19 Russian Wars Ending in Defeat, From Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is now stretching on into its second year. Many pundits expected the conflict to last weeks at most, and maybe even end in a few days. The basis for what turned out to be gross underestimates was the relative difference in size between the belligerents. Of course, Ukraine has had a great deal of help, (see the countries sending the most aid to Ukraine) but Russia is a much, much larger nation and has about 28 times the population. Given the fact that Russia is the biggest nation in the world in land area and shares borders with 16 other countries, it stands to reason that throughout its history, wars with its neighbors would be inevitable. That is indeed the case – but Russia has not always won these conflicts.

To find the wars that Russia has lost, 24/7 Wall St. has referenced sources such as Britannica, History, Russia Beyond, Tufts University, and Wikipedia to create its list. We date the wars Russia has lost from the time of Ivan the Terrible (who reigned as tsar from 1547 to 1575) to the present day and Vladimir Putin. (Here’s a list of every Russian [and Soviet] head of state since Peter the Great.)

History has shown that conflicts that end badly for Russia – the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the invasion of Afghanistan, for example – can lead to political upheavals and revolutions. Nonetheless, Russia, in whatever stage of its existence, has repeatedly engaged in warfare.

Greg Carleton, a professor of Russian studies at Tufts, has written a book on the history and culture of war in Russia titled “Russia: The Story of War.” He told Tufts Now that “Russia has always been a militarized country,” but adds that “It has done this, in fact, for its own survival.”

Carleton considers Russia’s war experience as a history of “defensive expansionism,” and it has been a strategy of the tsars, the Soviet Union, and modern-day Russia. “The thinking,” he said, “is like this: We’ve got a hostile neighbor – or a potentially hostile neighbor – so the best thing to do to protect ourselves is to cross our border and squash that neighbor.” (As an illustration of the country’s penchant battle, here are 20 wars Russia has fought since 1917.)

Click here to see 19 wars Russia has lost, from Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin

The invasion of Ukraine obviously fits into that thinking. Whether or not this war will be added to the list of Russian defeats remains to be seen.

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