failure. This has ramifications for our understanding of authoritarian learning and authoritarian regime survival.