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Ukraine Claimed it Didn’t Know Russia Would Invade. Evidence Says Otherwise

As this expert explains, Ukraine was in denial about a Russian invasion – as the evidence shows clearly.

Ukraine
T-90 tank from Russia. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

As the cost of the six-month Russia-Ukraine war continues to pile up on the United States and Europe – and as the risk rises in the coming months of yet more serious pain accruing to the West – the people of the U.S. and Europe have a right to ask whether the authorities in Kyiv did all they could to prevent war prior to Moscow’s invasion, and whether it is doing all it can now to bring the fighting to an end. A close scrutiny of available evidence suggests some unpalatable answers.

(Note: See 19FortyFive Contributing Editor LT. COL (Retired) Davis on Fox News Explaining the Situation in Ukraine Above.) 

Defense of democratic ideals and support for victims of aggression is virtually embedded in American DNA, and at multiple points over the past centuries, the U.S. has shed much blood in defense of others. But we dare not get so cavalier with the extension of American military support (or the introduction of American troops) for the benefit of other nations that we fail to require them to first do all they can to support their own defense.

We should expect our government first to ensure our Armed Forces remain fully capable of defending our shores and not risk the blood of our service members for foreign missions not tied to the defense of U.S. national security.

When American military support is assumed by a non-treaty ally, when a given nation refuses to make hard choices for its own security in the expectation – if not the outright demand – that the U.S. provide it with substantial and open-ended military support, then it is appropriate for the U.S. government to reevaluate whether, to what extent, and over what period of time it should agree to provide such support.

As this analysis exposes, assessed against this standard, both Kyiv and Washington have fallen short.

Biden’s Public Warning of Imminent Russian Attack – and Ukraine’s Refusal to Act

On February 18, President Biden shocked many around the world when he publicly and explicitly revealed that U.S. intelligence had “reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to, intend to, attack Ukraine in the coming week… I’m convinced (Putin has) made the decision (to attack).” It was the most direct public statement Biden had made, but behind the scenes, he had been warning Kyiv of a likely Russian invasion for months.

Ukrainian leadership, however, was unwilling to act on the information. A recent Washington Post analysis reported Ukraine’s President Zelensky’s primary response was skepticism, but he also concurrently made significant demands of Washington. “You can say a million times, ‘listen, there may be an invasion.’ Okay, there may be an invasion,” Zelensky dismissively said, but “will you give us planes?… Will you give us air defenses?”

Zelensky’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak, claimed that preparing the country for the potential of war with Russia would have caused public panic. “Imagine if this panic had started three or four months” before the war, Yermak said. “What would have happened to the economy? Would we have been able to hold on for four or five months like we have?” That, of course, is speculative. What isn’t speculation is that Ukrainian leaders chose to make very little preparation, and that, as a result, the Ukrainian economy has been effectively destroyed by the war. The choices made by the Ukrainian leadership in the months before the war raised some red flags.

When presented with cabinet-level officials from the United States repeatedly warning Kyiv that the U.S. had compelling evidence of a Russian decision to launch an invasion of their country, Ukraine’s leaders balked, questioned the intelligence saying it was insufficiently clear, and instead of preparing its armed forces and people to meet the crisis, they complained that the United States wasn’t giving them enough weaponry. These complaints fall flat, however, when considering the conditions clearly evident in the months before the war.

For example, without access to any intelligence or high-level insider information, I publicly warned in December, January, and February with increasing fervency that war was likely. Ukraine and the West, I repeatedly argued, should take advantage of the opportunities to avert war. On December 5, 2021, I wrote that Putin warned Ukraine joining NATO was a “red line,” and that Putin was worried the West wasn’t taking him seriously. “Russia’s current troop buildup opposite Ukraine,” I explained, “implies his warnings may not be empty rhetoric, as Putin may well be seriously considering seizing the Donbas.”

One month later, I blasted former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen for advocating the West “call Putin’s bluff” by openly calling for the establishment of an action plan to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Recalling that Putin had already demonstrated in 2008 and 2014 he was willing to use force to eliminate what he considered threats to Russian security, I warned NATO leaders they should recognize “that more (Western) threats will likely push Putin to order additional Russian action into Ukraine, not deter him from it.”

