Mantic Monday 2/28/22: Predictions, market accountability, pundit accountability
I don't know what people thought the enormous military buildup on the Ukrainian border was for. They had been working on it for a year, first quietly, then brazenly. Putin isn't crazy but he really BELIEVES that Ukraine is ruled by a puppet government, so why WOULDN'T the military collapse, Afghanistan-style? Fairly rational behavior.
With regards to Luttwak and his suggested insight to Putin's thinking, suggest listening to Andrew Sullivan's recent dishcast with him - Luttwak and Putin have had dinner together (many years ago).
I think that, in a way, the entire question here is wrong!
The thing is, using solely publicly available (and widely-disseminated) information, it was clear that Putin *could* imminently invade Ukraine. He had brought a truly remarkable amount of force to bear - even at the cost of military readiness elsewhere throughout Russia - and positioned it so that it could invade. It was a huge investment.
Putin had created a situation where he could, at a moment's notice, decide to invade or not. Now it turns out he was already resolved to do so and US intelligence knew about that. But Putin could, of course, have been genuinely unsure of whether he wanted to invade, in which case there would be no possible evidence of his intentions (they wouldn't exist yet). But good decision-making would nevertheless need to respond to the extremely real and serious *capability* he had then developed.
In light of this, I find all the prewar attempts to analyze US IC or to psychoanalyze Putin to be somewhat misguided.
tldr: "Play the chessboard, not the player."
You say "but incorrectly predicted that “Putin is not a fool”". Can we really say that yet? I'm still open to this being part of his plan and the Ukrainian resistance being hyped up. The Russian and Ukrainian soldiers trained together, Putin must have been advised on how they would fight. Either he has suddenly turned into a complete fool and not given thought to any of his actions or he planned for some of this.
Perhaps of interest, a thread of results from a casual and perhaps badly-written series of polls I ran starting in November.
I personally did not make any public predictions, discussed down thread. Somewhat regret this although I'm wondering lately if there's more personal value for me in mapping plausible scenarios and responses to each than there is making specific concrete predictions.
The Godofskys--I think Steven in particular--did a great job and were publicly confident that an invasion was imminent based on the distribution and quantity of troops.
I’m surprised that the current prediction markets are as favorable as they are to Russian victory. Maybe it’s because I’m getting all my news from Reddit, but it looks like Ukraine is pretty much holding its ground while Russians are running out of fuel and generally very confused (because they didn’t actually know why they were there). The leaked intelligence is saying that Putin planned for this to last 1-4 days, and Russia was not prepared at all for a prolonged conflict.
The Russian economy has also totally crashed. Like it’s just completely in the toilet, with the stock market currently being kept closed just so that they can pretend things aren’t as bad as they are. Russian government websites can’t even stay up because they’re being hacked so much.
I’ve only vaguely paid attention to prediction market posts before, but I’m interested in getting into them now because I think I can make a lot of money. Is it possible to do so in the U.S. without setting up a VPN?
Not seeing Samo at anything less than a B+ here. Early assault on airport failed, but it seemed like bad luck; Putin was hoping for a reasonably bloodless victory—but those events are always subject to chance, in a similar way to how the US might have flubbed the Osama assasination.
Now it’s just going to be a horrific slow grind as Russia rolls in heavy, mass-casualty weaponry. Putin has up to a 10:1 advantage in numbers, which translates into a 100x advantage even against similar class of weaponry — which Ukraine doesn’t have. Kharkiv as a preview for what this heavy gauge lower tech looks like. (Or visit Syria.)
Samo analysis seems similar (and a few days ahead) of solid FT reporting. Eventually this reality will sink in to the NYT readership but the Times is too busy selling Marvel movie fantasy.
Forgive my disgust at the latter. It’s the Quaker in me.
One confident prediction that I can make for the coming week is that humanitarian situation in Ukraine will be deteriorating quickly. It's painful for me to write this since I have multiple Ukrainian friends with whom I chat daily in various Telegram groups.
In the second week of the war Russia is going to become much less selective in their actions. In the first days of the war they were trying to quickly take as much ground as possible without proper artillery support. This is about to change and it will mean much more civilian casualties than in the first week.
Multiple big Ukrainian cities are surrounded or semi-surrounded. It means that supplying food for civilians is becoming a problem. You can still go to a shop and buy food as in the peaceful time, but already yesterday my friend's relative living in Kiev spent 2 hours in line for groceries.
I think barring nuclear strikes the probability of Russia taking control of >50% of Ukrainian territory is low, say 20%. I expect the situation to become more or less a stalemate within one or two months from now. Russia simply doesn't have economic capabilities to lead a protracted war under the current (and future) sanctions.
Russia is going straight into an economic crisis. I see at least 50% probability of inflation in Russia exceeding 100% in 2022.
Despite that the probability of Putin being deposed is really low. In the past few years Russian opposition was mostly subdued by arresting their leaders. To have any effect the protests should count at least hundreds of thousands of people. From my understanding number of anti-war protestors in the last few days was in low tens of thousands. Around 5000 of protestors were arrested (these 5000 probably include a lot of people that were arrested, spent the night in jail, were released, went to the protests on the next day and were arrested again).
Regarding Lindyman's comment: if you remove the "without any resistance" part, and just ask whether the Russian army could conquer Europe up to the borders of France, I am *extremely interested* as to whether that is the case.
Consider: the Russian military is, apparently, making poor progress on several fronts of its invasion into Ukraine. But its losses thus far, in both personnel and equipment, are only a small fraction of its assets; and it has assets, particularly its fixed-wing air force, that have barely been employed thus far. It currently has the luxury of making mistakes, and learning from them, against an opponent which doesn't have the capability to seriously exploit them. Meanwhile, the multinational NATO force deployed to Eastern Europe has limited experience training as a combined unit, and could have any number of weaknesses ready to be revealed when it first undertakes real combat operations.
That said, I don't believe this is likely: the NATO advantage in technology, and particularly in air power, should be decisive. But I can't help thinking of the historical parallel to 1939, when nobody (?) believed the Allied forces in France would collapse in the face of a German invasion. If the probability that the Russian military could overwhelm the NATO forces currently in Eastern Europe is 5%, say - or, maybe more importantly, if Putin *thinks* it's over 50% - I think further NATO reinforcements are strongly motivated.
What are good benchmarks for invasion/resistance success/failure?
I would humbly propose the following hypothesis: the rationalist community (diverse as it is) tends to be receptive to anti-woke and anti-institution models and explanations. In some cases, this creates a blind spot when the culture war is an inappropriate explanatory framework (particularly when American institutions are involved)
I think a canary in the coal mine is the systematic discounting of the American intelligence community, inconsistent with its portrayal as an intrusively mighty all-seeing eye. In the case of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, this dissonance was waved away by the (hilariously uncharitable) notion that Joe Biden was manipulating intelligence reports in order to put us on the path to nuclear annihilation. It was a ridiculous explanation, but nevertheless gained purchase.
I suspect other Western institutions are likewise unfairly downweighted within the rationalist community. I hope this tussle causes a re-examination of the community’s dominant culture-war model.
As a Russian living abroad I can say this has been a complete shock for me. I was nearly certain the war wouldn't happen. I thought I roughly understood what is happening in Russia and Putin's head. It turned out I was completely wrong.
My theory of Putin always was that he wasn't really interested much in anything else than his own power. He was authoritarian but not THAT bad (e. g. remember that Navalny was freely publishing his stuff and calling up protests for about 10 years, during which he was only harassed, and only then there was the weird poisoning attempt and ultimately prison), and he did try to be a good ruler for Russia, as he understood it, and insofar as it didn't contradict with his own goals. Previous military adventures kind of fit into this narrative: Georgia, Syria and especially Crimea were easy, quick and boosted his popularity; and every ruler has to worry about their popularity, even an authoritarian one. DPR/LPR were only supported half-heartedly, and for many years were a frozen conflict when Putin realized that no one actually cared much about DPR/LPR. Stuff like speeches about the unity of Russian people, the made-up identity of Ukrainians and the weird support for the Orthodox church I considered just pandering to his main audience, older Russians who miss the USSR.
But, well, turns out this theory is wrong, because the war in Ukraine cannot fit into it at all. It is very clearly completely pointless and suicidal; in a matter of days, Russia became a pariah state like Iran. Whatever his goals in the war are, even he accomplishes them all, he is now losing so much more. I thought it a valid argument that Ukraine aligned with NATO is genuinely bad for Russia, and assumed the events of last few months were posturing to make Ukraine and/or NATO guarantee their neutrality. Honestly I think if they agreed, there is a chance this mess could have been avoided... But they took a hard line, and instead of saving face (recognition of DPR/LPR, Russian troops officially there for good, some more minor sanctions in response; last Wednesday I was sure that's how it ends) he went all in. And even if he guarantees now Ukraine's loyalty somehow, he will have Finland and Sweden in NATO, he will have NATO stronger and more united than ever. Sweden taking sides, Germany re-militarizing and apparently even considers not shutting down their nuclear as they always wanted. This is insanity.
Right now I think -- although right now no one can be sure of anything -- he actually genuinely believes his shit. How Ukraine doesn't really exist and all. Apparently he really wants to resurreсt Russian Empire, the way he sees it at least. Possibly he wouldn't need the Baltics or Central Asia, but Ukraine is crucial, as "they are Russians too". And Belarus he basically already has anyway.
I don't know if that's always been his plan or just him being more and more detached from reality in the later years. Apparently he was really scared by COVID and spent the last two years in severe isolation, you can still see in pictures and videos the ridiculously long table which he uses now. Probably didn't do any good to his mind.
And apparently he really believed that Ukrainian people would welcome Russians as saviors. That's the only explanation I can see for the surprising weakness of the Russian army; like most, I expected Ukraine to collapse in days. Not only the troops appear incompetent, but the army that he gathered (was it 150,000?) is utterly inadequate for occupation of a country of 40 million, which was a major reason why I thought the war would be impossible to begin with. And Ukraine, as a heroically resisting victim of unprovoked aggression of Russia (which no one really liked to begin with), has now all the sympathy in the world, although it's of course good to remember that whatever we learn about the war now is mostly Ukrainian (and Western intelligence) own propaganda.
Unfortunately I don't know what happens now and I don't think WWIII scenario is completely excluded. Putin cannot go back, and the Western response has been utterly devastating and gets worse every day, they really should stop already... Russian economy is collapsing, it's in walking ghost phase right now. I fear this really backs him into corner. In his old memoires, year 2000, he says how the thing that made the greatest impression to him as a kid was how a cornered rat can turn to fight a man. Some consolation that I have is that he probably, in his mind, really wants to build a great Russia for all Russian peoples, and killing all Russian peoples in nuclear holocaust doesn't quite fit into these plans. And he appears afraid of death (of COVID or otherwise).
And of course the best thing we can hope for is him being deposed/assassinated very quickly now. I think that is possible, but I have no idea how likely. Clearly you don't stay an authoritarian leader for 22 years without preparing for the possibility. But also clearly apart from a few of his trusted siloviki NO ONE expected him doing THAT, and NO ONE expected that the West would react like THAT. Lives of everyday Russians will be devastated as well by collapse of entire industries, ruble freefalling, new Iron Curtain starting to fall, and I think it is actually likely that we could see really huge protests. The thing about Putin's Russia is that it mostly hasn't been all that bad for people at all. That's why he was tolerated and any protests always were relatively small; people actually had a lot to lose. Now they won't. The world is also much more interconnected than it was in the times Iran or North Korea became pariah states; just imagine losing microchips import in 2022.
