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In the days and weeks leading up to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, the White House repeatedly warned that conflict was imminent.
But despite these US warnings that war was on the horizon, Europe did not want to believe that Russia would actually attack its eastern European neighbor, the European Union’s top diplomat revealed on Tuesday.
“Some things have happened in the past that we knew could happen, but some have been a surprise,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, said during a speech at the bloc’s ambassadors’ conference in Brussels.
“We didn’t think war was coming. I have to admit it here in Brussels. The Americans told us: ‘they will attack, they will attack,’ and we were quite reluctant to believe it,” Borrell said.
“I remember very well when [U.S. Secretary of State Antony] Blinken called me up and said, ‘Well, it’s going to happen this weekend.’ And indeed, two days later, at 5 in the morning, [Russia] started bombing Kyiv,” he recalled.
In January 2021, as Russia assembled tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine, US officials, including President Joe Biden, warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin was poised to launch a widespread conflict in any moment.
In mid-February, the White House said the risk of an immediate invasion was extremely high, with the US even telling Ukraine on February 23 that a major attack would likely begin, citing intelligence. The next day, Russian forces invaded, with the Russian leadership under the impression that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops would achieve a quick and decisive victory.
Borrell also said Tuesday that Europe did not anticipate how well Ukraine would defend itself against invading Russian forces.
“We did not believe this was going to happen, and we did not anticipate that Ukraine was ready to resist as fiercely and successfully as it is,” Borrell said, while attributing European arms deliveries and military support to helping Kyiv. struggle.
Borrell’s comments echo those of Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who said last month that the EU was wrong to ignore countries that warned Putin was a threat. Russia’s neighbors have made similar comments about how they were correct in her warnings.
“One lesson from this war is that we should have listened to those who know Putin,” von der Leyen said.
Now, after more than seven months of conflict, Ukrainian forces have managed to mount counter-offensives along the eastern and southern fronts of the war, liberating thousands of square kilometers of territory under Russian occupation since early September. Bogged down by these military setbacks, Putin’s troops recently began using suicide drones, as well as missiles, to attack civilian areas far from the front lines, spreading terror and fear.
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