A Study of Russia's Military Interventions: When Does Vladimir Putin Send the Troops?

Davis Memorial Lecture
Event Format
In person
May Room of Mary Lyon Hall, Wheaton College

When does Russia go to war in foreign lands, and why? Historically, even some of the highest-ranking servants of the Russian state had struggled to answer the second question even when it was posed to them post-factum. For instance,  Russian Minister of the Interior Pyotr Valuev observed in July 1865: “General Chernyaev has taken Tashkent, and nobody knows why….there is something erotic in everything that is happening on the distant frontiers of the Empire.” More than a century and a half after that observation, this question still begs for a clear answer as Russian soldiers fight, kill, and die in Ukraine on their ruler’s orders.

In his upcoming lecture at Wheaton College, Dr. Simon Saradzhyan of Harvard’s Belfer Center will offer his answer to this question, drilling down factors that, in his view, have shaped Vladimir Putin’s decisions on whether to intervene in foreign countries militarily or not during more than two decades of his rule.  To infer these factors, Saradzhyan will analyze four instances in which this Russian autocrat decided to order a military intervention in a foreign country (in Georgia in 2008, in Ukraine in 2014,  in Syria in 2015 and, again, in Ukraine in 2022) and four instances in which he decided not to do so (Ukraine in 2008; Kyrgyzstan in 2010; Belarus in 2020 and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020).

Having ascertained the confluence of which factors have been necessary and sufficient for Putin to order military force abroad, Saradzhyan will discuss the practical implications of his findings, such as whether they can be relied upon to forecast Russian military interventions.


The Davis Memorial Lecture is co-sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and Wheaton College.


The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact us at 617-495-4037 or daviscenter@fas.harvard.edu in advance of your participation or visit. Requests for Sign Language interpreters and/or CART providers should be made at least two weeks in advance if possible. Please note that the Davis Center will make every effort to secure services but that services are subject to availability.