The Russian invasion of Ukraine: its origins and how will it advance?
Laurien Crump on Russia and Ukraine
In the early morning of Thursday 24 February 2022, Russia officially invaded Ukraine after much speculation and many verbal threats. Affiliated researcher Laurien Crump (until 1 September 2022 assistant professor and researcher in the History of International Relations) is or has been a guest at several shows to clarify this historic event. Below, we feature an overview that we will continue to update.
According to Crump, the roots of this conflict lie in the eleven months after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “Gorbatchev, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, had grand plans for a common European house and Russia returning to Europe,” Crump told on BNR Nieuwsradio (18 February). One of the things he hoped for was that the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), currently the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), would contribute to that. But, she explains, as the Gulf War was also fought in those years, the emphasis was more and more placed on NATO and the then European Community, and on the question how to expand this to the east. This made it already more clear early on that there was no place for Russia in Europe.
The Russian perspective
Earlier, Crump illustrated the Russian perspective on the radio show Nieuwsweekend (5 February). "We also have to understand that it's extraordinarily threatening to Russia to have such a big military alliance that's armed to the teeth so close to the Russian border [editor's note: if NATO were to expand]." The rhetoric in the West prior to the invasion also didn't help: that the West kept shouting loudly that Russia would invade Ukraine, is "fuelling the fire," according to Crump. And not just Russia is spreading propaganda. In the West, people were already speaking for weeks of a Russian video in which an attack by Ukraine is staged. "At the same time, there is no evidence that that video exists. You also see a kind of war rhetoric on the western side, resulting in a vicious circle."
On Monday 21 February, Putin held the speech in which he announced the invasion. "I actually found it frightening," Crump says on Max Vandaag (22 February). "Until recently, I thought a diplomatic exit could still be found, that now seems passed. Putin gives the impression that he is removed from reality." So far, she could still contextualise the Russian demands from a historic context, she says, but in his speech of 75 minutes, Putin draws on the Russian empire, or rather: the Kievan Rus', which Ukraine belonged to, and denies Ukraine's right to exist as a sovereign state by doing so.
Crump also emphasises the timing of the speech. 20 February saw the end of the Olympic Games, which represent a period of peace. "Until then, there was the possibility for diplomatic negotiations and Putin could retreat without losing face." The period of diplomacy now seems pretty much over.
On NPO Radio 1 (22 February), Crump described three scenarios for the progression of the conflict, of which the first two have already come true. The first scenario was the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent regions, enabling Putin to send soldiers to these areas. In the second scenario, Putin would go for the entire Donbas region, an area in East Ukraine three times the size of Donetsk and Luhansk. The third scenario is that Putin wants to take all of Ukraine. "He has stationed many troops in Belarus, a fleet in the Sea of Azov and he is already in Crimea, so Ukraine is already quite surrounded. That seemed quite unlikely to me earlier, but since the speech, it's become less far-fetched."
Reaction of the West
After Putin's speech and the recognition of the two 'republics', he announced a Russian 'peace mission' in these areas. The British Prime Minister Johnson now speaks of an invasion, while the European Union is currently still refraining from that. There is also disagreement about the possible sanctions. "You now see within the EU that the former Soviet republics want to escalate immediately while other member states, including the Netherlands, want to move in phases," Crump further explains in the interview with NPO Radio 1 (22 February).
Separate from which sanctions the West will now impose, Russia already accounted for all possibilities in advance. For instance, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs already said earlier that Russia has gotten used to its isolation and the EU sanctions by now. That is why it is very important to not completely abandon diplomacy, Crump says. "I think it’s dangerous now to declare the Minsk Accords over, which Putin did today, as it’s actually an implicit declaration of war." That means that a diplomatic solution becomes very difficult. "If the diplomatic channels close down and Russia is fully isolated, further escalation will follow and we will go to the third scenario after all, I fear."
Invasion and sanctions
In the night of 23 and 24 February around 4 am, the first reports on the Russian invasion of Ukraine reach us. The European Union, the United States and other countries have announced stricter sanctions. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among others, is a proponent of completely shutting Russia out of the international Swift system. That would lock the country out of the international financial traffic. Crump also thinks that would be a fitting sanction, she says in Nieuwsuur (24 February). “There's currently much reluctance about it, because it affects us too. But I do think: if this is not the right moment, when will it be? It needs to be stopped now.”
“It’s the ultimate sanction and I think we shouldn't wait for it for too long,” Crump also says on BNR Nieuwsradio (24 February). Even though she does not see it as a solution. “The word ‘solution’ no longer applies; I don't see how this can be solved,” Crump says. “More measures are possible, but these will also be counter-productive.” As an example, she mentions the example of isolating Russia in international diplomacy.
On the NOS Journaal (25 February), Crump revisits the Swift sanction, which has been blocked by some European countries. She says the current package of sanctions is robust, “but considering what's currently happening in Ukraine and a Russian government and president who are actually out to overthrow the entire post Cold-War world order, I think it's not robust enough by a long shot.”
Buffer against NATO
On BNR, Crump also points out that many Russians also want nothing to do with the war. “You see that Putin has enormously overplayed his hand on a domestic-political level. Many Russians don't support [the war] and Putin-favouring Russians are now calling for this to stop too.” According to her, the threat of NATO remains the biggest problem. “I think it's really about Ukraine to Putin. I don't think he wants to annex the Baltic countries or Poland or other NATO member states, but he wants to have a buffer there.”