But of course everything changes now in a matter of hours, so who knows? At least it's a good thing I emigrated 4 years ago, even though back then politics was the last thing on my mind. I'm afraid of anti-Russian sentiment abroad now (and hopefully the West won't start deporting all Russians), but well, for now let's at least hope there's no WWIII.
"and the past few years have seen a lot of really embarrassing Russia-related paranoia."
Such as? I've found it really odd hearing leftist commentators like Michael Tracey and Kyle Kulinski bash Democrats for "Russiagate", as if all the speculations regarding Russia (and its connections to the Trump campaign) have since been conclusively disproven. They haven't - far from it. I'd have thought the events of the past week would put an end to such smug dismissiveness.
Some impressions based on UA & RU telegram channels, Russian imageboard 2ch, and having the whole thing happen ~1000 km from where I'm writing:
- The few extra days before shelling of cities started saved millions of lives. Poland is accepting ~100k refugees _per day_, with a surprisingly competent governmental response and a lot of citizen initiative. Random people are driving from across the country to transport refugees to their destinations - around 80% have a friend or family in Poland, the rest gets temporary shelter. Charities collecting goods for the refugees are overflowing, sometimes stopping the collection midway because they have no way to distribute all the stuff they already received. The humanitarian situation is as good as it can be given the circumstances.
- The Ukrainians really are ridiculously good at fighting. I don't know how much of their effectiveness is NATO-provided training and equipment, but I'm constantly surprised, given the economic and organizational clusterfuck the country was before the war. I don't think the West is overhyping their effectiveness at all tbh, the results speak for themselves.
- The Russian invading force is full of confused reservists and their logistics are atrocious. Siege of Kyiv seems nearly impossible at the moment because the sieging force would run out of supplies faster than the city.
- Russian soldiers are defecting en masse. This is not surprising - they sent 19 year old boys to roll tanks over civilians that are culturally almost the same as the family they left at home, and speak their language.
- Russian economy is in complete freefall, and Russians are noticing. If Russia wasn't an authoritarian state where dissent is crushed, Putin would be forced to resign. It may still happen. Tech-savvy users are scrambling to buy computer parts while they're still on the market, getting foreign currency is near impossible, anyone who had clients in the West is super fucked.
- Russia is run by oligarchs (so was Ukraine tbh), who just lost pretty much everything they had. I'd imagine they're not happy about the whole thing, and they're searching for solutions.
The statement "Putin is a brutal but rational mind" should be "Putin has so far been a brutal and rational mind."
Why is Karlin's Regathering... the canonical essay for understanding Putin? Is it a matter of fact or of style?
Something I thought was really interesting is John Mearsheimer’s prediction (Russia doesn’t invade because the Ukrainian nationalism will result in too much insurgency for Russia to hold Ukraine profitably) combined with Putin / akarlin rhetoric (Ukrainians will enjoy being gathered back up and are one people, broadly speaking).
I think this explains the reason Putin did invade, and also why so many people didn’t think he would - the costs they assumed he’d bear are not costs Putin thought he’d bear.
I’d recommend Mearsheimer generally - fantastic mind despite this miss.
Could you do a bit about the "Russia Hoax".
It seems there is a weak vs. a strong version and while the strong was is disproven the weak one has been confirmed.
Strong version: Trump was a Putin puppet being controlled through Kompromat and was taking orders from Russia.
This is where the pee tape and all that comes in.
Weak version: Russia saw Trump's victory as better for their policy preferences. Russia had its intelligence agencies hack the campaigns. Russia hacked both the Trump and the Clinton campaigns but only the emails from Clinton's campaign manager were given over to Wikileaks. Wikileaks then did the Trump campaign a solid favor by releasing the emails a few hours after the access Hollywood tape and making sure to release them in a continuous stream of small news nuggets for the next three weeks to dominate the news cycle.
We know the weak version is true, the question has always been how much did the Trump campaign know about it and how much did they actively work with Russia in the execution.
I would like to hear your thoughts as too many of the rest of substack made their bones by being "Anti Russia is just exaggerated neoliberal hype" aka Michael Tracy or Matt taibbi and the applicability of that heuristic has been called into question.
I'm guessing it is less a strong Ukrainian resistance and more Putin pulling punches and trying to avoid "shock and awe" that would level Kyiv and other major population centers. He had no scruples like that in Chechnya or Syria, with much more decisive outcomes. Extremely low morale of the troops who are not eager to fight their kin is not helping, either. This may change and soon, though.
Regarding Luttwak, he forgot Putin is a spook, not someone with military experience, and civilian leaders constantly overestimate what military power can achieve.
Annapurna on LessWrong asked on 23 December 2021 for possible financial actions if you expected Russia to invade Ukraine in February 2022.
And by 23 Jan appears to have bet on the prospect:
"But Ukraine miscalculated too; until almost the day of the invasion, Zelenskyy was saying everything would be okay."
It's an assumption that this was a miscalculation. What was the alternative? Telling everyone an invasion was imminent? How long can you keep that up? What does it do to morale? And aren't you feeding into Putin's propaganda then? Out of the set of options available to him, quietly preparing for it militarily while calming the public was perhaps the least terrible one.
It seems to me that if you want to look at predictions, you have to divide them between (1) Russian objectives and (2) Stuff that might happen anyway.
Russian objectives are clear, and very limited, and Putin set them out very clearly. The first is the demilitarisation of Ukraine, and that has already largely been achieved. Their command, control and communications are dead and the air force is grounded or destroyed. Most of their Army is deployed fighting the Russian-speaking minority in the Donbass, and they are now being surrounded by Russian troops. They will either surrender, in which case the Russians will let them go, keeping the equipment, or try to escape on foot leaving the equipment. If they try to fight their way out they will be annihilated because the Russians have total air superiority. So the war in the Donbass region will end because the Ukrainians will have no weapons to fight with.
The second is a purging of extreme nationalists from the government and the capture of nationalist militias like the Azov battalion. The Russians are believed to have lists of names, and in practice most of these people will be running fast if they don't want to be put on trial for atrocities alleged in the Donbass. This will ensure a Ukrainian government which is weak and is respectful of Russia - much the status quo before 2014 but enhanced.
On the other hand, there's no point, it seems to me, in predicting what might happen by accident or outside the scope of planning. Too many people are assuming that this campaign will imitate the US in Iraq, annihilating everything they come across; But the actual forces the Russians have used are quite small, and their tactics have been to minimise collateral damage. We know the Russians aren't interested in capturing territory or cities and have taken no steps to do so. They will apply pressure by surrounding and entering cities if they can, but as good Clausewitzians, they know that military operations have to support the political objective. They have no political interest in destroying Ukraine, which they want as an ally, if a rather reluctant one.
Finally, I don't think the judgement of a week ago that the Russians would not invade was wrong at the time; the Russians believed that (slightly) reinforcing their forces on and near the border would concentrate Zelensky's mind and get them their objectives. After he began talking about acquiring nuclear weapons at Munich, the Russians decided that that was it, and there was no further hope with this government, under western control. They had a contingency plan and pressed the button to go. Some things are yes/no and can't be reduced to probabilities.
The other reason no one predicted both an invasion and a strong resistance is that everyone, left and right, is using a rational actor frame that assumed that a necessary condition for Russia choosing to invade would be it had rationally assessed the risk of not doing so well as minimal. If I have learnt anything it is that the sad truth is that even when we think we are not using rational actor frames we usually are- there are really only two ways to predict behaviour - extrapolation from past behaviour and rational actor models.
Worth considering the opposite on the fertility hypothesis, that the childless are better able to commit themselves to abstract causes and more likely to seek glory, hence better partisans.
As for why war nerd makes up songs and "what is wrong with him" it's worth remembering this isn't it tennis. People die because of Hawks all the time and Gary sees that close up. It's very natural for him to want to retaliate in any way he can beyond mere polite expression of disagreement , e.g. satire. Even if you find this unpardonable it is understandable.
For myself, I thought there was a 50 percent chance of invasion, and a 20 percent chance of good conventional military resistance by Ukraine, so I did poorly. I give myself points though for having made the meta prediction that predictions were foolish in this instance, and thus not having made any publicly.
I think we should be wary of the Ukraine resistance narrative. Russia can’t afford to engage in the kind of atrocities that the US or it’s allies can, because of the way the world media works. If Russia was to engage in a starvation play like Yemen it would actually be reported as an atrocity.
From day one with the Russians not taking Kyiv it was condemned as a failure, but when was a capital city taken on one day? Where was the ukranian defence before that?
I wonder how many (professional) super forecasters were looking at this ? Even certain second order liquid markets seem a bit confusing (gold up on day of invasion, equities down; and reversing that on day 2) although possibly overall markets may not immediately be impacted by initial happenings.
Remember how we all laughed at Comical Ali, proclaiming victory after victory ever closer to Baghdad?
So what if Ukraine/Zelensky said that everything will be OK right up until the day of the invasion? That's just public statements, i.e. they wanted others to believe that they didn't believe an invasion was coming. More precisely, they probably wanted to avoid mass panic in their country, and to a lesser extent maybe they wanted Putin to think they were less prepared than they actually were (is this smart? If you're confident that you can humiliate Russia, then yes maybe. On the other hand if you really wanted to avoid war at all costs you obviously shouldn't signal weakness).
Mark Ames and the War Nerd were colleagues in the 2000s at The Exile, but not the same person.
I try not to make predictions, but if I had, I probably would have gotten both aspects wrong.
"Samo is a rationalist success story and a smart guy... And he’s been careful not to say anything specific that might later get proven false... this isn’t exactly a compliment. I think it’s better optics, but worse rationality, compared to people like Karlin and Hanania who make extremely clear predictions with numbers attached, sometimes get them totally wrong, and then admit it and write thoughtful essays on how they screwed up."
To be honest this matches my general impression of his output (and this seems very much not like a compliment). I've always been somewhat confused about why he's seen as an authority (or even as generally interesting) in rationalist circles: what am I missing? This is a genuine question, so I hope it passes the true/necessary/kind test.
My takeaway from this is that people don't make predictions to predict the future. They make them to express an opinion without having to actually state it clearly.
One thing that made me - and possibly other people - doubt the US intelligence is that this situation is really good for the US (at least compared to everyone else involved, war is never great). The EU is closer to the US than ever, we moved away from Russian gas and trade even before the war, more countries are seriously considering to join NATO and, in the best case, the Ukraine comes closer to the EU and NATO now, which would be an immense strategic advantage. My point is, even if they weren't sure that the invasion was going to happen, it would have made sense for them to badmouth Russia and they have been caught doing similar things before. This is at least why I trusted the intel so little.
Man, I remember saying almost exactly " One of the best predictors of insurgency is having the kinds of terrain that governments cannot reach, like swamps, forests and mountains. Ukraine is the heart of the great Eurasian steppe" but it ended ended with "Iraq is a flat dessert" instead.
If Hasan is in the mix, maybe another livestreamer is worth mentioning: Vaush predicted war as likely from early on, without downplaying ukrainian resistance. Also, Glenn Greenwald is not a leftist by any stretch.
Scott, I know those aren't super serious, but please consider not using the wacky school grading scale. It's not a huge deal but they differ between countries, so it can be slightly confusing. ("What the hell is a C? Is that good or bad? About medium? Oh, it goes down to F. Wait, where's E? Somebody please invent numbers.")
Making the "Putin invades, which goes poorly" prediction would take some really big braininging. You'd essentially need to have reasons to believe that you have better understanding of Russian military strength(including in relation to Ukraine) than Putin, and *also* expect him to invade anyway *.
On Feb 1 I privately predicted 30% for the invasion and an extra 5% for the major flare-up, (without looking at markets/Matt's/Scott's**/Zvi's). I also didn't pay too much attention to the question before that point. I feel appropriately bad for my "below the markets" score but take the "very slightly better than Zvi" consolation.
* Which is especially hard given the subtlety of the situation, it seems less "russia weak, actually" and more that it turned out they needed a bigger hammer than expected, and might still be able to adjust within a few days.
** I managed on my own but I really wish the contest survey blinded the numbers for those who didn't want to see it to avoid anchoring.
Consider reading "The Absent Superpower" by Peter Zeihan.
He unequivocably predicted the invasion of Ukraine by Russia back in 2016
Now do one for people predicting nuclear war.
I guess there's a negative feedback loop for good forecasters: good forecasts -> more reputation for being good forecaster -> people listen to your forecasts more -> they act on your forecasts more -> you can advance your preferred agenda by forecasts -> more incentives for bullshit.
Especially true for government actors like politicians or intelligence services
Grading on a curve is very useful.
This is a topic where many people voiced their opinion and made predictions. If you're handing out everything from B to F but not a single A your grading scheme is probably not ideal.
What's the standard for an A? Predicting the fall of the capital within 2 days? 5 days? When did anyone make such an accurate forecast before an invasion started?
I look at that Metaculus "Kyiv to fall to Russian forces by April" question and I don't even know what I'm predicting.
>This question will resolve positively if it is publicly reported by at least three reputable media sources or from direct statements from at least four Permanent UNSC members that the majority of Kyiv's raions are under Russian military control by April 1, 2022.
I couldn't find a list of "reputable media sources," but perhaps it's the "media" subset of "credible sources"
>A "credible source" will be taken to be an online or in-print published story from a journalistic source, or information publicly posted on a the website of an organization by that organization making public information pertaining to that organization, or in another source where the preponderance of evidence suggests that the information is correct and that there is no significant controversy surrounding the information or its correctness. It will generally not include unsourced information found in blogs, facebook or twitter postings, or websites of individuals.
They're gonna hold a post facto Wikipedia Talk style consensus discussion about what counts, maybe?
Or "direct statements from at least four Permanent UNSC members". Is that statements delivered in a security council session by the permanent members' representatives? A certain press release channel? Or anything uttered by anyone involved with those governments?
For me, more than being "regulated" per se, what Kalshi offers is that they try to provide clarity on exactly what the question is. There may not be as many decently clear Ukraine War questions right now. I think probably this Metaculus question resolves without issue, but "probably" throws a huge amount of extra risk into the question.
"But part of our civilizational immune system against shadowy Machiavellian genius figures is demanding that they do this even when they would prefer not to!"
I didn't get this sentence, can somebody explain it to me?
I think your post on Heuristics That Almost Always Work is much more profound than the comments make it out to be, which is reinforced by your last paragraph here, that success in warcasting has more to do with bias alignment.
The big takeaway from Heuristics is that there is something inherent in iterative, distributive knowledge-updating that converges on credentialism.
Also, Polymarket should be blowing up, even without the U.S. The real explanation for the underwhelming reception is what someone in the ACX thread on Polymarket suggested, that there is little or no alpha in making general world predictions.
On the other hand, since this blog is in the effective altruism orbit, marginal benefits applied at scale are still worth a lot. So, is the faint signal from warcasting beneficial? Can it realistically be improved? Or does it bump up against a knowledge ceiling, e.g., that the ultimate point of war is to resolve uncertainty?
Heck, maybe warcasting feeds warmongering, and not in the speech-creates-dust kind of way, but in tempting people to test their claims.
> Over the past two years, the question has bounced between about 7 and 19 percent. Today it’s at 20%, its highest value ever - but still only a single-digit percent above its baseline.
Something I'd like to understand about metaculus: When a question was created long ago and then new events greatly affect it, do the majority of forecasters actually quickly return to that question and update their forecast?
If a large fraction of people who made a forecast months prior *don't* quickly update it, then I wouldn't trust the 20% so much.
Does anybody know whether or not the Ukrainian military was hitting civilian targets in Russian-controlled parts of the Donbas region as of February 23rd? I saw some information about this on the 23rd, and now I can find nothing.
I was more with Peter Zeihan, who believed that Russian would want to expand its control over Ukraine, but believed that an invasion would be a quagmire. I thought an invasion deep into Ukraine beyond the Donbas was unlikely, so I was wrong about how Putin would try to exercise that control. That was a significant surprise. An invasion that deep was a part of a 40% chunk that I didn’t break down further. I also thought that Ukraine would take the path of quickly dispersing its troops to engage in long-term guerrilla warfare, at least after losing a set-piece battle or two. I was wrong about the relative effectiveness of Ukrainian and Russian regulars. I think that is less of a surprise than the extent of the invasion was.
I've failed in my predictions big time (10% in the start of Feb, 20% on Feb 15, went up to 50% on Feb 21) because I trusted too much in certain experts rationalizing Putin's behavior as a balance of influences in his administration. This predictive failure has cost me dearly: I advised my mother to return to Kyiv from a safe place. (She's okay.) I will make a post-mortem in the open threads once I have the energy for it.
Hi, I'm just here to accept my share of glory.
I expressed my concerns about this scenario in advance, and was proven correct, not just once (https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMotte/comments/s2gk0v/will_nato_expansionism_lead_to_a_war_between_the/) but twice (https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMotte/comments/swhod5/what_will_be_the_outcome_of_the_russiaukraine_war/). Our leaders, by contrast, were absolute failures. Not only did they fail to predict the war that I saw coming, but they failed to predict the full scope (https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMotte/comments/swhod5/comment/hxnd98j/) of the war (which, again, I accurately forecasted).
If you're interested in how I was able to predict this, I have a Substack dedicated to the study of superforecasting group behavior - just click on my icon for more info. My substack also covers the science of manipulating group behavior, such as to collapse regimes or manipulate elections. I've had a lot of fun with practical experiments in this field: DM me for more details.
On the performance of U.S. intelligence: my model there is that they may not have know too much more than "this military buildup sure looks like the precursor to an invasion," which was somewhat public knowledge at the time. Surely with greater detail than publicly available, but maybe not including any special insight into Putin's intentions.
Instead, giving repeated warnings of an invasion could have been a calculated action to make the invasion less likely. It makes invading less attractive for Putin because the invasion looks premeditated, lowering the credibility of any Russian claims that they were provoked or otherwise justified and thereby increasing the likelihood and magnitude of punitive economic responses by other countries. It also makes not-invading *more* attractive, because it gives an opportunity for Putin to demonstrate that the U.S. is panicky, over-reacting, obsessed with painting Russia as an enemy.
So I think U.S. intelligence might have been less confident about the invasion than they projected, and the confident messages were an attempt to shift Putin's incentives away from invading.
Three unrelated points:
1) You are being too harsh on Burja. It is not the case that Russia is unexpectedly weak. What happened is that Ukraine is unexpectedly strong, compared to expectations of people like Hanania and Karlin.
2) Speaking of Hanania, although I fundamentally disagree with his conservative worldview, I have been impressed by his command of the facts regarding situation in Eastern Europe, which, speaking as an Eastern European native, is not always the strong suit of American pundits. The thing he got wrong was that Ukraine will not put much of a fight because it has a low birthrate, which according to him is a sign of a moral rot. I would argue that he was doubly wrong, since Russia also has a low birthrate and its army is also putting up a strong fight in the face of a stiff Ukrainian resistence.
It is almost as if something is wrong with the foundational assumptions of his brand of conservatism.
3) My prediction: 50 % Russia wins in a sense that peace terms will unambiguously make Ukraine worse off than it was before the invasion, 40 % there will be a messy compromise where Ukraine will be worse off in some respects but better off in others, 10 % Russia looses in that Ukraine will be unambiguously better off in a sense of controlling more territory than before the war or having cleared the path to NATO while not ceding its claim to Crimea and Donbass.
(of course 100 % that the war will be an economic disaster for both belligerents)
Bingo: “One important thing I’ve learned again and again about prediction is that successes are usually less about being smart, and more about having a bias which luckily corresponds to whatever ends up happening.”
It seems a bit early to conclude that Ukrainian resistance is much stronger than expected. It's been 5 days, get some perspective. Unless you expected zero resistance (when combined with logistical support of the entire world), you'd have thought it would take a little while to take Kyiv. 14 days, for example, would still be amazingly fast by all historical standards.
There should also be some humility associated with fog of war. The press is aggressively portraying Ukrainian resistance as effective, but a lot of the portrayals are pretty transparently fake. Maybe the resistance is really strong, maybe it falls apart in a few more days. Maybe it would have already fallen apart without all the extraordinary international interventions.
Technically, it's still possible Kyiv falls within a week. Grading that as wrong at this point seems a bit premature.
> They admittedly had great heuristics: there are lots of warmongers, our intelligence community has been really wrong lots of times before, and the past few years have seen a lot of really embarrassing Russia-related paranoia.
A lot of people (in this as in other things) seem to use the heuristic: people I don't like predict X, therefore I will predict not X.
I'm not much of a prognosticator despite my having studied Russian history in university and do enjoy its literature but I did find this video made me realize that we over complicate reasons for war. In the end, it always comes down to resources and a perceived threat to national security. And women. Sometimes it's to impress them. Alas, there is no Helen in this one so it's gonna have to be straight realpolitik on the part of Russia. Without getting into the West and its own role in this saga.
>Meanwhile, GJI (superforecasters) seem the most reactive. I don’t have a good sense of how to think about this or whether reactivity is necessarily good.
Reacting to evidence instead of sticking with your priors is generally a good thing. And the empirical evidence is that super forecasters update much more often than non-superforecasters. Not sure what the anti-updating-often take would be?
edit: I guess the anti-update take would be that "all of this is just noise". IIRC, longer term forecasts (>1 year) might do better with less updates because most evidence that is more than a year out is just noise. Though I could be misremembering. But to me, this seems like a scenario with lots of signal. (Taleb agrees with me, but everything he says is probably just noise https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1497943606962839552)
Hi Scott, thanks for stimulating my brain on a cold and cloudy Tuesday morning.
I'd register a 90% prediction that conditional on Russia attempting to establish a new government in Ukraine, when Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine, within four months any Russian-established government will collapse (due to lack of any legitimacy). Basically, it seems reasonable to say that if Putin's goal is regime change, he will get his version of the US Afghanistan war all over again.
If that's true this is evidence of Putin and his circle's incompetence (less the extent to which this was about approval ratings but Putin could have earned that with far less of a military commitment). I think the source of the incompetence is that they sort of believed their own propaganda, especially that Ukraine's government is illegitimate to its people.
So obviously Putin made a mistake, but is he too stupid to course correct? I don't know what Vladimir Putin will do, but if I were Putin, I would try to just hold on to a token amount of Russian occupied land in the east Ukraine, maybe after removing the parliament and president in Kyiv, withdraw, and claim victory and that I have stopped a fake genocide, leaving the Ukranians to rebuild their government (which Russia can't stop).
