The Autocrat’s Intelligence Paradox: Vladimir Putin’s (mis)Management of Russian Strategic Assessment in the Ukraine War

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Abstract

Autocratic leaders rely on intelligence machineries for regime and personal security. They often manage large, powerful, unaccountable organisations, which they hold close. But, despite their entanglement with intelligence, autocrats also frequently struggle to use it to enhance decision-making and foreign policy, and consequently suffer avoidable intelligence failures. This article argues that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is illustrative of this broader, though understudied, pattern of mismanagement of strategic intelligence. The invasion was both spurred and accompanied by an intelligence failure, the responsibility for which rests with Vladimir Putin arbiter of a system with limited capacity to offer dispassionate strategic assessments. His failure is characteristic of autocratic regimes assessing foreign developments, including, Putin’s Soviet predecessors. This article contributes to the emerging scholarship on intelligence in autocratic regimes by examining Putin’s use of intelligence in the Ukraine War in the context of the broader literature on intelligence and decision.

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