Few things about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been expected or routine. The fact that the war is now about to enter its second year is wild enough as it is, given that the Kremin and much of the world at large believed that the invasion would only take a few weeks at most.
Instead, Ukraine has mustered a sort of courage and cunning that few fighting forces in the modern day have, regularly surprising experts and analysts around the globe.
The latest wild revelation in the conflict is a shocking one as well, and something that no one was predicting a year ago.
Hours before all of his warnings about a Russian invasion were proved spot-on, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence boss, moved his wife into his office, fearing that the worst would not indeed happen.
It was Feb. 23 — the night before Russia launched its war on Ukraine — and Budanov had staked his career on being the rare Ukrainian official who was convinced that Russia was about to attack and attempt to capture Kyiv, the capital.
He and his wife stared at the clock that night, anxious that Budanov could soon be out of work if all did not go as he had loudly predicted to Ukraine’s skeptical political leadership.
“We’d had this conversation that if this attack doesn’t happen, we’re not going to look very good,” he said in a recent interview. “We had specifically said that at 4 a.m. it would start. It sounds really weird, but I was scared it wouldn’t go as it should.”
Then came the shocking suggestion.
Budanov’s forecast for this year is that Russia will focus on occupying more territory in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. A renewed offensive from its forces stationed north of Ukraine, in Belarus, is unlikely, he said, and just an attempt to distract and divide Kyiv’s troops. He also said that “we must do everything to ensure that Crimea returns home by summer.”
Asked if he thinks Ukrainian troops reaching Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed illegally in 2014, could trigger Russian President Vladimir Putin to use a nuclear weapon, Budanov said: “This is not true. And Crimea will be returned to us. I’ll tell you more: It all started in Crimea in 2014, and it will all end there.”
Budanov largely dismissed the string of nuclear threats being spouted by Putin and his minions, describing the belligerence as nothing more than “a scare tactic”.
The return of Crimea to Ukrainian control would be perhaps the most humiliating event of Vladimir Putin’s lengthy career.