By the way, if you have the stomach for it, you should read the Russian propaganda. It's truly fascinating, and I think it explains their incompetent behavior. In the sense that they believe the Ukranians were in some way complicit in mass murders in the Donbass and that Russia "owns" Ukraine and this better explains their behavior in many ways. Also, it appears that Putin is doing well in terms of approval and this seems to indicate that Russians truly have a separate narrative and reality (strong propaganda). Maybe Russian and American psychiatrists use different substances because they really do live in separate realities after all. :P
I will admit to getting this extremely wrong on the "will Russia invade", giving it about a 5% chance. My assumption was that it was obvious that an invasion would go badly and have huge downsides (military quagmire, crippling sanctions) and basically no upside (upside is... Control of strategic resources/industry? Not very useful if you're sanctioned. Territory? Not useful if you're getting bled dry trying to hold it. Intimidating the West? Invading a little country and doing poorly doesn't exactly scream I'm tough, and on top of that, your military force is being progressively degraded).
Second part the jury is still out. I still think there is no justification for this war on the realpolitik cost/benefit front. It's going to be almost all cost and little to no benefit.
Is there anyone who was broadly right about the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian resistance, and some third thing in recent military events? Afghanistan? Myanmar? That person would be worth paying attention to.
Bret Devereaux, ancient historian and blogger at ACOUP, wrote something relevant to predictions in his initial response to the war: https://acoup.blog/2022/02/25/miscellanea-understanding-the-war-in-ukraine/ . I'm asking him for specific individuals he's referring to.
"Why Didn’t We See This Coming?
Actually, we did. NATO – and especially US intelligence – was remarkably effective at predicting what Putin had planned before he did it, down to predicting the day the assault would begin. NATO intelligence agencies also warned in advance that Russian forces would stage false-flag attacks and shell Ukrainian positions trying to provoke Ukrainians into shooting back and the Russians did exactly that. Frankly, especially after the intelligence failures of the Global War on Terror, I was shocked by the degree to which US intelligence mostly nailed this; it goes to show that while organizations created to spy on the Soviet Union struggle to spy on terrorists and the Taliban, they are very good at spying on the Russian Federation. Frankly the entire thing has been a fairly stunning US intelligence coup and there are a whole lot of analysts and more than a few world leaders who woke up on the 24th owing US intelligence an apology.
So while the outbreak of hostilities has likely come as a surprise to a great many people for whom this issue has only recently gotten full attention, for specialists paying attention it has been clear something was coming for a while and the closer we’ve gotten the clearer it has been that it would be big. My first “this is going to be really bad” tweet thread was January 25th; I am not a Ukraine expert and in many ways was late to those realizations."
I think this is too critical of anti-interventionists and too favorable to the centrist-establishment people. It misses the larger point that anti-interventionists were correct that NATO expansion and supporting the coup in Ukraine were likely to lead to conflict with Russia. Not sure centrists made predictions on whether it would, but it’s a pretty clearly bad outcome as at least a partial result of their actions
TL;DR: Predicting war hard.
>One important thing I’ve learned again and again about prediction is that successes are usually less about being smart, and more about having a bias which luckily corresponds to whatever ends up happening. Lots of people failed based on their political precommittments, but I suspect the successes were also based on political precommitments.
You'll fail to find a deeper insight elsewhere.
What gets me is that the USG was so publicly confident about this and was willing to provide an insane amount of evidence to back up their confidence, and people still discounted it. Even after events began breaking in ways that backed up the USG's prediction, people still discounted it. Well, not discounted it: they immediately assumed that anything the government said had a secret ulterior motive.
I can't describe how sickened it made me that a bunch of "really smart" people all looked at a pile of evidence that Russia wanted to invade Ukraine and came to the conclusion that the USG wanted to go to war with Russia. I really think our intellectual class has reached toxic levels of cynicism.
I would grade these a bit differently, because in general I find the specifics of the predictions less interesting than the context and explanation that the pundits give for their predictions. I know this flies in the face of the ostensible purpose of holding pundits "accountable," but in truth I don't expect anyone to have a good track record over the long term. I want to have a clear sense of what they believe will happen and why, and then I want to understand after the fact why they were right or wrong. Whether they were right or wrong is less interesting.
So, for example, Edward Luttwak's predictions look pretty good to me. He provided some actually relevant expertise that bears on the current situation. Richard Hanania's look bad, because predicting military outcomes on fertility rates strikes me as obviously dubious. Tyler Cowen's predictions seem basically useless: he's doing some handwaving psychoanalysis of Putin, and although Cowen is an extremely smart guy, I don't think he has any special insight here.
Etc. I feel the same way about Scott's predictions. His accuracy level just isn't very interesting (to me). What is interesting is his reasoning.
How does Michael Tracey's prediction align with Scott's "Bounded Distrust"? Scott says "trust the experts" (with some caveats). Tracey trusts the Ukrainian President and intelligence, and comes out to be wrong. How could Tracey have improved his predictions?
The lesson I've learned from this, having been skeptical of the US intelligence community myself based on their past behavior, is, "A boy known to cry wolf, does not disprove the existence of wolves."
"My very quick search didn’t find any pundit who successfully predicted both the Russian invasion and the strong Ukranian resistance."
This is it. Luttwak was "right" - conquering all of Ukraine is really hard, and a Russian leader who didn't want to suffer a lot of losses and perhaps fail wouldn't do it.
Lots of people got the geopolitics/strategy right, (including, it seems, lots of Russians!) but not the leadership psychology.
Hanania's grade should be lower just because the internal logic of it is completely asinine. A war would have to drag out for literal *decades* before low birth rates had a significant amount of manpower. That would only be a serious strategic factor if the conflict kept going for 20 years or more.
I think people are generally downplaying the strategic purposes of the IC's invasion date prediction. As soon as they predicted (and disclosed to news outlets) an invasion date, the probability that an invasion would occur at that date was decreased. Understandably, Putin wouldn't want it to look like US Intelligence knew everything he was going to do. This also gave Putin an out: if he were to drop the invasion, US Intelligence would look silly. While that sadly didn't happen, I'd still put it at a decent chance that the public prediction delayed the invasion a bit.
The other thing it accomplished is that it made all the subsequent manufactured pretexts for war more obvious. The US thus got to set the narrative around the invasion before Russia could. Then, when Russia did invade, the US narrative was immediately validated. Any moral ambiguity around the invasion was destroyed and the western world was able to scale up sanctions against Russia and funding for Ukraine at an unprecedented rate.
What's the lesson we can all learn? Trust experts, but trust only the experts who have demonstrated expertise in that field. Ukrainian intelligence is not the expert in determining whether Russia will attack Ukraine; the Russian military-government complex is (actually, Putin is. but he's hard to get a hold of). That is why Tracey was wrong.
Maybe the actual lesson is that we should always take people's biases into account. The Ukrainian government was unlikely to accept that Russia would attack because it knew that Ukraine was doomed if it was attacked. Keeping an account of our sources' biases can help us remove the undue influence of their opinions on our predictions.
In the section on Cowen, Scott seems to be going out of his way to avoid calling out for blatantly misrepresenting his previous beliefs/predictions. Would he have done the same for everyone?
>Still, I can understand why people who only caught snippets of certain tweets thought I was a 100% incorrigible “invasion denier.” I never denied the possibility of an invasion — again, I always made a point to explicitly allow for that very possibility.
The whole point of adding a disclaimer "maybe not X" is to indicate that you aren't so certain about X. In order for the disclaimer to be forceful enough for people to pay any attention to it, it also has to be forceful enough that it undercuts your apparent certainty in claiming X.
In other words, you can't have it both ways. You can't expect that if X comes true you'll be hailed as a prophet and still have a disclaimer just in case X doesn't come true.
Wow that is a lot of writing to take in. The last thing I saw predicting on any such scale was the pandemic and tikes predictions were pretty bad . But I sure there are AI super computers working on every data point where it doesn’t come to convincing the public
The Manifold market you’re thinking of was, AFAICT, the only market that asked whether an invasion would happen *by the end of February.* All other markets were longer-term than that. I think that at least partially explains why it seems to have performed so poorly.
One thing I wish you would pay more attention to is the Prediction Market Lizard Constant. You could make a market for 1+1=2 and still get only 90% true because of the inefficiencies of prediction markets. Seeing "Russia will invade another country at 12%" is barely above the Lizard constant, so it doesn't seem worth much notice.
Great post. Personally, I feel very conflicted here. This invasion is an enormous human tragedy and a complete waste and everything about it is profoundly depressing.
At the same time, I've participated regularly in related Metaculus prediction markets and various online and in-person discussions and "enjoyed" that process on some level. And I'm proud to have correctly predicted the invasion - I was above the Metaculus consensus since December 23rd, often by 20-30%. I was at 69% or above since January 19th and I made my final move up from 96% to 99% on February 21st. I also thought Richard Hanania's TFR-based argument against a Ukrainian insurgency was quite weak and underdeveloped, and told him so in the Substack comments. (Along with a couple of other people) My only real regret is not thinking past the invasion and actually doing the work to publicly predict whether there would be a serious insurgency. I think there were plenty of clues to that effect, such as the Ukrainian grassroots resistance in 2014, the large number of Ukrainian veterans from the ongoing war, and Lyman Stone's analysis of polling on willingness to fight for your country. But I didn't bother pursuing it further because I'm not a professional pundit and there wasn't a Metaculus question on it.
Lesson learned - even it just means private Metaculus questions or signing up for a Mantic account, to really practice my forecasting skills I should be thinking a step or two ahead, not just on what question I'm answering at the moment.
This is best seen as a conditional prediction: Is it stupid to invade Ukraine XOR is Putin stupid
Considering the Arsenal available and considering what we have seen in Syria , Iraq, Palestine , and such , the use of ballistic weapons has been somewhat mild . It seems that it is a demonstration of that a negotiator is willing to go to distance .
“…the past few years have seen a lot of really embarrassing Russia-related paranoia. Unfortunately, the relevant Less Wrong post here is Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence, and the relevant ACX post is Heuristics That Almost Always Work, so they failed.”
I agree about the recent embarrassing Russia-related paranoia—and agree the posts you mention are relevant here.
To me what sticks out is that Putin is behaving in a way that most people wouldn’t have predicted. Sure, there’s the super-easy “He’s a madman, I tell you!” hypothesis, but that’s not really very convincing or satisfying. He’s shown no signs of complete irrationality before now.
So my best guess is he knows (or thinks he knows) something we don’t, which prompted him to act. It could be he was fooled by intelligence (his or ours) as well— or he might really know something we don’t (just as, say, that cretin Trump was briefed on the lab-leak hypothesis right away, when we rubes were all reading in Nature and the Lancet that such a thing was crazy-talk).
It’s hard to judge the pundits and predictors when they, like the rest of us, don’t have the facts that Putin has (or thinks he has). No wonder people make predictions at chance levels, when they don’t have the relevant information.
"Oh, and if Clay says there’s going to be a war, head for the bunkers."
The Metaculus question "Second US Civil War Before 2031" ( https://www.metaculus.com/questions/6179/second-us-civil-war-before-2031/ ) currently gives the chance as 3%. If we start just after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which marks the start of British control of the American colonies, and ask, "In what percentage of years was America not in a civil war, but would be within 8 years?", noting that it was in civil war in at least 1775-1783, 1794, and 1861-1865, we come up with a base rate of 26 / 260, or 10%. Either Metaculus has its head in the sand, or America is presently experiencing a period of unusual national unity.
