Why Putin decided to attack in 2022, not in 2014
One of the most urgent questions among the experts and politicians is “Why putin approved a full-scale invasion in 2022 (during the 8th year of the war) and not in 2014”
A short answer to this question – In 2014, the political elites of the russian federation considered the situation around Ukraine was under control, so they were satisfied with the preservation of the “status quo”.
In more detail, it is worth understanding the general context of the events of 2014-2015. We assume that the russian political elites set themselves the goal of destabilizing the socio-political situation in Ukraine in order to make its integration into the EU and NATO impossible. In the conditions of the political crisis in Ukraine after the quick and almost bloodless seizure of Crimea (which led to the growth of support for vladimir putin’s regime), the kremlin’s refusal of a full-scale war and the use of quasi-military proxy groups (the so-called “LNR” and “DNR”) seemed a logical solution. In fact, the plans were based on the use of tools already tested in the past (Moldova, Georgia) to create a “frozen conflict” that would allow moscow to deny its own involvement and at the same time exert indirect pressure on Kyiv.
russian aggression had “painful” consequences for the national economy of Ukraine, among them we note – the cumulative drop in GDP in 2014 and 2015 was -6.8% and -9.9%, respectively. The UA currency devalued three times (from UAH 8 per $ in October 2013 to UAH 22 per $ in October 2015, and subsequently even more), gold and foreign exchange reserves at the beginning of 2015 amounted to only 6.5 billion $, inflation in 2014 amounted to 24.90%, in 2015 – 43.30%. It seemed that Ukraine would not be able to “recover” for a long time after such an economic shock.
It should also be taken into account that in this period, pro-russian sentiments of the population in certain regions of Ukraine still remained significant. According to the results of a sociological survey conducted by the Razumkov Center in 2015, 25.9% of respondents (that is, one in four) did not consider russia as an aggressor, considering all the above-mentioned events as part of the global confrontation between the United States and the russian federation.
Even the ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine by the EU countries was not without difficulties (such as the referendum in the Netherlands on the approval of the association of Ukraine and the EU in April 2016).
In addition, for a long period, a hidden policy of moscow’s appeasement was observed on the part of the EU countries (primarily France and Germany), as well as their efforts in preventing the beginning of the “Cold War v.2.0”. As for the USA, despite their support for Ukraine and condemnation of russian aggression, their focus on other regions was palpable. Later, with the beginning of Trump’s presidency, it appeared that the USA would finally “switch” to confrontation with the PRC in the Asia-Pacific region and containment of Iran’s policy in the Middle East.
At the same time, vladimir putin’s regime possessed a significant grade, much larger than now, of politicians and political forces loyal to him in European countries. And we are talking not only about the opposition parties of Eurosceptics and ultraconservatives. The ruling FIDES in Hungary headed by Prime Minister V. Orban or the “National Front” of M. Le Pen in France, but also about unofficial groups of lobbyists of russian interests who were present in political and business circles of Europe.
From 2008 to 2020, the russian federation underwent a military reform that took place in three stages: 1st – 2008-2011; 2nd – 2012-2015; 3rd – 2016-2020. It was the 3rd stage that provided for the technical modernization of the russian army.
As for the Ukrainian army, despite the motivation and support of the Ukrainian people, in 2014-2015 it was still archaic and underfunded, weak in the material and technical sense. The political leadership of the russian federation had the mistaken impression that Kyiv would not be able to overcome problems in the defense sphere, and a military solution to the russian-Ukrainian conflict in the short and medium term would remain available to the kremlin.
“What has changed in 8 years? If the kremlin was fine with everything before that, what exactly has stopped being fine now?”
Again, let’s answer this question briefly: “v. putin’s regime began to experience a gradual loss of control over the situation for violating the “status quo” acceptable to him”.
First of all, it became clear that it will no longer work to reintegrate the L/DNR into Ukraine on favorable terms for Moscow.
Signals from the USA and the EU about the possibility of realizing the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine despite the presence of uncontrolled territories became stronger and clearer.
Ukraine’s economic successes began to manifest gradually: GDP growth was ensured along with the growth of the population’s income during 2016-2021 (the exception is the pandemic 2020), despite the occupation of part of the territories and the military conflict in Donbas. Gold and currency reserves reached 30 billion $ (December 2021). The forecasts of international institutions (IMF, World Bank) for Ukraine were, in general, also positive.
The results of the reforms became noticeable, but we state only a part of them: the decentralization reform, which expanded the powers and resources of territorial communities, created the necessary prerequisites for the activation of local development.
Banking reform – implementation of the Comprehensive Banking Sector Reform Program, cleaning of the market from fictitious and substandard banks, the state banking sector became profitable.
Improvement of conditions for doing business – in 2013, Ukraine ranked 112 out of 190 in the “Doing business rating” (which ranks countries according to the indicator of favorable conditions for doing business); in 2019, according to a similar indicator, Ukraine already took 71st place (an improvement of 41 positions).
Undoubtedly, problems related to corruption, lack of a transparent justice system, inefficient state management, etc. have not gone anywhere in Ukraine. But in general, the above-mentioned successes proved the correctness of the path chosen by Ukraine.
Ukraine’s achievements did not go unnoticed by moscow, which itself felt significant pressure due to a number of internal and external factors:
Firstly, according to the forecasts of the russian government (!) in the period from 2030 to 2040, russia will enter a new demographic crisis: the number of working-age population will decrease sharply, and the number of elderly people, on the contrary, will increase, which will increase the pressure on the russian budget.
Secondly, according to data from the Ministry of Energy of the russian federation, oil production (the main export resource of the russian federation) will decrease by 40% by approximately 2035, a similar decrease in production will also be characteristic of natural gas. Moreover, the transition of the world’s developed economies to renewable energy sources is not without problems, but is taking place systematically, and this will reduce the demand for fossil sources.
Thirdly, excessive state influence on the economy, large-scale corruption, lack of developed political institutions (political competition, open election process, transparent justice system, etc.), strengthening of authoritarianism and a number of other factors constitute almost insurmountable obstacles for investments in russia and its economic development (this conclusion can be drawn based on the report “Stagnation 2.0”, written by the famous russian economists S. Guriev, K. Sonin, S. Aleksashenko, etc.
Consequently, the outlines of the future structural economic crisis in russia became more and more clear.
At the same time, the kremlin also saw Kyiv’s successes in the defense sector, in terms of increasing funding, acquiring new knowledge and skills by military personnel, and implementing NATO standards. It became obvious that the modern Ukrainian Army and the Ukrainian Army of the model of 2014 are two different and not similar. The gap in the ratio of military power between Ukraine and russia gradually narrowed, which strongly benefited Ukraine.
Of course, we cannot know what the “strategists” in the kremlin were thinking about and what arguments they were guided by in 2014 and 2022. Therefore, the presented article is an attempt to determine the main determinants that influenced moscow’s policy. For now, we can state that the main reason should be sought in moscow’s reluctance to lose its political influence in Ukraine. After all, the victory of Ukraine and its successful integration into Euro-Atlantic supranational institutions will mean the final collapse of russia’s imperial ambitions.