Why Experts Believed an Armed Conflict with Ukraine Would Never Happen

64 14/06/2022

Most experts, both in Russia and abroad, thought it was extremely unlikely and implausible that Russia would launch a full-scale military operation in Ukraine. Allegations that Moscow was preparing for something like this were laughed off, with this being labeled as another Russophobic campaign pushed by propagandists and radicals. However, it turned out on February 24 that the Russophobes had been right all along, while what the many analysts claimed, regardless of the side of the barricades, turned out to be wrong. How could this have happened?

Well, the experts were clearly aware of the would-be consequences that such a conflict could bear. They were wrong in what they were trying to forecast—still, they were correct in their assessments of these consequences. Even before the special operation was launched, it was clear that it would incur enormous damage to both Ukraine and Russia. Analysts took it as a given that understanding the immensity of this damage would be an argument good enough to thwart any demilitarization of Ukraine. However, while political analysts were correct in assessing the amplitude of possible consequences, they misjudged the attitudes of decision-makers. We made a mistake because we never made a mistake.

Why Experts Believed an Armed Conflict with Ukraine Would Never Happen

Let’s take, for example, a forecast I made on November 25, 2021, which is three months before Russia’s special operation was commenced. There were clear prerequisites for such a decision to be made, including: Russia’s experience of resorting to force, with the first incidence occurring in 2008; rather painless consequences of those campaigns; a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo under the Minsk agreements; and the fears that it was only a matter of time before military infrastructure of Western nations turned up on Ukrainian soil.

Yet, it seemed improbable and unlikely that Russia would resort to force, even after Moscow officially recognized the Lugansk and the Donetsk People’s Republics. In an article published on November 25, I outlined seven likely implications that a decision of this kind may have, with all of them becoming a reality in one form or another.

Implication 1. Prolonged conflict. The Russian Army has inflicted huge losses on the Armed Forces of Ukraine (the AFU). However, the AFU are concentrated in large cities, and entering them would entail significant military and civilian losses. In an urban setting, Russia’s technological and aerial superiority is neutralized. It is obvious that the Ukrainian leadership has recovered from the shock of the first few days of the operation, and any negotiations will give respite to the country’s Armed Forces. That is, Russia faces a difficult choice: 1) to sit down at the negotiating table, knowing that this will give the enemy a much-needed breather; or 2) to continue with the military action, which may well involve fighting in urban locales and, for that matter, entailing more losses.

Implication 2. The West is rallying around the cause of assisting Ukraine, with such assistance having been increased manyfold. Currently, the West is ruling out the option of an armed confrontation, but it will continue to provide substantial financial and military support to Ukraine. Russian troops are not in control of Ukraine’s western border, which means that weapons and military equipment can technically be delivered. These weapons may feature Soviet-era models from countries that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact—these weapons are more or less compatible with Ukrainian equipment—as well as those “Western” weapons that do not take much training (these could include man-portable air-defense systems and anti-tank guided missile complexes). The ranks of the AFU may be supplemented by volunteers from abroad. A respite would give Ukraine time to remilitarize, and moving on with the special operation would bring the same result, delaying its final success and increasing losses.

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