Nine Things Western Analysts Got Wrong About Russia and Its Invasion of Ukraine

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 33

(Source: Facebook of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine)

Executive Summary:

  • Many analysts in the West have misunderstood the conflict in Ukraine, leading to the mishandling of aid to Ukraine.
  •  Many Western analysts overlooked the historical myth-making that the Kremlin had been promoting for many years, which aimed to erase Ukrainian history and identity.
  • The lack of military aid from the West following Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 allowed Russia to regroup and prepare for the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Two years ago, on February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he termed a “special military operation” (SVO) against Ukraine. This was the first full-scale invasion of a European country since World War II, though the invasion truly began eight years earlier with the invasion of Donbas and the illegal annexation of Crimea. Many Western analysts, especially those with professed Russian expertise, misinterpreted several critical points, and Russian propaganda was quick to support these misconceptions.

  1. Failed State: There was a long-standing depiction of Ukraine as weak, divided, and corrupt. This depiction is similar to Kremlin disinformation that portrayed Ukraine as a failed and artificial state (BBC, May 8, 2018; The Nation, February 15, 2022; Meduza, February 23, 2023). This view made it seem like protecting Ukraine was a lost cause for Western countries, deterring them from providing the aid Kyiv needed.
  2. Pro-Russian: Russian speakers in Ukraine were portrayed as disloyal and pro-Russian, adding to the stereotype of a weak and divided Ukraine. This depiction is similar to that of Kremlin disinformation and Russian nationalist claims of all Russian speakers as “compatriots” who seek to become a unified part of a pan-Russian people (, April 5, 2021; RIA Novosti, May 26, 2021; TASS, July 12, 2021, Meduza, June 9, 2022). One of Putin’s justifications for the SVO was to halt the “genocide” of Russian speakers that he claimed had been carried out by Ukrainian “Nazis” since 2014 (Andrei Karaulov, Genocide of Russians in Ukraine: What the West is Silent About, May 15, 2018; RIA Novosti, February 18, 2022; Meduza, March 2, 2022). Since the 2014 “Russian Spring” and the 2022 invasion, most Russian speakers in Ukraine have shown themselves to be Ukrainian patriots. A poll conducted in July 2023 reported that 50 percent of eastern Ukrainians and 35 percent of Russian-speaking Ukrainians blamed the entire Russian population for the war, while 60 percent of respondents perceived the question of whether the Russian people or the Kremlin was to blame as irrelevant (RE:Russia, July 21, 2023).
  3. Ukraine’s Quick Defeat: The Kremlin and Western analysts were unanimous in their view of a rapid Russian military victory and Ukrainian defeat, with Kyiv only lasting a few days before capitulating (Radio Free Europe, March 11, 2022;, December 8, 2022). This influenced the West to only send light weapons, such as Javelins and NLAWS, to Ukraine for use in partisan warfare. Many in the West thought sending heavy weaponry was pointless, as Ukraine would be quickly defeated (US Department of Defense, April 7, 2022; CSIS, April 12, 2022; Foreign Policy, November 27, 2023). In October 2023, a year and a half into the war, 90 percent of Ukrainians believed that they would win the battle against Russia, demonstrating the resilience of Ukraine contrary to what many believed at the war’s beginning (Ukrainska Pravda, October 24, 2023).
  4. Reformed Russian Army: Moscow and Western analysts were united in their view that a reformed Russian army had become the second best in the world (, August 31, 2017;  RBC Ukraine, February 22, 2023; Foreign Affairs, September 8, 2023; Kommersant, January 17). Western analysts ignored the disastrous impact of the mafia state, a term that had been used to describe the country as far back as 2010, on the Russian military and security forces (Vedomosti, December 2, 2010; BBC, December 2, 2010). By the end of the invasion’s first year, the Russian army was mocked as the second-best army in Ukraine (New Voice of Ukraine, June 2, 2023).