When the news of the build up was coming I often argued that Putin had to wait till after the Olympics to invade so as not to piss off China. Putin began the invasion essentially the next day. What a shock. It was always clear he was going to do it. The Putin/Ukraine "liberal tears" trolling idea was cute but dumb.
Too bad I'm poor and couldn't invest in any prediction markets.
Because I've been doing a lot of research on military logistics for the strategy game I'm developing it seemed to me insane that Putin would do all the stuff he did and then not invade. We defeated the Soviet Union because they were poor and Russia is even poorer. The time and political capital and wealth expended in the build up made it pretty likely they'd invade. You just don't do that for nothing.
> But it’s from February 21. On February 21, Putin announced he was sending “peacekeepers” in to Donbass. Most sources say the invasion of Ukraine started February 24.
It's labeled February 22, and notice that Good Judgement Inc. / GJ Open raised the probability of invasion to 99-100% on Feb 22, not Feb 24. On Feb. 22, "Biden begins to sanction Moscow for 'beginning of a Russian invasion' of Ukraine", when Putin ordered Russian troops into the two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-begins-sanction-moscow-beginning-russian-invasion-ukraine/story?id=83041555
Indeed, I wasn't sure how worried to be about the increasing reported probability of "invasion" because I wasn't sure if it would be an invasion of Donbas (East Ukraine) or a full-scale invasion.
when judging ukrainian leaders who, pre-war, pooh-poohed the imminence of war, i think it’s important to remember accurate prediction was not their goal. instead, their goal was likely to avoid war.
one could argue such leaders felt western escalation of rhetoric increased the likelihood of war, as it further committed the prestige of putin’s regime to extracting concessions from the ukraine or the west.
furthermore, it’s quite possible even modestly decreasing the probability of war had a greater expected utility than increasing preparedness for war. and so, such leaders might even have been rational to ball up their ears, blot out the song of siren’s accurately crying out warnings of war, and continue to row with all they had to the quiet shore.
i feel the essay completely missed this dimensionality of decision making. and i suspect this dimension is applicable to many domains beyond the present one.
This entire piece...nothing you're saying is exactly wrong, but this entire approach that's implicit in statements like "One important thing I’ve learned again and again about prediction is that successes are usually less about being smart, and more about having a bias which luckily corresponds to whatever ends up happening."...you're treating this like there's a volcano, and the queen asks all the vulcanologists to predict whether the volcano will erupt. Or they estimate a probability that the volcano will erupt. Or whatever.
But Vladimir Putin is not a volcano. Whatever your opinion on his rationality, last time I checked, the man is literate. And rumor has it he even speaks English.
This afterthought comment gets closer to the mark:
> I think the argument was that Putin could intimidate Ukraine, make the West freak out, then embarrass them by not invading and add to the sense that the West is constantly freaking out about Russia even though they are peaceful.
...but this still seems to me to be missing the point. Vladimir Putin wasn't playing some kind of prank, giggling to himself about how the West thought he was going to attack when he totally wasn't.
Consider a matching-pennies game. Two players turn over pennies. If the pennies match, then the Queen wins. If the pennies don't match, then Putin wins. (This metaphor is getting a little mixed. The Queen is a vague gestalt of everyone who might do something, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere.)
Putin has a variety of attacks he wants to make. He attacked Georgia. He attacked Crimea. He attacked Donetsk and Luhansk. In each case, he absolutely does not want to meet stiff resistance. He *didn't* attack lots of other places. He didn't attack anywhere he expected stiff resistance. What Putin wants, in every case, is a quick victory that he can present as a fait accompli. If the Queen bets heads, if the Queen moves resources into his way, then even if he could win the war in question eventually, he's still losing. Whenever Putin thought that the Queen was betting heads, he *didn't* play heads.
The Queen has a bunch of vulcanologists advising her on whether Putin is going to play heads. Some vulcanologists call other vulcanologists "hysterical" for suggesting that Putin might play heads. Some vulcanologists give specific probabilities to whether Putin will play heads. Some vulcanologists have "better optics, but worse rationality". Some vulcanologists accuse other vulcanologists of racist disinformation.
But...all of this is happening *in front of Putin*.
There is a direct, causal, inverse relationship between vulcanologists predicting that Putin will play heads, with that prediction being *believed* by the Queen...and Putin *actually* playing heads.
In this particular instance, the United States government was totally right, and nobody took them seriously!
...but if people *had* taken them seriously, then Putin *wouldn't* have pulled the trigger. They would have been "proven wrong".
Stephen Bosch touches on this from the other side:
> It's an assumption that [Zelenskyy saying Putin *wouldn't* pull the trigger] was a miscalculation. What was the alternative? Telling everyone an invasion was imminent? *How long can you keep that up?* [Emphasis mine.]
Vladimir Putin didn't move perishable blood supplies to the border of Ukraine because sometimes he gets bored and likes to ship blood around for giggles. He also didn't make an oath to an evil god to order troops forward. He was sniffing the wind to see what the reaction would be.
Am I saying that Putin might have gotten all his troops into position, and then, at the last minute, pulled them back and sent them home without doing anything? YES! Of course! If he wasn't willing to do that kind of thing occasionally, then the Queen would know whether to bet heads, and that's the last thing he wants. A few wasteful troop movements here or there are *cheap*.
...but no, he almost certainly wouldn't literally just send them home without doing anything. Being *somewhat* wasteful is just the cost of being unpredictable, but there's no point being *unnecessarily* wasteful. More likely he would have simply scaled back his objectives and diverted the troops to some safer use. I'm not a general, so I don't know what other smart moves may have been available, but he could have sent the troops into Donetsk and Luhansk, where he already had troops, which presumably would have counted as "lol the USG said Putin would attack and he totally didn't" from the standpoint of vulcanologists looking to score points.
You're treating this like there's some secret, like whether the volcano was going to erupt was an objective fact that some people were correct about and some people were incorrect about, and the only question is whether their correctness is repeatable rationality or unrepeatable bias. But that's not how this works. If you got a TIME MACHINE and carried a damning newspaper headline back in time and proved everyone that Putin was absolutely 100% going to pull the trigger...then he wouldn't have pulled the trigger...so you would have been wrong. You would have had perfect foreknowledge courtesy of a time machine...and you would have been wrong.
The "predictions" that you're talking about are directly causing (or in this case, inversely causing) the event that they're "predicting".
(Predicting the outcome of a war once launched is, of course, a whole other kettle of fish.)
In fact, United States intelligence *was* "proven wrong". United States intelligence said that Russian intelligence was planning to stage a fabricated attack by Ukrainian military or intelligence personnel against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian-speaking people, to justify an incursion into Ukraine. Complete with options to use a variety of staged videos featuring NATO-supplied armaments.
After that accusation was made, they were "proven wrong" when Russian intelligence did not, in fact, do any such thing. And thus, "The delusional nature of this kind of fabrication, and there are more and more of them every day, is obvious to any more or less experienced political scientist."
They also said that Putin was sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to stage a provocation that would serve as a pretext for an invasion. They were again "proven wrong" when, after they made that prediction, Putin did not bother with that as a pretext. Because of course he didn't. Because the prediction was made, and believed by enough people to make it not in his interest to do that.
I downgraded Luttwak as a predictor after he made some claims about Trump that... didn't pan out (and frankly seemed bonkers at the time). E.g. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/trump-dynasty-luttwak/
Why hurry with the grades? I think if someone (like Karlin) made a prediction for what happens within "<week", you should wait 6 full days before grading. (Yes, of course it's very hard for this prediction to come true now.)
"Maybe we should trust it more on Great Power conflict than on tinpot dictator stuff? [etc]"
With respect to Ukraine (and this evaluation article), we are now in an n=1 situation. If you add something the Iraq war, we have n=2. Trying to make up reasons for the difference based on n=2 is not useful.
Also, see https://www.hoover.org/research/cuban-missile-crisis-intelligence-failure and https://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/21/world/director-admits-cia-fell-short-in-predicting-the-soviet-collapse.html
I think a possible source of error in many of those analyses is how they unquestioningly presume that
1. Putin did not expect Ukrainian resistance.
2. Putin just wanted a quick and painless addition to his fief, and will pull out as soon as it turns out to be neither quick nor painless.
3. Even if Putin is prepared to persist on the military front, his oligarch cronies will force him to pull out after the sanctions have cratered enough of their assets.
Of those, I think the most mistakenly held belief might be #2. Consider the possibility that Putin does not approach this as a leisurely addition of a fief, but as an existential matter. Some westerners might be miscalibrated about this by having ingested the west's own propaganda that NATO is a "purely defensive alliance", and presuming that Putin must therefore have ingested it too. Putin does not give off the impression that he did. (maybe because he came to office as NATO was bombing Serbia, a Russian ally, bombing it all the way until NATO achieved its goal of splitting Kosovo off Serbia and installing a huge-ass US military base in Kosovo - huge by local standards, I mean? or maybe because he then continued watching NATO's other engagements, all the while being aware of NATO's 1990 promise to halt expansion?) Anyway, if there is one point that Putin couldn't be more clear in communicating, it is: "No NATO. No buts. No discussion. If you don't agree, we will have as much war as you want to have, right here right now".
Under that lens, calculating that Putin will be put off by the invasion not being quick and painless, means miscalculating.
Bringing us to #1, i.e. that Putin didn't *expect* resistance. Putin is perfectly aware of the Ukrainian overtly-neo-Nazi military units which are hellbent on fighting Russians, and *have* been fighting them since 2014. Putin indeed mentioned them in his address. He must also be aware of the significantly larger contingents of patriotic-but-not-Nazi Ukrainians who are firm about (if not quite as hellbent) fighting the Russian invasion. (the gradient of this firmness increasing westwards). Thus, presuming that he didn't expect resistance is also a prediction miscalculation.
As for #3, I do not imagine any of the oligarch cronies smiling at this moment. Nor do I imagine them being moved by anything except money. But that's part of the point: I can even less imagine them welcoming the idea of Russia falling to the West -- which will usher in a boatload of foreign players and foreign interests who will divvy up the pie in a new deal by the newly installed regime, few of those being interested in joining up with the incumbents. As opposed to holding out for a Russian win, which will then let them recoup their wealth gradually under the old status quo.
I.e. oligarchs *are* incentivized to push for a rapid ending of hostilities and resuming of business, but they are *also* incentivized to ensure the long-term survival of the current regime - which might collapse rapidly *from within Russia* if Putin returns as a loser from this war that he started. While I am less confident on this, I still think that "oligarchs forcing Putin to pull out" is not a slam dunk.
Disclaimer: it turned out I'm a D- predictor at best. I thought Putin would not engage beyond the majority-Russian areas, something that he could do with almost no casualties on any side, and which would have resulted in fewer international repercussions while still giving him (probably) sufficient leverage to put NATO off the table. So I'm not making any further predictions, just correcting what appear to me as underlying miscalculations in other predictions.
I think the people who understimated the Ukrainian success to date in holding off the Russians (including very likely Putin himself, and his generals) were right, and what has actually transpired is a surprise. I think it originates from the little-known massive sale of Javelins to the Ukrainians in 2018 by the last Administration -- which is surprising on its face, since Trump personally didn't seem to give a shit about the Ukrainians in their long-running struggle with Russia -- and the well-known Russian preference for armor and lack of sophistication about portable anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons. It's what fucked them over in Afghanistan, and it's a problem for them now. The only part of this that is a genuine surprise, I think, is that the Ukrainians had the sophistication and grit to use those weapons effectively. Personally I think they're getting very good intelligence from the Biden Administration and perhaps this has stiffened their resolve.
