In November 2021, a group of EU ambassadors gathered in the government quarter of Kyiv. The US and UK ambassadors took the podium to discuss what their respective country’s intelligence was saying. Most was already public knowledge. A small part wasn’t. The latter was already known to the diplomat who convened the meeting: Head of the Delegation of the EU to Ukraine Matti Maasikas. He was convinced that war would erupt sooner or later. When I ask if his intention was, besides information-sharing, to influence EU member states to act in a particular way, he smirks and replies: “A little.” When I follow up by asking if his hopes came to fruition, he shakes his head for several seconds and simply says: “No.”
“I didn’t believe there’d be war,” says a Western diplomat who has served in Ukraine for years, and whose national intelligence is unparalleled.
“We weren’t prepared,” says a former major general of the Ukrainian security services as he turns his beat-up Honda onto Kyiv’s main thoroughfare and speeds through the darkness with his seatbelt unfastened. He was at headquarters on the night the war began. He saw volunteers filing in to defend their homeland with hunting rifles – no one had imagined Kyiv would be attacked. It was simply illogical.
Therefore, no one I speak to about Ukraine blames Western allies for not believing that full-scale war would break out. They aren’t even criticized for not immediately supplying weapons.
“If anyone had said on February 24th that Ukraine could win this war, they’d have been a genius,” says Olga Rudenko, editor-in-chief of Ukraine’s largest English-language outlet The Kyiv Independent. “Or at least a great statesman.”
“Our analysis was crystal clear,” says Jakub Kumoch, one of Polish President Andrzej Duda’s chief advisors. “Duda was convinced the Ukrainians would fight back and stop the Russians. And everybody thought we were crazy.”
A little more than a month before the war began, he was sitting with Duda, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the latter’s advisors in the southern Polish town of Wisła. The Ukrainians were insistent: of course they would resist. Not everyone took them at their word. Some sources say Duda also attempted to convince German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron at a meeting in early February, but was dismissed by the Western European leaders. They demanded that Ukraine adhere to the Minsk Agreements, which Duda said was merely Putin’s tool for applying pressure to the country.
Twice, the Poles approached US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to ask for increased weapons aid. Other members of the administration thought the Russians could reach Kyiv in three hours, even though it was explained to them that such a feat would be impossible even in non-rush-hour peacetime. The assumption of Kyiv’s rapid capitulation was so entrenched that after colleagues decided to evacuate, one large EU country’s diplomat proposed they stay put and await the Russians, then ask for safe passage to free Europe.
Nevertheless, as the Americans analyzed Ukraine’s combat victories in real-time, the arms shipments picked up pace and, according to sources, meetings to coordinate military aid grew increasingly determined. Everyone I interview affirms that the outcome of the war in Ukraine depends first and foremost on the US. Why? The two countries that profoundly define the nature of EU foreign policy – Germany and France – dragged their feet then and are still doing so now.
The price it took to convince every Western ally, a price that is being paid to this day, is a steep one for Ukraine: human lives. [Continue reading…]