On February 10, I cautioned we were fast approaching “our last chance to avert war in eastern Europe. Russia’s massive exercises will conclude near the 20th of this month. The weather conditions,” I continued, “will be optimal for armored attack and the Russian armed forces will be close to fully mobilized and positioned for invasion.” Just two weeks later, the events I had spent months warning against manifested themselves as Putin’s forces launched their unlawful attack against Ukraine on 24 February.

It seems implausible, we must acknowledge, to suggest that a common former Army officer such as myself without access to any classified material could see with such clarity what was coming, while the Ukraine authorities – armed with knowledge provided by the President of the United States himself – could not. Biden claimed in June, with some agitation, that it seemed Zelensky “didn’t want to hear” Biden’s warning that that war was coming.

One may reasonably ask, why, with all that information at his disposal of an imminent Russian invasion of his country, didn’t Zelensky act to either begin serious negotiations with Moscow to avert war or to at least prepare his population. The evidence suggests that the Ukrainian president gambled on the hope that the West would come to his aid after the Russians invaded, despite the West having no treaty obligations to Kyiv.

Even a cursory examination of the balance of power between Russia and Ukraine should have convinced Zelensky that his armed forces could never win a one-on-one fight with Putin’s forces. Rationally speaking, the only basis upon which even a thread-bare hope could be based on would be if Ukraine could get the armed forces of another country to come to his aid – and Zelensky spent considerable energy trying to get NATO to extend membership to Kyiv and the Article 5 security guarantees that went along with it. Publicly, some NATO officials seemed to offer Zelensky some hope.

NATO Leaders Make Contradictory Public & Private Statements

On January 8, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg defiantly insisted that despite Russian pressure, the alliance would keep the door to NATO open. “We stand by our decisions of the Bucharest Summit (in 2008, in which NATO vowed Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO”),” Stoltenberg said. Joining NATO would make “the societies of Ukraine and Georgia stronger,” because, he claimed, joining NATO produces “resilient and functioning societies” which are “less vulnerable to interference from Russia.” Yet behind the scenes, many in the West were telling Zelensky a very different story.

In a March 20 interview on CNN, Zelensky admitted to Fareed Zakaria that he had privately asked NATO officials “to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five. Just say it directly and clearly or just say no.” Despite what Stoltenberg had said in public, Zelensky revealed that in private, the NATO’s “response was very clear, you are not going to be a NATO or E.U. member.”  The Ukrainian president was nevertheless told that “publicly the doors will remain open.” This divergence between what Zelensky was told privately by NATO prior to Russia’s invasion and what NATO senior leaders said in public would have dramatic implications.

There is evidence to suggest that if NATO had been honest and said the same thing in public, they told Zelensky in private – that Ukraine was never going to be allowed in NATO – that may have changed the calculous for Putin, and it is possible the war would never have started. As evidence that even in the eleventh hour, Russia was still willing to consider diplomatic options, on February 14, just 10 days before the war would begin, Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, told the BBC that Ukraine was willing to be “flexible” and might withdraw its request to join NATO.

Moscow immediately seized on this opening, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that if Ukraine did withdraw its intent to joint NATO, it would “significantly contribute to the formulation of a more meaningful response to Russian concerns.” Kyiv refuted the claim almost immediately. The spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Oleg Nikolenko said Prystaiko’s comments had been “taken out of context” and that there was no change in Zelensky’s intent for Ukraine to join NATO.

Consider the ramifications for this series of events, less than two weeks before Putin invaded Ukraine:

Zelensky had “plainly asked” NATO leaders to tell him whether Ukraine would ever be invited into the Atlantic alliance, and had been expressly told “no.” The President of the United States had directly told Zelensky that intelligence had discovered Putin was preparing to attack “within days.” Even without any external information, the Ukrainian General Staff had to have known they could not win a war going head-to-head against Russia. Yet in spite of all this knowledge, Zelensky refused to take any diplomatic openings to resolve the crisis, refused to fully mobilize his population, and refused to accept the private declarations of NATO that no membership would be forthcoming.

Instead, it appears the Ukrainian president gambled that enough people in the West hated Russia strongly enough to come to his rescue after an invasion, would give him the weapons he demanded, money to sustain his country’s economy, for however long it took to win a war. He counted most of all on shaming the United States publicly into providing whatever he demanded.