I agree the outcome has become much harder to predict, though. I would guess Putin counted on a quick decapitation, a la 1968 Prague, but now that this has become difficult it will be extremely difficult to climb down. It's hard to see him accepting the kind of humiliating abandonment of the field in the face of an inferior enemy that the Americans have accepted in Afghanistan. So what will allow him to save sufficient face at home? A recognition of the breakaway eastern provinces seems inadequate for the cost. On the other hand, what would the Ukrainians accept? Surely not the arrest and execution of Zelensky. Even the recognition of the eastern provinces seems unlikely.
So from the point of view of Putin and the Ukrainians, since there's no plausible compromise, I'd predict the war drags on and gets much, much bloodier, with an eventual Ukrainian surrender and messy ugly occupation. But then the 3rd factor comes into focus, the attitude of the Russian people and military establishment itself. Would they put up with a longer and far more expensive war, particularly if the EU and US stand firm in their economic attack? Not entirely clear. And *will* the EU stand firm, when they burn so much Russian gas? Good question indeed.
"Someone suggested that the intelligence community might suck at the sort of small-state terrorism work it’s been asked to do the past few decades, but that “infiltrating Russia” is kind of its bread and butter and a big part of its institutional DNA."
I think this is the difference between secrets and mysteries. Putin knew that he was going to invade Ukraine, but he didn't want other people to know that. He tried to keep that fact secret, but he had to tell some people if they were to make the preparations. So there was always the chance that the CIA (or whoever) would discover that secret.
But no one knew whether, for example, the Afghan National Army would collapse last year. The CIA could not discover that secret, because it was not information known secretly to anyone in the first place. Whether the ANA would collapse was a mystery, not a secret to be discovered by an espionage agency.
I'm curious what are the qualifications for being a "pundit". Seems to me it's a self-styled designation of a bunch of middle-aged white guys with opinions. They all seem to be intelligent enough, but why are their opinions important enough to pay attention to? What is their "skin in the game"? They don't seem to face any real consequences for being right or wrong, and they have precious little influence on actual events.
Markets are volatile since the Ukraine invasion. Where do you guys think a rationalist should invest money right now? Are there opportunities to be found?
If we're talking about predicting Ukraine, I would like to register a prediction of my own. I'm no expert on warmaking, foreign relations, politicians' psychology, nations' sociology, etc., and I can't say my assumptions have been always on point. Still, the things I did get right (most of which I cannot prove I did, hence this post to secure bragging rights in case things do continue to conform to my current priors) make me believe I have stumbled on an unique combination of (admittedly simple) insights that nobody else seems to be having. Here's the full story:
1. During the Afghanistan withdrawal, I stumbled (on r/themotte, I believe) on the claim that Biden is reliably, ideologically anti-war. This was later corroborated by reports of him more or less banning the US miliary from performing artillery and drone strikes. So, unlike most leftists, once the Ukraine conflict started, I've been assuming his administration to be making a good-will attempt at preventing it, and therefore the intelligence reports they published to be accurate, with the larger propaganda offensive aimed solely at exposing Russia's plans and intimidating them into calling them off. This has proven to be spectacularly correct.
2. I have also correctly assumed that Putin cannot act alone. One thing that really caught my eye was China publicly and explicitly asked Russia not to invade during their upcoming important vanity event. It made me confidently predict to my peers that the Olympics won't be interrupted, but in retrospect the period of calm that did transpire should have also alerted me to the important corollary that, all along, they knew and admitted what's coming right after them. (Obviously, China does not support Russia, and it's even less likely to support it now that the rest of the world united against it, but it does continue to politely stand aside, as it, assumedly, promised Putin to do.) I've had all the right info, I just wishful-thought it away.
3. Once the fighting started, I had little hope for any but the most token of sanctions to materialize. Europe needs that gas, I assumed. How wrong I was...
4. As a Polish citizen witnessing a large wave of post-2014 Ukrainian migration, I knew something that the Russians (and the likes of Richard Hanania) apparently missed. With each passing year, Ukrainians were becoming more and more aligned with the west. The millions of them who live and work in Poland and other Central European states kept sending back home stories of a better life - one which is apparently possible even in a country extremely similar to their own, separated only by 30 years of recent history. Surely, Ukrainians had little respect for their own failing government and its oligarchic caste of rulers, but their recent electoral choices (Klitschko! Zelenskyy!) should have made it perfectly clear they're symbolically pining for change and hope. (I was still worried the Ukrainian society will fold, Crimea-style, under intimidation by sheer superior military power, but that fear was unfounded. Hope isn't taken away so easily.)
So, my predictions are:
1. Russian invasion has already failed. The Ukrainians will continue to resist (99%). Not push back (90% on Ukraine never being able to go on a military counteroffensive or preventing subsequent territorial losses), Russia still has superior military power. But tie it up in a bloody, prolonged struggle against a motivated army and unrelenting underground resistance. Russia will not invade another country (90%), in large part because it will not be able to open another front while Ukraine keeps draining its blood and resources.
2. Putin has also lost the diplomatic and propaganda fight. The whole world turned against him, his own country slowly turns against him, and nobody is willing to come to his rescue. (So far, that's not a prediction, it's a statement of fact.) Russia will continue to be further and further isolated until it gets rid of him, one way of another, most likely sacrificing him to give itself a way out of the war and economic collapse (80%). After he's ousted, Russia's peace offer will be accepted, with only minor concessions (70%). Conditional on the above, Crimea and Donbass return to Ukraine, with no other border changes happening (90%). The only question is - how quickly does this happen. (I don't feel qualified to guess.)
3. The US will continue pushing against the invasion, while firmly refusing to take any miliary action (90%). Neither Ukraine nor any other country will get admitted to NATO during (99%) or immediately after the war (80%), though Ukraine might get fast-tracked to European Union during (20%) or after the war (70%).
4. Here's the crazy part. And I do mean crazy, I can't believe I'm typing this, I feel silly typing this. But, to my knowledge, nobody else is, and I'm increasingly convinced it's true, and someone needs to be typing this, so it might as well be me.
See, the leftists are correct. (No, wiseguys, that's not the silly part, let me finish.) They were correct all along and are being proven more and more correct with each passing day. It's just that they're so invested in fighting old fights and personal vendettas against The Man that none of them noticed yet. They're correct about the need for diplomacy over war, for deescalation and respect for other countries' self-determination. They just didn't notice the US foreign relations team has been actually acting out those wishes, to an unprecedented success, recovering all legitimacy by correctly warning about the war, slowly lobbying and building up the network of support that eventually made the current sanitary cordon against Russia possible. And they're correct about the liberal establishment being a hivemind of dangerous, greedy, corrupt warmongers intent on escalating the conflict as far as possible, up to and including a direct war with Russia and the resulting nuclear holocaust. They just didn't notice that the hivemind is all talk and no power, and the man who actually calls the shots is above that bullshit and has already proven himself to be willing to go against it if necessary.
Essentially, the entire world peace hinges on one person, and that person is Joe Biden. If something happens to him, the US reverts to its old, ugly, imperialist self and pushes Russia into a corner from which it can only continue to fight back (just as the leftists predicted).
Let me say this again. Joe Biden. Proving the great man theory true right before our eyes. Joe fucking Biden. An accidental hero. Who would have imagined this a mere year ago? (Not me, certainly.) In one of the recent open threads here, someone proposed a scenario where his visible dementia is actually so advanced that he's waking up every day discovering anew that his lifelong dream of becoming the president has finally come true. It's part of my headcanon now, but I've made it even better. I imagine him sitting at his desk every day, unable to recall the chain of events that led to the current problem he's presented with, much less able to plan and strategize. Forced to make choices using the only tools his brain has left - plain honesty and deeply held moral (in particular - pacifist) beliefs.
And somehow, it's working.
It would seem that only people who expected little resistance to a Russian invasion expected the Russians to launch one. After all, the more resistance you expect, the more reluctant you will be to invade. So it looks like no one who expected strong resistance ALSO thought Putin to expect little resistance.
If WW3 happens (and it doesn't miraculously avoid including anybody who has nukes), nobody will be left to collect their wins from the prediction market. So there is no point making predictions on that market.
I'm sure you've read this article, it was shared widely before the invasion:
I re-read it again, and it holds up surprisingly well in retrospect.
I question whether the invasion has really "gone poorly" from the Russian point of view, so far. Obviously they haven't achieved the best case scenario, but are probably still well within range of what they expected. You don't bring 150,000 men to an invasion if you're not expecting to meet any resistance.
I remember the 2003 invasion of Iraq and how the media narratives played out in that case. The non-Fox media all wanted the invasion to be a huge embarrassment for George Bush, and the sequence of narratives that got reported was eerily similar to the current invasion. In the first week, the invasion was meeting "stronger than expected resistance". In the second week, the invasion was "bogged down" as things slowed down outside the capital. And in the third week, whoops, forget everything we said earlier, it's a complete walkover now.
The fact that the narrative is the same doesn't mean that the facts on the ground will be the same, there will always be massive differences that seem obvious and significant in retrospect. Still, I think the media narrative is likely to play out in roughly the same way regardless of the facts on the ground.
> Luttwak is exactly the sort of guy who I expect to know how many troops it takes to invade a country, but I’m not sure why he should be an expert in Putin’s psychology and maybe he was so reliant on his military expertise that he made a (false) assumption of Putin’s rationality in order to be able to carelessly jump from “I know a lot about military strategy” to “I can predict what Putin will do”.
In The Scout Mindset, Julia Galef quotes one of the superforecasters as identifying this as the bias responsible for one of their forecasting mistakes. The forecaster made their prediction based "what would I do if I were Shinzo Abe", not "what is Shinzo Abe going to do."
Good piece. Just one niggle (there's always one isn't there). To describe Matt Taibi and Glenn Greenwald as leftists was true probably, oh maybe circa 2010? To assert that they represent the left today goes beyond outlierdom , it's a truly surprising proposition. Taibi throwing his lot in with GOP types and switching sides in the culture wars? Greenwald being interviewed on Fox by his chum Tucker Carlson? They've left the left. Anyway try the Kyiv Independent for some non-Western punditry by Ukrainian military types.
I don't know why so many pundits missed the mark so badly on Ukrainian resistance. I was over there just a few months ago and some Ukrainians have been angling for a fight with Putin for years. I think that the pundits just bought too much into Putin's propaganda that Ukraine is an artificial polity, but that was always wrong. Ukrainian nationalism goes back centuries. The argument that Ukraine was created by the Bolsheviks gets causation wrong; Lenin had to create the Ukrainian SSR to appease Ukrainians who declared independence multiple times during the revolution. They were no different than the Baltic states in that regard.
It's true that there's a bit of a difference between Russian speaking eastern Ukrainians and Ukrainian speaking western Ukrainians in that the easterners are more pro-Russian than the westerners, but neither of them were fans of Putin's occupations in Crimea or Donbas. Given that Zelenskyy was and is genuinely popular among Ukrainians all over the country there really isn't much room for that division to help Putin here. Once he invaded without provocation even folks who were on the fence about Putin are pretty strongly against him now.
It's worth pointing out that Putin's demands with regard to Donbas were always structured in such a way that he would have a say in Ukrainian internal politics if people gave into them, so Ukrainians have always kind of known that Putin was acting in bad faith.
Noted shit-stirer Vaush got it 100%; but also might have been memeing so you decide I guess.
