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Russia has mobilized for war many times before – sometimes it unified the nation, other times it ended in disaster

Eric Lohr, Professor of Russian History, American University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

Putin appears to look toward World War II, missing the lessons of the earlier Great War.

The mobilization to fight World War I drew support from national representatives and from a relatively free press. While the population was weary of war by 1917, few questioned the legitimate need to defend the country against the German invaders.

Putin’s war in Ukraine is very different. It is widely seen as unnecessary, public support is tepid, and there is no free press or freely elected representatives to give it legitimate support.

The mobilization of 1917 provides a stark lesson that larger armies are not necessarily stronger ones, and adding large numbers of unreliable soldiers to an army can be an enormous gamble.

The usually cautious military observer Michael Kaufman responded to Putin’s mobilization by declaring that Putin now has staked his regime on the outcome of the war. It is already clear that this war will not be a unifying, legitimizing event like World War II. But it remains to be seen whether this mobilization will go down the 1917 road to military dysfunction and revolution.


This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Eric Lohr, American University. The Conversation has a variety of fascinating free newsletters.

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A historian corrects misunderstandings about Ukrainian and Russian history

Eric Lohr has received funding from the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research Fellowship (2012) and the Kennan Institute for Russian studies fellowship (2005). He has served as director of American University's Carmel Institute for Russian History and Culture (2011-12; 2019-20), an organization that provided scholarships for students to study Russian language and previously included film screenings and cultural events at the Russian Embassy. This past activity in no way influences his scholarship or political views.


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