The Seeds of Invasion – Experts on Where it All Began | Kyiv Post | April 21, 2022


This article is a reprint. You can read the original at the Kyiv Post.

By Jason Jay Smart

Experts hold differing views on Vladimir Putin’s path to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. But they largely agree the West’s lack of action following the 2014 attack contributed to Putin’s decision.

There is no consensus on the precise pathway and trigger-point for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to again invade Ukraine on Feb. 24. But many experts agree that years of the West avoiding confrontation with the Kremlin played an important role in Moscow’s misconception that the world would stand idly by if Ukraine were attacked again.

In an interview with the Kyiv Post, international chess champion and renowned human rights defender, Garry Kasparov, asserted: “I think [Putin] did what every dictator did before him in history – he grabbed everything he could, then looked around to see what was next.”

Kasparov added: “Putin always wanted to destroy Ukraine, but he didn’t have a plan. Why not? Because he grabbed a piece of land then looked around, smelled the air and took ever-more confident steps.”

Kasparov is firmly of the view that the reluctance of Western leaders to confront Moscow has enabled Putin to revel in an established history of impunity. This in turn became a key driver for Putin’s Ukrainian misadventure.

“He got away with Grozny [in Chechnya], Gori, and Aleppo [in Syria], and he believes the same about Mariupol,” said Kasparov.

Having spent years calling on the West to take stronger and more decisive action against Moscow’s “criminal regime,” Kasparov is now pushing leaders in Europe and the U.S. to learn from their earlier misjudgments of Putin’s nature and to finally take the drastic measures needed to cripple his ability to wage war.

According to Kasparov, “the West, following the occupation of the Donbas and Crimea, erred gravely by not stopping Putin in his tracks but rather allowing the Russian economy to continue prospering.”

Former Lithuanian intelligence chief and diplomat Darius Jurgelevičius views Putin’s move to take Ukraine as part of a more elongated timeline which stems from the West’s failure to react to Putin’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. Jurgelevičius points out that “Putin essentially tested the water by invading Georgia and saw that, despite what the Georgians had expected, the West did not swoop in to save them. Instead, Georgia lost 20 percent of its territory.”

“In August 2008, the West made a critical error in not reproaching Putin and making clear to him that his violations of international law would be met with severe consequences. Instead of punishing Moscow, the West sought to ‘de-escalate’ by doing as little as possible that might further upset Putin,” says Jurgelevičius.

Lessons from history appear not to have been learned, with Jurgelevičius adding that “the West repeated its errors by not reacting with force to Putin’s 2014 invasion and occupation of Ukraine. This not only emboldened Putin but acted as a ‘green light’ to the Kremlin.”

Jurgelevičius warns that this time, the West must not back down and must box Russia’s dictator into a corner from which he cannot attempt another illegal foreign conquest.

Steve Nix, a lawyer who leads the Eurasia division of the International Republican Institute (IRI), says he had believed that Putin was planning to avenge his 2014 losses in Ukraine long before the invasion was launched but that the real signal of Russia’s war-hungry intentions emerged in the Russian dictator’s July 2021 diatribe, formally titled on the Kremlin’s website as “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

In this essay, Putin enunciated his view that: “Ukraine does not exist. It does not exist as a state. Thus, it does not deserve to exist as a sovereign independent country. Ukraine is actually, and should be, a part of Russia.”

Nix agrees that the West should have seen the “red flags” before the invasion started and that too many leaders feared “inflaming the situation” or “angering Putin”. In his view, they failed to realize how their passivity would be seen through the Kremlins’ eyes as an unwillingness to confront Russia. This, in turn, convinced Putin that attacking Ukraine would be met with a “slap on the wrist” before being forgotten by world leaders.

News reports immediately following the Feb. 24 invasion, when many countries began levying sanctions against Russia, indicate that Putin was surprised by the West’s resolve – something that his inner-circle had not anticipated. The hypothesis that Putin had not expected such a robust reaction is supported by evidence that Putin and his team did not take preventative actions, such as stockpiling internationally made machine parts and removing assets in foreign banks, in preparation for the West’s crushing sanctions.

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who twice headed the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), saw the signs of Russia’s nefarious plans for Ukraine more than a decade ago. “I repeatedly warned the Ukrainian leadership of the risk and threats posed by the continued presence of Russian troops and Navy in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” says Nalyvaichenko.

He adds: “In 2009, during my first chairmanship of the [SBU], I initiated the termination of Ukraine’s bilateral agreement with the Russian Navy. Prior to that, Ukraine had an agreement to host Russian [military] bases and allowed the [Federal Security Service] to operate within Crimea.”

Moscow’s desire to choke off Ukraine’s access to the sea has been part of Russia’s plans for years, according to retired SBU Major General Vasil Vovk. Citing his interviews from 2021, Vovk notes: “You can be sure we’ll have a real threat in a year or two from Russian troops invading exactly these eight regions – Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, Kherson and Odesa. We will be left without seas.”

However, there are hopes that the world will now pay greater attention to the threat that Moscow poses. Nalyvaichenko sees the U.S. and Europe as a united force in opposing Russia’s aggression, but that more is needed: “It’s high time for the West to be closing the skies over Ukraine so we can defend our country and our people. We are ready to fight Putin and we will win. We have no choice but victory. We can see now that Russia’s plans for Ukraine are nothing short of genocide.”


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