  5. The Kremlin Is Not Ideological: Numerous Western scholars and analysts, although certainly not all, have been reluctant to depict Putin’s Russia as totalitarian, nationalistic, and fascist (Atlantic Council, April 23, 2015; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 9, 2022; Courthouse News Service, August 3, 2022; Politico, December 9, 2022). Russia is a mafia state and, since constitutional changes in 2020 and increased domestic repression, a totalitarian political system that supports imperial nationalism and revanchism (Meduza, March 10, 2020;, September 5, 2022). Putin’s Russia seeks the genocidal destruction of Ukraine and Ukrainians and their replacement by a Little Russia and Little Russians. Crimea and New Russia (southeast Ukraine) are claimed as “historical Russian lands,” and central Ukraine would become a Little Russian puppet state akin to Lukashenka’s Belarus, while Putin has stated that many in Western Ukraine want the territory to be offered to Poland, Hungary, and Romania (, July 22, 2023; TASS, December 19, 2023). Russia will rise from the ashes of a destroyed Ukraine as a great power (once again resembling the Soviet Union, where the US-led unipolar world is replaced by the multipolarism found in the Cold War). Russia’s rebirth in the ashes of Ukraine’s destruction is a quintessential definition of fascism.
  6. Why Russia Invaded Ukraine: This question continues to puzzle some Western analysts and scholars because of their inability to comprehend the true nature of Putin’s regime. The roots of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lie in the Kremlin leader seeking to carve out a place in Russian history as the “gatherer of Russian lands” (alongside Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Joseph Stalin). This notion is a return to the imperial-nationalist denial of Ukraine’s existence and the belief in a pan-Russian people composed of “great,” “little,” and “white” Russians (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, respectively) (TASS, July 12, 2021; RBC, June 9, 2022; see EDM, October 3, 2022). Many Kremlin leaders believed that “Little Russians” were deluded into thinking they were Ukrainians by the Austrians and Poles before 1914, by Vladimir Lenin when he gave them a Soviet republic, and by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since 1991 (, July 12, 2021;, November 22, 2022).
  7. No Military Support: Most Western analysts argued against sending military support to Ukraine after 2014 (Foreign Affairs, February 24, 2015). US President Barack Obama vetoed sending weapons to Ukraine despite the United States being one of the signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which provided security assurances to Ukraine in return for nuclear disarmament (House Armed Services Committee, October 4, 2015). One argument against the United States sending military aid was that Western weapons would not prevent Ukraine’s defeat (The Hill, December 7, 2021).
  8. Escalation: A second argument from 2014–2021 was that sending Western weapons would merely lead to an escalation of the conflict Therefore, it was not in the interests of the United States and West to send lethal aid to Ukraine (Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2014; The Atlantic, April 2016). Since 2022, fear of escalation has continued to influence slow-moving US, German, and French military aid to Ukraine and the stipulation that prevented their use inside Russia until very recently. Fear of escalation continues to prevent the United States and Germany from sending more long-range munitions (Politico, October 12, 2023; NBCNews, February 19). The fear of Russian escalation was and has been exaggerated. Meanwhile, delays in military aid has caused the war to carry on longer as Russia was given time to build three lines of fortifications, lay tens of thousands of mines, and organize a mobilization of 300,000 soldiers (Interfax, November 1, 2022).
  9. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Enlargement: Some Western realists, analysts, and scholars blamed NATO in 2014 and since for provoking Russian military aggression (Reuters, July 11, 2023). Ukraine has yet to be granted full NATO membership. Russia did not necessarily oppose Ukraine joining NATO but instead worried about losing what the Kremlin considers “Little Russia” to Europe.

These misconceptions in the West about Russian imperialism and the war against Ukraine have caused a shallow understanding of what Ukraine needs to defeat the occupiers and why a complete Ukrainian victory is critical to ending Russia’s threats to its neighbors. Relying solely on a Western perspective of how Russia and Ukraine operate will only disadvantage the West in fighting against Russian imperialism.