Before the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, different moods prevailed in Ukraine: some experts asserted there would be no full-scale war, while others suggested preparations had to be made. The Ukrainian infosphere was scattered by polar opinions.
Predictions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made in November 2021
The prediction made by Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, turned out to be quite accurate. In an interview with Military Times on November 21, 2021, he stated that Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine in late January or early February 2022.
"Such an attack would likely involve airstrikes, artillery and armor attacks followed by airborne assaults in the east, amphibious assaults in Odesa and Mariupol, and a smaller incursion through neighboring Belarus," the intelligence chief said.
The attack Russia was preparing, said Budanov back then, would be far more devastating than anything the Ukrainians had seen before since the annexation of Crimea and the Russian invasion of Donbas in 2014.
On November 22, 2021, ex-foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin, in an interview with Legalhub, suggested that Russia would start not with a massive military invasion but with an attempt to destabilize Ukraine from within. Nevertheless, he believed that the threat of invasion was real and relevant for the whole territory of Ukraine.
"There’s a threat along the whole perimeter. And it is emerging along the Belarussian border now," the former foreign minister said, and he turned out to be right.
At the same time, he believed that Russia would withdraw part of its equipment after its Zapad-2021 exercises and keep the rest. Klimkin thought that Vladimir Putin wanted to encircle Ukraine and scatter Ukrainian forces.
The diplomat also stated that the southern axis was the most vulnerable one, which also proved to be true.
However, he thought that Russia would first stage provocations and try to destabilize the Ukrainian South, and only then might it resort to massive military involvement.
"The latter would be hard to sell both inside Russia and in the West," Klimkin hoped.
Predictions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made in December 2021
In December 2021, Ukrainian experts, officials, and opinion leaders further discussed the prospects of a full-scale war in Ukraine.
Thus, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksii Danilov, warned on December 22 that the buildup of enemy forces, namely the 122,000 troops accumulated at a distance of 200 km from the Ukrainian border, was going on despite the negotiations between the president of the U.S., Joe Biden, and Russian president Vladimir Putin, Ukrinform reported.
A full-scale war would loom over Ukraine until it completes a serious rearmament, Valentyn Badrak, director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, emphasized in an interview with Radio Free Europe.
To this undoubtedly valid statement, he added that the right thing to start with was the Neptun cruise missiles in the South, which was also considered the most vulnerable axis by the ministry of defense, to achieve parity with the missile forces of the Russian Black Sea fleet.
The ex-deputy commander of Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces, Serhii Kryvonos, who was also quoted by Radio Free Europe on January 21, suggested that Ukraine prepare for fighting on several axes, for which it needed small mobile units capable of operating independently.
The ability of these units to operate independently by aggressively striking and retreating according to the "bite-and-retreat" principle would have been the best tactic in response to the quantitative and qualitative superiority of the Russian equipment over the Ukrainian one, he argued, and he was not mistaken. This was exactly the tactic that helped the Ukrainians destroy lots of invading units during Russia’s assault on Kyiv.
Andriy Klymenko, editor-in-chief of the BlackSeaNews portal and head of the Monitoring Group of the Institute for Strategic Black Sea Studies, argued that Russia could start its invasion from the Azov Sea and warned about its plans to capture Henichesk, Mariupol, and Berdiansk. That was exactly what happened later.
Predictions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made in January 2022
Just a month later, on January 20, 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned in an interview with The Washington Post that Russia would try to seize Kharkiv.
"If Russia decides to enhance their escalation, of course they are going to do this on those territories where historically there are people who used to have family links to Russia. Kharkiv, which is under Ukraine government control, could be occupied."
He also admitted that it would become the beginning of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine.
It’s worth noting that the president gave this warning the next day after he addressed the Ukrainians with his infamously soothing "barbecues speech".
It was when he urged the people not to panic and asserted that Ukraine would see the new 2023 year in peace.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisted (he and the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksii Danilov, later argued that it wasn’t a mistake but a deliberate attempt to avoid public dismay) that Russia was spreading panic to scare off investors and disrupt Ukraine’s economy.
He called on the Ukrainians "not to rush to stockpile buckwheat and matches" and "not to freak themselves out" as he assured them that May 2022 would be as always: "sunshine, holidays, and barbecues."
Zelenskyy reassured the Ukrainians with peace and barbecues before the Russian invasion [video]
Serhii Zhurets, military expert and editor-in-chief of Defense Express, made a different point on January 12, 2022, when talking with Radio Free Europe.
The expert stressed that under the guise of exercises, Russia could start combat operations at any moment:
"They did it once before with Georgia, when at first there were exercises, and then combat operations started. The troops have assembled, they stand there, and suddenly from the format of exercises they swing to some format of combat."
Predictions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made in February 2022
Although in January 2022, officials tried to soothe the people with barbecues, a move that still hasn’t been forgiven, In February 2022, tensions in society started to rise as Ukrainian experts were widely warning about the risk of a full-scale invasion.
On February 11, 2022, Mykola Sunhurovskyi, the Razumkov Center Military Programs Director, warned in an interview with Glavkom that Russia would lie to the democratic world that it was up to protecting its "Ukrainian brothers" since Kyiv is unable to protect its citizens. It turned out that Vladimir Putin later acted nearly this way as he claimed that Russia turned in to save the Ukrainians from "nazism".