Luttawak made a sub-point which I think adds a lot to how and why he was accurate on how 'difficult' it would be for Russia to take over Ukraine quickly or in large areas.
Luttawak said in his tweet that Russia does not want the Ukrainian people to hate them, at least any more than will happen due to the invasion and large scale death. So yea, Russia is going to raise its porcupine hackles of nuclear retaliation and take whatever time it needs to get to Kyiv and accomplish whatever other goals they think are necessary.
If it takes 2 months instead of 1 week, then that's ok with Russia and if they can avoid a decade of rebuilding shit they blew up for a 'quick victory' they don't really need or care about, then it makes more sense for them to go 'slowly'.
Not to mention a longer war over a few months will kill off more of Ukraine's willing fighters, reducing their capacity for any future insurrection/guerrilla tactics. So if anything, Russia has every incentive to take a bit more time and 'absorb' more losses in order to more truly defeat Ukraine rather than simply take it over. Can Russia not learn from the French resistance in WW2 after it fell to Germany too quickly and left a sizeable and well organised resistance of former soldiers gone underground?
In my view, too much of the commentary is fixated on the specifics of this event or Putin's mindset or calls to reestablish the former USSR...and not enough attention has gone into the how/why/etc. of strategy when forming empires. The West has been out of the habit of doing this since the decolonisation waves of the 1950s and 1960s and isn't' thinking clearly enough about how they used to act in the 1850s when they took over and held territory to expand their empire directly rather than using puppet dictators and corporations and finance/banks as the West has done for decades in their neo-colonialism....Russia's doing 'regular' colonialism.
This is a fairly important point in terms of how to view this war and when comparing it to other wars which had disparate goals. The 'return' of Russia's former territory full of people who speak their language in many cases and share their blood is the kind of thing that has to be done in a certain way in order for the propaganda to 'ring true'.
Russia seeks to rule and retain Ukraine in the long term, while the US's attacks on other nations or nato expansions have not had this goal in recent decades. The US left rubble and dictators in the wake of all the democracies which the US has crushed since the ascension/coup of the military-industrial-intelligence complex after FDR died.
Russia would bomb the fuck out of Ukraine, but they are not trying to win a war at all costs as quickly as possible. This is a massively asymmetrical war in terms of military power and Russia wants to take over Ukraine in the most intact state possible while eliminating as much resistance as possible.
This will slow the Russians down in terms of how quickly they can move and how much territory they can hold as they do not seek to create as much rubble and dead bodies as they possibly can for a paper victory alongside an enormous rebuilding cost they cannot afford.
The US erred/chose this way in Iraq with a very quick take over using brutal bombing methods followed up by decades of corrupt 'rebuilding efforts to line the pockets of military contractors. But it is also true that there was a LOT of rebuilding that needed to happen due to the reckless and violent way the US took over Iraq with far less regard than Russia will likely use, as they seek to take over an intact as possible Ukraine. Though with a brand new war I may be proven wrong if Russian patience wears thin at some point, Russia will not let this drag out without Kyiv for more than 4-6 months in my estimation, but 2-3 could readily happen or they take Kyiv and drag out the war in other cities for a bit to crush any future rebellion by dangling hope or desperation in front of an ongoing invasion/war.
Though of course, it is much easier for me to say this now, I made no predictions ahead of time and am now forecasting and describing based on a lot of information and perspectives the people in the article obviously didn't have.
But I'd say that Russia is 'slow playing' this war on purpose. And all the calls about a 'weak Russia' or 'overly strong Ukrainian resistance' are simply more things Putin will prove the western pundits wrong on over time. I think what people leave out or forget is that Putin is doing exactly what he wants and knew the obvious limitations of what could and could not be achieved with his troop numbers and what sanctions he'd face...
The West was telling him for a month or two before the invasion what sanctions they'd deploy and what they thought about the invasion happening, so Putin as an actor in the prediction markets had a huge advantage to act in ways which would surprise everyone.
Why would so many get this invasion so wrong and yet be so confident that Putin and Russia's military is experiencing a Ukrainian resistance surprise? His own intelligence operations and monitoring of Ukraine along with a quasi-civil war / quasi-invasion in Donbas area for 8 years....just somehow might have given Putin a solid idea of what resistance their would be.
Obviously reality is different and there will be things that do and don't go as predicted in any war, but the headlines of 'Russian invasion behind schedule' - reports Western governments....seems really silly. As if they have a copy of his itinerary like it was a travel package. It is just western propaganda to find a thousand ways to make Russia look bad when they say the invasion is going 'slowly'.
You're being a bit unfair to Hanania and Karlin. They were right about the much larger question of whether Russia will invade. Strength of Ukrainian resistance is a minor question in comparison. We're only in the sixth day of the war and the assessment of the Ukrainian resistance may change in the coming days. Lot of the stories about the resistance are surely propaganda (Ghost of Kiev, anyone?), I won't put too much stock in them. I believe Hanania and Karlin both deserve B+ or even A-.
Heard it claimed that the reason Ukrainians thought invasion was unlikely was because their intelligence was from the Russian military, where things were kept tightly under wraps, troops massing at the border were told that it was a military exercise. Whereas USG signals intelligence was out of the kremlin where the invasion was discussed.
Could explain why both the Ukrainians, and people going off of their judgements, read this so wrong.
From my Ukranian friends who have fled Kyev and are currently hiding out in the countryside:
"Here is a link to operational news from Ukraine, distribute it in America, let everyone know about Putler's attacks in Ukraine.
Thank you all for your support.
Glory to Ukraine!!! Glory to heroes!!!"
I’ve got to be missing something important here because I don’t understand the endgame.
Everyone has their own information, expertise, heuristics and hunches but the plain truth is no one knows how this plays out.
We assign greater weight to the market that essentially makes the best guess and over time somehow certain predictions markets can more reliably show us the future? A certain group of predictor are more reliable than an individual? I can sort of see that but I’m not confident it will work out that way.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is assassinated in Sarajevo and kinda sorta because of this Europe and a good chunk of West Asia and North Africa are at war and millions die.
Historians are still teasing out what happened and why. One person’s case of food poisoning at critical juncture could have sent events in a different direction. Millions more dead or millions less.
Hanania’s “very intelligent friend” comes off sounding like an idiot. I wonder if his “I can understand the reaction, but…” is charity taken way too far.
Here's one thought that's been bothering me about grading prediction markets. For the sake of argument, consider this (admittedly contrived) scenario: Putin, on January 1st of this year, decided to himself that on the morning of February 24th he's going to flip a coin, and invade Ukraine if and only if it's heads. A theoretically optimal prediction market, that had access to Putin's thoughts and desires, would place odds of invasion firmly at 50% (well, a bit less, accounting for accidental death and all that) all the way up until February 24th, where it would either shoot up to 99% or decay to something lower. There's many things in the world that are like this--for instance, in a betting market about the high in NYC reaching 35 degrees a year from now, if you see the odds at 90%, you'd probably sell as much as you can, since the "optimal" knowledge we have right now is probably closer to 50%. If a year from now, it turned out that some third-rate prediction market had said--for the past year!--that NYC had a 95% chance of having a high over 35 degrees, you'd likely attribute that to it being a bad market, rather than being particularly prophetic. Similarly, to what extent can we attribute the success of markets that were giving high odds to Russia invading Ukraine months ago to the quality of the markets and the forecasters themselves?
I won't claim this was a solid prediction, or that I should get much credit for it, but on February 18th I wrote about the impending invasion, and suggested that there would be strong Ukrainian resistance: https://twitter.com/MatthewJBar/status/1494828037958946817
I regret not putting probabilities on anything.
Joe Biden, Jan 19, 2022.
>President Biden said on Wednesday that he now expected President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would order an invasion of Ukraine.
>He added, almost with an air of fatalism: “But I think he will pay a serious and dear price for it that he doesn’t think now will cost him what it’s going to cost him. And I think he will regret having done it.”
Not precise but overall predicts invasion and that Putin will pay a higher cost than he expects. This is what you want to say to publicly discourage an invasion, whatever the likelyhood, but is also an accurate prediction. And of course Biden is responsible for organizing the sanctions and producing the higher cost, but I think predicting that Europe and other countries would coordinate together as strongly as they did is also a legit prediction.
All of the "Putin will invade Ukraine" predictors should have their grades lowered in this post. This is because they almost all followed the IC, which means the predicted invasion multiple times before invasion actually happened. If you date-restrict your google search you can find multiple dates that the IC predicted the invasion including at least:
By Feb 14: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/14/russia-could-invade-ukraine-within-next-month-us-intelligence.html
Feb 16: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2022/02/11/putin-could-attack-ukraine-on-feb-16-biden-told-allies-00008344
Feb 21: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/18/us/politics/biden-ukraine-russia.html
"If you look at the 2016 election in isolation, Scott Adams is the smartest guy in the world"
No he isn't! This is a mistake everyone has been making for the last five years and I do not understand why. Scott Adams didn't predict a Trump victory, he predicted a Trump *landslide*. He wasn't even a stopped clock being right twice a day, he was critically wrong on the one thing everyone tries to give him credit for!
It would be premature to be impressed with Ukraine's resistance after only one week. "blitzkrieg" took 5 weeks to get to Paris, and Ukraine is bigger than France. Metaculus is currently predicting a 65% chance Putin will take Kiev within 5 weeks of the start of the war. https://www.metaculus.com/questions/9939/kyiv-to-fall-to-russian-forces-by-april-2022/
I expect it to be slower than the US's capture of baghdad (20 days after the start of the war) but that's not saying much. That's the world's largest superpower stomping on small dictatorship, and it still took three weeks to get a half-assed "victory".
Scott, you wrote
> My very quick search didn’t find any pundit who successfully predicted both the Russian invasion and the strong Ukranian resistance. I couldn’t even really find anybody who predicted one correctly and was silent on the other. If you know someone in this category, please let me know so I can give them an appropriate amount of glory.
I think Rob Lee might qualify (at least strongly predicting invasion conditional on collapse of talks, and outlining how Russia had to worry about different levels of casualties based on how extreme the force they commit). On January 18, 2022 he wrote https://www.fpri.org/article/2022/01/moscows-compellence-strategy/
> A number of recent articles have suggested that the costs of a potential invasion are too high, or that the purpose of a Russian military operation in Ukraine would be to occupy territory. A better explanation of Moscow’s current actions is that they are part of a compellence campaign. If Moscow cannot convince the United States to agree to some of its demands and force Ukraine to make concessions, it may view military force as its last resort to change what it considers an unacceptable status quo. Russian behavior suggests that it believes the costs of inaction would be greater than the costs of a significant military escalation in Ukraine, particularly after reviewing the events in Ukraine over the summer and fall...
> In contrast to the public buildup this spring, Russia has made a concerted effort to obscure its movements this time, moving equipment at night, rotating units between training ranges, and blocking websites used for tracking trains... Russian officials are backing themselves into a corner by committing themselves to a strong response unless they receive concessions. If it does not achieve some of its stated goals, Moscow will suffer a cost to its credibility if it does not escalate...
> The most likely ground offensive option is that the Russian military would focus on destroying Ukrainian military units east of the Dnieper River, inflicting casualties, taking prisoners of war, destroying military equipment, and degrading defense capabilities. This could include a planned withdrawal — a punitive raid —possibly after one or two weeks. It could also involve occupying terrain outside Kyiv and threatening the capital unless Russia’s demands are met. Such an operation would more closely resemble a more aggressive version of Russia’s war in Georgia in 2008 than its annexation of Crimea. By inflicting heavy losses on the Ukrainian military, taking prisoners of war, and degrading Kyiv’s defense capabilities, Russia could potentially alter Zelensky’s incentive structure sufficiently to induce painful concessions. An additional benefit of such an operation is that it would likely be less costly and would not require Russian forces to enter cities, which would increase the risk of civilian casualties and make an insurgency more effective.