The reality, however, is that Zelensky’s gamble is virtually certain to fail. As I have covered in detail in a previous 19FortyFive analysis, the military fundamentals and principles of war – along with the significant advantage in firepower Russia possesses – makes it as close to impossible as can exist in war for Ukraine to prevail. Continuing to ignore these realities will most likely condemn yet more Ukrainian civilians and soldiers to unnecessary deaths, result in yet more cities being razed to the ground, and if things go badly in the coming months, could result in an outright Russian victory. But Ukraine won’t be the only bill-payers for Kyiv’s continued pursuit of the militarily unattainable objective of defeating Russia.

Hundreds of millions in the Western world are also suffering as a result, and if changes aren’t soon made, the cost could go up substantially as we get closer to 2023. The American people deserve better than to be cajoled into open-ended support for a war that should never have been fought and cannot reasonably be won. The sooner Washington comes to terms with these realities, the sooner we can adopt policies that have a chance for success and are designed to achieve positive outcomes for the United States. Providing open-ended support to back Ukraine’s attempt to achieve the militarily unattainable is not in our country’s interest.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Michael Nunez

    August 28, 2022 at 10:06 am

    Way before the Ukraine War started , Ukraine was and still is very corrupt everywhere . Zelensky has played the West , and has put his own people in grave danger . Who is Zelensky must be answered , and as an American Tax Payer it has come to an end . Russia , Ukraine and all of the Countries that were part of the former USSR know what they face , but yet did nothing since 1993 . That’s over 20 years to prepare , but nothing . It’s Time to pullback on just throwing Tax Dollars at Ukraine …. !

  2. Neil Ross Hutchings

    August 28, 2022 at 11:19 am

    Contrary to the previous commenter, i think alternatively that NATO and the West have played or bought off Zelensky. I don’t think there ever was any expectation that Ukraine could defeat Russia, if that was the case there would have been increased military support in the 8 year period between 2014 and the invasion. The leaders in the west seem content with the current status quo, much to the detriment of Ukraine and the world economy. Just a convenient proxy war that provided an opportunity to bloody Russia with a wide spectrum of potential outcomes.

  3. USAlien

    August 28, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    the author does not understand either the essence of the contradictions or the causes of the war in Ukraine. He manipulates information and pretends that this is an analysis.

  4. Kelvin Clarke

    August 28, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    Ukraine has lived in the shadow of Russian violence for generations. The Holodomor was an event of intentional Russian brutality that killed millions, not thousands of Ukrainians. Blaming such an impoverished country for being unprepared for an existential war with a military behemoth like Russia is ridiculous.
    Any attempt to find a convenient compromise that does not permanently establish Ukrainian sovereignty in the face of Russian imperialism will perpetuate this cycle: something which is not in the interests of Europe or the USA.

  5. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 28, 2022 at 2:05 pm

    Does anyone really care about Davis’s bitter advocacy for submission to Russian belligerence and violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty?

    So what if Ukraine is still dealing with the corruption of the authoritarian Russian culture it left 30 years ago.

    The West’s national interest in defending national sovereignty against Authoritarian territorial ambitions will always be a Priority (remember Gulf War 1). It’s great the west doesn’t need to shed blood this time.

    Complaints about the cost ($30 billion is chicken feed) of supplying a proxy war in Ukraine are bogus, in light of the 1st World’s wealth ($50+ Trillion/yr). While the benefits being gained in combat testing of smart weapons, intelligence collection, and the destruction of the Russian military and its reputation is priceless.

    And what is the 1st world really supplying? Aging weapons, many of which have been superseded by updated weapons or made obsolete by smart weapons. NATO allies are emptying their inventories of old Soviet systems, and rearming with much better western weapons (seize the opportunity). And the smart weapons which the West doesn’t know how to use, but now has a laboratory in Ukraine which it is using to find out.

  6. George

    August 28, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    You forget a crucial fact. Neither US or UK left Zelensky to accomodate a diplomatic solution, ever. They pressed for war. Now its all Zelensky’s fault. Now its too late and they have to find a scapegoat. I think you are to soft when it comes to the Anglosaxon alliance. Its not Zelensky or the Ukranians (even the nazi part of them which is not to be excused for their crimes) but they were and are used by US,UK to damage Russia as much as possible. Nobody told them the hard truth. War with Russia. People are dying and in some time the moral of the Ukranian army would suffer.US AND UK don’t care.
    And what is this “Defense of democratic ideals and support for victims of aggression is virtually embedded in American DNA”.
    Are we serious here. My country Greece suffered a lot by this DNA.
    Sir,I respect your views. Are great for an American. You don’t find that lately. I hope you shall respect mine.

