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‘We should have anticipated the invasion of Ukraine’

The West has missed several opportunities to prevent the invasion of Ukraine or, at the very least, to better support the Ukraine, claims Frans Osinga, Professor by special appointment War Studies.

What was your first reaction to the invasion of Ukraine?

'It’s a tragedy. I feel profound sadness and deeply burdened by it. I’m convinced that we, the West, have wasted a number of opportunities. It took too long for us to come together and assess the severity of the situation as a collective. It also took a long time for us to formulate credible retaliatory actions in the form of sanctions and the like. Furthermore, we’ve also stated right from the start that we wouldn’t provide Ukraine with military support. By doing so, whether he needed it or not, we eliminated a piece of strategic uncertainty for Putin.'

'Our inability to correctly interpret authoritarian leaders is tragic.'

Should the West have anticipated this?

'Our inability to correctly interpret authoritarian leaders is tragic. We tend to only deal with things if and when they occur. That shouldn’t be the case, because we should‘ve anticipated the invasion of Ukraine. Three weeks ago, I wrote an article in Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad in collaboration with Tim Sweijs in which we pointed out that Putin had already invested considerably making it impossible for him to withdraw without having something to show for it. We weren’t only ones in the academic world who thought so.'

'America also warned the West for an invasion in Ukraine, but it took quite some time before they were able to convince the West. Nor was that period put to use by providing Ukraine with the necessary military equipment such as anti-aircraft artillery.'

Has Putin made any strategic mistakes himself?

'He has drawn out this crisis for quite a long time. This has been going on since November. By doing so, he gave the West the opportunity to take a unified stance and, as a result, he’s now faced with sanctions and political isolation. He’s also noticing that the European Union and NATO will most likely decide on long-term fortification of their defences in the East, preventing similar adventurism now taking place in Ukraine from occurring in the Baltic States.'

'Putin will definitely have taken the new sanctions and their effects into account.'

Will the sanctions make Putin revaluate his actions?

'The sanctions are pretty severe, but will definitely not make him change his mind. First of all, Russia has already been living under a sanctions regime for quite some time now. Secondly, Putin will definitely have taken the new sanctions and their effects into account. Thirdly, it takes time for the effects of these sanctions to manifest. There’s nothing preventing him from making use of that time, and then simply waiting a few years before reengaging in diplomatic talks. Finally, Russia has an autocratic regime. Authoritarian leaders are able to shed part of the effects onto society. They’re also less concerned with the pain this will cause to that society and the common citizen.'

Can Russia still be stopped in Ukraine?

'We’ll have to wait and see whether the Ukrainian forces will be able to slow down Russia’s advance. But eventually, they will be defeated. For the Russians Kiev is the ultimate prize. You can imagine that the Russians are eager to quickly occupy government buildings and communication centres and raise the Russian flag the government buildings in Kiev. That has long been the symbolic gesture demonstrating that you are now in charge.'

What happens after the Ukrainian government has fallen?

'On other fronts Ukraine will probably continue to  fight, even after the Zelenski government has fallen. It’s likely that orders have been issued to delay the Russians as long as possible to get the mobilisation of the Ukrainian male population between the ages of 25 – 60 off the ground and arm them. That way, Russia will at the very least be faced with the risk of a prolonged guerrilla war and street fighting. But getting them to pull back will be difficult, because Russia has been able to deal a critical blow in the first phase when they were able to gain air supremacy.'

'Putin will be working to isolate the Baltic States from the EU and NATO.' 

Will Putin start to invade other countries too?
'We’ve known for years that Putin wants to bring the areas that were part of the former Soviet Union back under his wing. This means that he will be working to isolate the Baltic States from the EU and NATO. He has no desire to be surrounded by democratic, liberal states. That has become somewhat of a personal crusade and political platform for him. But advancing on the Baltic States isn’t something Putin is likely to consider. Russia lacks opportunities in the short term. He doesn’t have enough means left at his disposal to respond aggressively towards the Baltic States.'

Text: Dagmar Aarts
Photo: ANP

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