"The Kremlin’s plan won’t pan out because the Ukrainians won’t give up that easily. Putin will get the works," the expert stressed at the same time.
Former foreign minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said in an interview with Ukrinform on February 18 that Russia had no real capabilities to launch a full-scale war since its consequences would have been disastrous.
Meanwhile, he warned that Vladimir Putin would anyway dare to attack by escalating the conflict to a maximum and trying to choose something halfway between total war and loud provocations.
What we eventually saw was a "special military operation", as the Kremlin's bloody dictator called it. He lied that conscripts would not be involved in it, and he also didn’t order mobilization in Russia at the beginning of the invasion. It was only much later, when Russian forces had suffered devastating defeats on all axes of the frontline, that Putin finally announced it.
"Putin now has to either finish us off and close the Ukrainian issue once and for all or admit that he has lost," Ohryzko explained.
During the Debates with Serhii Rudenko talk show on the Espreso TV channel, Oleksandr Musiienko, director of the Center for Military and Law Studies, supposed that Vladimir Putin had two possible scenarios for the war:
- starting massive hostilities in Donbas, which wouldn’t have triggered more sanctions since the world already knew that Russia was involved in Donbas;
- make a tactical retreat, recognize the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and then send "peacekeepers" to Donbas.
Expert Oleksandr Musiienko on Putin’s scenarios for the war in Ukraine [video]
He was partially right about Putin blackmailing Ukraine with an invasion to force it to give up accession to NATO and agree to remain neutral.
"In the future, Putin may as well annex these territories," Musiienko warned.
Predictions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made in March 2022
The most popular question in March 2022 was, obviously, "When will the war in Ukraine end?" In this period, some opinion leaders and officials again offered the Ukrainians a comforting perspective of a close victory. Other experts, at the same time, were dispelling the delusion that the Russians could be promptly driven out of Ukraine.
Lieutenant General and ex-Deputy Chief of Staff of the AFU (2006–2010) Ihor Romanenko told the BBC Ukraine on March 10, 2022, that the war could last from several weeks to several months more.
Former military pilot and Co-Director for Foreign Relations and International Security Programs of the Razumkov Center Oleksii Melnyk noted that any other country, given the extensive losses and failed military planning, would have started negotiations on the withdrawal of its troops, but Russia didn’t.
He saw two possible scenarios for ending the war in Ukraine:
- Russia suddenly withdraws, like it was during the Maidan revolution in 2014 when the riot police and checkpoint disappeared at the end of February (however, the expert deemed this scenario to be unlikely);
- Russia will continue the war by drawing in reserve land forces and making airstrikes on Ukrainian cities (which proved to be right).
Melnyk pointed out that the war would have no visible progress, but well-established mobilization would give Ukraine more chances to win the grueling battle with Russia.
As early as March 17, 2022, in an interview with Radio Free Europe, Oleksii Arestovych, advisor to the head of the President’s Office, said that active hostilities would have lasted "two to three weeks more", a phrase that was later turned into a meme.
"There’s one possible end here, they have lost strategically and will also lose operatively. That’s why I think that in the middle of April or late April is when those Kyiv residents who left the city will be able to come back home," the politician claimed.
Still, he considered two possible scenarios: a peace treaty with Russia or trench warfare.
Predictions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made in April 2022
In April, experts discussed the possibility of Alyaksandar Lukashenka’s regime attacking Ukraine as directed by Vladimir Putin.
In particular, on April 1, 2022, Serhii Hodlevskyi, a Ukrainian historian and serviceman, said in an interview with the 12th Channel that the Belarusian dictator was well aware that sending troops to Ukraine would deprive him of protection for his regime.
"Lukashenka understands perfectly well that sending off his troops that are now stationed in Minsk will leave him naked as a jaybird. There will be nobody to protect his dictatorship, his junta."
Similar thoughts were voiced on April 18, 2022, by Oleh Zhdanov, a reserve colonel and military expert, in an interview with Volodymyr Poluiev. He argued that an assault from Alyaksandar Lukashenka was 40% possible.
Oleh Zhdanov on Belarus attacking Ukraine [video]
"In two to three weeks, this advance will end. And it’s highly likely that the active phase of the war will end altogether."
On April 29, Valentyn Badrak, military expert and director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, named three scenarios of how the war in Ukraine could end in an interview with Glavred, of which two partially came to pass:
- Vladimir Putin leaves a part of his troops in Ukraine and tries to force Ukraine to negotiate and concede not only Crimea and the occupied Donbas territories but, for example, the land corridor to Crimea;
- The Russian troops are ordered to entrench in their current positions and switch to a long war. Then the Ukrainian forces will have to dislodge them from the South and East, but time will play into Ukraine’s hands;
- In Russia, conspirators kill Vladimir Putin. However, it will end the war only in the event Putin’s successor pursues a different policy regarding Ukraine.
The expert said this scenario was the least likely to occur in April or May. However, he noted that Putin could be removed later, when Russia would be falling apart at the seams due to Western sanctions.