  7. Yrral

    August 28, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    A fist full of dollars, Ukrainain got plenty of dollars,sock away in their sovereign fund, about 43 billions Google National Bank Of Ukraine Sovereign Fund

  8. Scottfs

    August 28, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    No one, including Putin, believed NATO was a threat to Russia;. NATO is a defensive alliance, and no member state has any design on Russia or its territory.

    The only danger NATO represented to Russia was as a deterrent to its expansion. An acknowledgement Ukraine would not enter NATO would only be a greenlight to Putin to invade. Which he would of in any case.

    The war will end when Putin gets tired of losing.

  9. Ross

    August 28, 2022 at 5:11 pm

    Good lord,if this isn’t victim blaming. “What could you have done to prevent him from raping you? If you would have given him oral sex he wouldn’t have been forced to rape you.”
    Just wow.
    No idea how this site can publish a piece like this.

  10. from Russia with love

    August 29, 2022 at 6:15 am

    @Scottfs
    every time you poke your face into a long list of countries attacked by NATO? who are these “nobody” who do not consider NATO a threat? Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Serbia, Syria? not enough? Or do you mean those countries that are part of NATO? NATO is constantly attacking someone, but internally it believes that everything is normal and NATO is a defensive alliance.🤣

    by a strange coincidence, it was NATO that found itself near the border of Russia, not Russia that expanded its influence to the borders of NATO. are you still going to tell the tale of “non-aggressive NATO alliance”?🤦‍♂️

    what if Putin never gets tired of winning?
    oh. 😲 You call the offensive of the Russian army and the liberation of settlements from Ukrainian Nazis “Putin’s defeats” and the constant retreats and heavy losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine – “Ukraine’s victories.” sorry, I keep forgetting that your world is turned inside out😂

  11. Yrral

    August 29, 2022 at 9:13 am

    Ukrainain are a victim of their government poor judgement,they had thirty years to prepare,they sold off most of their weapon to regime,that brutalized their own people for a quick buck,when they could of use these weapon themselves Google Ukraine Selling Arms

  12. Yrral

    August 29, 2022 at 12:05 pm

    Anybody who oppose Zelensky in Ukraine,is either fired or arrested, even Biden do have the power to arrest his critics,not like Zelensky former Ukrainain Special Forces general say Zelensky is surrounded by Russian agent, Zelensky worst enemy Google Krivonos Ukraine Zelensky

  13. Terrence Fueyo

    August 29, 2022 at 11:38 pm

    First trash I’ve read on 1945. It took me all of 5 min to figure out you were a Trumper with an agenda. Of course your a contributor to Fox Propaganda. Your a disgrace to your Uniform. You know very well your argument is filled with have truths and misinformation. It would do me no good to refute your argument because it’s not going to change any minds no matter what proof or reasoning is used. You of course trash Biden but fail to acknowledge your glorious president Trump who is a seditionist and traitor to our nation, tried to subvert assistance to Ukraine by every illegal method possible. If he becomes president again Ukraine won’t have a chance and you know it. Ironic that Ukraine is more American than your side will ever be. Putin has hiss hand so far up Trumps ass he’s a meat puppet. Fox propaganda has brought this nation to the point of civil war and you know what, maybe that’s what it’s going to take. I’m not advocating violence of course, that’s your side, but I AM making an informed observation. Ukraine has been preparing for a war since 2014. If they were unprepared it certainly didn’t show in their defense of Kyiv, Buccha etc… I’ll bet you were one of those saying they wouldn’t last a week. If they weren’t prepared, where and when did all the Javelins and other equipment appear. The president of Ukraine did not want a panic and disruption months before Russias invasion and he was proved right. It would have weekend their position. I’d say you were an inept tactician but I believe you instead to be a liar which is worse. You betray everyone and everything related to our great military and country, for what, money, power or are you just that misinformed. It’s ashame real patriots in Ukraine are spilling blood in defense of the values you falsely claim to espouse.

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