In the weeks before the Russian army began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, media speculation and strategic planning in the European Union and U.S. often contrasted the strength of Ukrainian society with the supposed weakness of Ukraine’s state institutions. High-level officials of EU member states and the U.S. considered it more likely that the Ukrainian state would collapse, and even that Kyiv might fall in 72 hours, than that the Ukrainian military and civil service might organize effective resistance.
Yet, within the first days of the war, as Ukrainians weathered the initial shock and Kyiv held on, it began to dawn on Western governments that they had overestimated the power of the Russian state and underestimated the resilience of Ukraine’s.
Rather than glossing over these analytical failures and moving on, governments in the EU and U.S. must examine why these flawed paradigms proved so persistent in order to avoid similar miscalculations in the future. If decision-makers in Brussels and Washington can better identify the weaknesses of their strategic adversaries and develop more effective assistance to local partners, they might find themselves better-positioned to deter the kind of military aggression that Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced.