As the Russian invasion of Ukraine begins to acquire some contours of yet another Great Game having completed three and a half months, the time is opportune to ask what if President Volodymyr Zelensky had heeded U.S. warnings of the impending attack much sooner than he eventually did.
Although it is a what-if question that is now moot, it is being widely discussed in Ukraine as the death and destruction caused by the Russian invasion pile up. According to one estimate, some 20,000 Ukrainians have been killed every month since the invasion started on February 24, this year.
Asked how differently the war would have turned out had Zelensky taken the U.S. intelligence’s warning seriously and began acting on it sooner, Ukrainian Member of Parliament Inna Sovsun said in an interview, “I will tell you the truth. This question is very widely discussed here in Ukraine what if we had taken it more seriously. And, of course, we did react differently on the individual level. For example, me and my team made a plan of what we would do if the Russians attacked us from air. We had a plan written three weeks before the full-scale invasion because we were actually sure that this would happen. But unfortunately, that was not the governmental policy. That was not their decision. And we believe that the situation could have been different.”
She said in that case at least Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol would not have happened, the three places where Russians have been accused of grave violations of international laws with prospects of them being investigated as war crimes.
Sovsun said part of the reason why the threat of the invasion was underestimated was because it made no logical military sense for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to attack Kyiv, a city of some four million inhabitants. “However, on a personal, I was sure that this would happen,” she said.
While conceding that “more attention should have been paid” to the U.S. warning, she said it was hard for the Zelensky government to gauge what was going on in Putin’s seemingly irrational mind.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi visited Kyiv and Irpin today. Quite significantly, the three leaders said they were supportive of Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union (EU). “My colleagues and I came here to Kyiv today with a clear message: ‘Ukraine belongs to the European family,'” the German Chancellor said in what Sovsun said was an important comment.
Draghi said: “The Ukrainian people defend every day the values of democracy and freedom that underpin the European project, our project. We cannot delay this process.”
Macron said, “Europe is by your side, and will remain so for as long as necessary, all the way to victory.”
Those were powerful words of support as far as they go because in reality, 61 percent of Russian energy exports since the invasion has been to the European Union. This has led to Moscow having earned $100 billion in about 100 days which has in turn helped Putin stay focused on an expensive war.
On a separate note, the Biden administration has sanctioned another 1 billion dollars in arms and other logistical support to Kyiv in what some see as a problematic infusion of weapons which Ukraine may find difficult to handle beyond the war. Sovsun, however, countered that view saying the arrangement with the U.S. is that once Ukraine “wins” the weapons would be sent back.
Ukrainian officials have continued to complain that they are not getting nearly enough weapons to take on the might of the Russian army with some saying they had received only 10 percent of what is required.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was quoted by the BBC as saying, “The announcements of new weapons delivered to Ukraine should be made on a weekly basis. And these weapons should be delivered in sufficient quantities. This is the reality … The truth is that we’re still outnumbered when it comes to artillery, multiple launch rocket systems and defense systems, and we cannot make any big progress until we strike a balance with Russia in the numbers on these three positions.”