I have to say I feel a little bad about trying to predict the outcome or the occurrence of a war. This isn't like covid, where the virus doesn't much care what you think of its ability to kill this or that many people (although other actors may care). Whether Kyiv stands or falls depends largely on what its defenders think of their chances to resist the invader. Decisions to help, or start a war in the first place, depend on what the predicted outcome is, and have very real consequences.
I'm not saying prediction markets shouldn't cover the war. The media is full of idle speculation in any case, and I think there's a case to be made that it's a good thing somebody's really trying to make good, honest predictions based on the information they have. Still, I feel like there's an ethical discussion worth having about this, and I don't recall seeing it. It doesn't seem to me like prediction aggregators are providing much useful information about this, and maybe that's a good thing, as one argument for why this is okay to do is probably that the forecasting scene isn't big enough to affect anything. If we knew Putin was closely following the Ukraine tournament on Metaculus, how comfortable would we feel making guesstimates about his chances of winning?
What puzzled me about much of "the dialogue" on this topic was just how common it was for people to conflate "predicting an invasion" with "desiring an invasion" – people getting called warmongers for predicting Putin would attack.
Subreddit name is purposely obtuse (actually a news group). This analysis is quite prescient:
Correctly calls both likelyhood of invasion and likelyhood of strong resistence.
I predicted both of these things, but not really that specifically, because vagueness sounds better. I will add the following for posterity:
Strong resistance continues; in the end, Russia makes a struggle of it but mostly appears to back down; retains Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. Putin's aim is to legitimatize the incorporation of largely-ethnically-Russian areas of Ukraine, in my reading.
There's a guy Youtube randomly recommended to me a while ago called S2 Underground who so far seems to have been right about everything. When I saw Tracey et al. pop up in my email feed I was shocked he was so much further behind than I was just from watching this one Youtube channel. He has big ol' maps I don't understand and uses weather satellites to take pictures of tanks. Maybe more of us should listen to this guy?
A huge amount of your marking down seems to be based on "Ukraine resistance strong" and "Russia weak". I'm not sure these are even close to accurate.
A remarkable aspect of the war that's not being remarked upon enough by the West is how "gentle" it has been. Yes, yes, war is never gentle, but every actually confirmable detail about Russian behavior (as opposed to the usual propaganda) seems to be precision munitions, warning civilians before targeting buildings, and so on. Not only do we not have WW2 type behavior, we're seeing what looks like behavior that's more gentle than America in Iraq or Vietnam.
So this, IMHO, requires everyone to recalibrate in multiple ways.
- it doesn't tell us *anything* about the relative strengths of Russia or Ukraine if Russia is deliberately fighting with both hands and one foot tied behind its back.
- why would Russia behave this way? At the very least it suggests that perhaps their goal is not actually "Smash Ukraine"?
If one were to learn from history (a tough proposition, sure, but hear me out) two lessons that one might learn are
+ fighting no-holds-barred for a territory one ultimately hopes to assimilate is not an especially rational strategy. Resentment about this during the US Civil War is still with us in some form or another 150 years, and that's in the country with the world's shortest attention span. In other words if the goal is sincerely to bring Ukraine back into the fold, the war is being conducted in a way very much as commensurate with that aim as possible.
+ the claim that punishing the civilians of a nation will make that nation weaker and more eager to sue for peace (along with variants like "social order will collapse the instant something unexpected happens, whether bombing or aliens") has been a favorite of the West from WW1 through WW2 to Korea and Vietnam. It has never worked, but remains popular because (a) revenge and (b) it works in the movies.
It looks to me like Putin, learning from history and behaving rationally rather than emotionally, sees there's zero upside and plenty of downside to behaving like Tamerlane or Hitler or even Westmoreland, and is conducting the war appropriately.
One can go even further albeit more speculatively.
Everyone is saying that Russia is losing the propaganda war. But, as the Burmese saying goes, "Don't teach the crocodile where the water is".
Sure, the West is getting the early propaganda wins and memes, winning the Twitter war, but that was always going to be the case given who controls the internet and TV outside Russia. No point in even trying to fight that battle.
So look beyond the *immediate* wins. Russia is both being "gentle" and (as far as I can tell) essentially honest in its claims. Meaning that at some point, after the immediate war calms down, they're in a very good position to tot up
- who behaved what way in this war? (Ukraine, or US in Iraq vs us.)
- who told the truth in this war vs obvious lies and immediately exposed propaganda?
And that's going to be a non-trivial point in their favor in terms of the long (generational or so) game, especially in terms of winning the favor of the incompetent but entitled middle class youth of the West, the ones always looking for a reason to hate the system they live under. Basically an easy way to fire up the equivalent of Baader-Meinhof and Red Brigades in 20..30 years as a reaction to "here's how terrible your parents and their system were, and here's all the evidence you need".
I'm not claiming this operation is being done today solely as a way to control the narrative in 25 years! I'm saying that it is being executed by people who understand that actions have cultural consequences long after the immediate physical consequences, and who are tailoring their behavior appropriately.
Now this is all predicated on the assumptions that
- Russia is being "gentle". I think if this were not so we'd have plenty of evidence of that already.
- This pattern will continue. And maybe that will change if the operation takes longer to achieve its ends than planned. But I think it would be a mistake to imagine that Russia always assumed they'd control the country in three days, not when you look at the way they are fighting with what looks like substantial care for minimal damage and casualties.
(And yes, yes, I know we'll get the usual crowd telling us just how brutal they have been, blah blah.
Sorry kids, when your comparison points are US Civil War, WW2, Korea, or even Vietnam, this behavior is nothing close to brutal; and insisting that it is does just reveals your ignorance of history.)
What do people think about military casualty estimates thus far? This seems underdiscussed as an important factor in how things go. Russia admits that 500 soldiers have died, Ukraine says they've killed 7,000 Russian soldiers, and the Pentagon estimates each side has lost 1,500 in the first 5 days (https://news.yahoo.com/moscow-says-hundreds-of-russian-troops-killed-thousands-more-injured-in-ukraine-182037954.html). That's about all I know. If the Ukrainian estimate is even in the ball park (or even the Pentagon estimate is right), then in just a couple months this could already be the deadliest war Russia has fought since WW2, right (they lost 15k in Afghanistan)? Will domestic support for the war hold up under that pressure?
"Russia is closer to Kyiv than America was to Baghdad at this stage of their Iraq invasion, and everyone was impressed with that stage of the American campaign"
It's gobsmacking to me that you and the commenters and seemingly almost everyone else in the Western hemisphere thinks Putin's invasion is going badly and/or that Putin was truly unprepared for this level of resistance.
It took the Americans three *weeks* to take Baghdad, and it took the *bloody German Army* six weeks to take Poland, and those are two of the gold standard examples for fast conventional wars.
I have never in my life seen a stronger example of "you're calling it too soon". These grades, at least the ones on strength of resistance, are coming a month too soon.
I don’t see how you can run a useful prediction market for World War III or more specifically a US-Russian nuclear exchange. You should always bet that it won’t happen: if it doesn’t, the market resolves in your favor and you make money; if it does, the market doesn’t resolve the other way or pay out any money because it and your counterparties have been vaporized.
Other events short of a nuclear exchange may allow the market to pay out with meaningfully positive probability, but still have such a high probability of one that they’ll yield distorted odds.
>My very quick search didn’t find any pundit who successfully predicted both the Russian invasion and the strong Ukranian resistance. I couldn’t even really find anybody who predicted one correctly and was silent on the other (I think Clay Graubard of Global Guessing managed this, but he’s a superforecaster, not a pundit). If you know someone in this category, please let me know so I can give them an appropriate amount of glory.
I don't know what you think a "pundit" is, nowadays, so I'll answer a better question.
Leah McElrath, on Feb 11: https://twitter.com/leahmcelrath/status/1492173615110012931
Note that she later corrected her date for the Ukraine Revolution of Dignity, and the relevant Wiki section is entitled, "18–23 February 2014"
Honorable mention, from her retweets: https://twitter.com/RALee85/status/1495894762053844998
She also retweeted these, which relate to Ukrainian resistance:
Admittedly, she also posted the following:
>“West plans to arm resistance if Russian forces occupy Ukraine”
>(I’ll note for the record that the tactic used by the West of arming resistance fighters hasn’t been a very successful one in the recent past.)
However, unless I'm very wrong about what she meant by "recent," this actually refers to the consequences of victory.
Here are some more from Leah McElrath, dated January 2020:
Did anyone compare pundit and prediction-market predictions on Ukraine to financial market predictions?
For example, apparently on the 24th Feb credit-default-swaps were priced consistent with a 90% probability of Ukraine not paying their debts back (presumably being insolvent (or not existing)) within five years. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-02-24/ukraine-debt-swaps-signal-80-chance-of-default-as-stress-mounts and it looks like CDSs have twice the return today that they had on the 24th https://cbonds.com/indexes/13643/ . I don't really understand how CDS returns could double from a 90% probability -- I guess the price factors in both inflation and the probability of default, but the UAH currency seems to have kept its value (since the 24th). Maybe the doubling isn't a matter of the probability of Ukraine's defeat going up, but a matter of the currency falling if it doesn't get defeated? I don't know. I'm pretty confused.
Brett Deveraux makes a similar point to yours in https://acoup.blog/2022/02/25/miscellanea-understanding-the-war-in-ukraine/ :
"NATO – and especially US intelligence – was remarkably effective at predicting what Putin had planned before he did it, down to predicting the day the assault would begin. NATO intelligence agencies also warned in advance that Russian forces would stage false-flag attacks and shell Ukrainian positions trying to provoke Ukrainians into shooting back and the Russians did exactly that. Frankly, especially after the intelligence failures of the Global War on Terror, I was shocked by the degree to which US intelligence mostly nailed this; it goes to show that while organizations created to spy on the Soviet Union struggle to spy on terrorists and the Taliban, they are very good at spying on the Russian Federation. Frankly the entire thing has been a fairly stunning US intelligence coup and there are a whole lot of analysts and more than a few world leaders who woke up on the 24th owing US intelligence an apology."
I thought Michael Koffman was the only A+ out there. (https://warontherocks.com/2022/01/putins-wager-in-russias-standoff-with-the-west/), but then I realised that I couldn't find a single prediction about operational outcomes, so he's a C or B at best.
Lack of technical experience in the US Intelligence Community may be a greater cause of error than bias here. By technical experience, I don't mean journalistic or policy experience, but technical experience creating intelligence products, as a collector, targetter, etc. I observed this with Russia-gate, where based on how we collect intelligence there were significant red-flags about the credibility of the narrative (e.g., when the NSA had lower confidence than the FBI, CIA).
As to the Russian invasion, an understanding of how we collect on Russia, the nature of our relationships with Kremlin insiders, and how the information was communicated (via State Department spox not leaks, etc.) were all critical to the analysis. It was fairly obvious, given those factors, that some of the most senior Kremlin officials were unambiguously communicating to us, for self-serving reasons of course, that the invasion was going forward. That doesn't mean the invasion would go forward, but it is where an analysis should begin.
IMO, any analyst without t