On the NOS Radio 1 Journaal (25 February) Crump further elaborates on that. She thinks Putin is after President Zelensky, in particular about the democratisation he stands for. “I think Putin has the hope to install a kind of puppet government, which eventually will need help from the Russians, but not 190,000 Russian troops, to stay in power, as has also happened in many other surrounding countries.”
One hundred thousand Ukrainian refugees
NATO convened for the first time on 25 February, and has decided to send troops to Eastern Europe. “NATO can hardly send troops to Ukraine itself,” Crump comments on this on Nieuws en Co (25 February), “then you'd quickly have World War Three on your hands. That of course has to be prevented, so troops are sent to ensure that the Russians will not advance further west and that the borders of NATO, which are at the Baltic countries, are fortified.”
Since then, thousands of Ukrainians have fled. The current estimate is that there are roughly one hundred thousand refugees, but that could increase to four or five million. Crump suspects that most are heading to Poland and other neighbouring countries, where they seem to be welcome, in contrast to other refugees. “‘The region’ is usually associated with Syria or Afghanistan, something very far away, but ‘the region’ is now Europe. And there is a big Polish community in Ukraine, so they're really seen as brethren, so the Polish have a very different view on that.”
Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia
On 28 February, the first negotiations between Ukraine and Russia take place. The odds of the two countries coming to an agreement is extraordinarily small, according to Crump. “First, they take place at the border with Belarus, which Zelensky didn't want at first because Belarus actually supports the invasion,” she explains on NOS Radio 1 Journaal (28 February). Second, Putin already said last night he will put nuclear weapons on standby, so you are then negotiating with a big knife on the table.”
This is also seen as a crucial day for the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv. “There is a certain Russian advance, but on the other hand, the resistance is much bigger than the Russians had estimated, tactical errors are made on the Russian side, the airport near Kyiv is not yet in Russian hands and that is crucial. So the race is not over yet,” Crump says.
Russian nuclear weapons on standby
A day earlier, Putin threatened with nuclear weapons. “The advance through Ukraine is not going as fast as he had hoped. I think he had hoped to have already taken Kyiv ages ago, so you can now kind of see him lash out when he’s cornered,” Crump says. “And it's in line with a Russian doctrine, the Gerasimov doctrine, which sees nuclear weapons as a logical step in further escalation of a military conflict.”
Whether or not Putin is actually going to deploy the nuclear weapons is something Crump cannot say for sure. “I think we currently can't rule anything out. The West tries to be very careful in that, by supporting Ukraine in all kinds of ways, with weapons, humanitarian aid, sanctions and so forth, but not by sending any soldiers there. So if it's up to the West, it won't come to that. On the other hand, you see a completely unpredictable president on the Russian side, who puts his own spin on everything. So which spin he's going to put on it, that is still completely uncertain.”
United international community
On RTL Z Nieuws (28 February), Crump is asked how the West should respond to these threats. “What you see is that the West is far less divided that Putin had hoped,” she answers. “Even the European Union is exceptionally united. A former ally of Putin's, the Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán, has come out on the side of the EU sanctions.” On the NOS Radio 1 Journaal (28 February), she also mentioned countries like South Korea, Japan and Singapore imposing sanctions as well. “Even the attitude of China can be called remarkable,” Crump says. China has not condemned the invasion, but did refrain from voting in the United Nations Security Council on the vote to have the UN condemn it.
Not much later, China volunteered as a ‘neutral mediator’. “China is very much in a split,” Crump tells on Tijd voor Max (1 March). “They don't want to speak out against the invasion, but they are now alone in that and the Chinese are always very much in favour of sovereignty and non intervention.” China also has ties with Ukraine. It is the primary trade partner of Ukraine. According to Crump, there is a real chance that the country will take on this mediating role.
International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court
More and more voices are calling to also have Putin condemned via the International Court of Justice. “Lithuania has added to this too by involving the International Criminal Court,” Crump says. Putin can then be classified as a war criminal and end up in an infamous line of other dictators. Still, this is not going to change Putin's mind any time soon. “He doesn't recognise all these courts, but it does contribute to his pariah status. And it could contribute to the further erosion of his support, not just in Russia but possibly also within his own entourage.”
That support is already vaporising anyway, Crump says. “You can already see on a number of fronts that support is vaporising very fast.” She mentions the Russians who may have voted for Putin earlier, but are turning against him now. But also more and more oligarchs, who flourished under Putin's regime first, see the war as a lost cause. Especially now that it is going to cost a lot money due to the sanctions. “And there are rumours, but those are of course much more difficult to verify, that there are also people in Putin's own entourage who think he's going much too far now.” She points out the television footage of uncomfortable conversations with people from the Security Council, who she believes are not fully giving the answers Putin had rehearsed with them.
The effect of sanctions
On BNR Nieuwsradio (2 March), Crump tells that the economic sanctions will not deter Putin in the short term. But they do result in pressure being put on him from the bottom up. “I think Russia can financially keep it together as a country, but the Russian people are already feeling it in their own wallets. They can't withdraw money and not transfer money abroad or receive it. They can't take much money abroad anymore, so the protest is on the rise in Russia on an unprecedented scale too.”
Putin is creating an enemy among the people, Crump states. “Suppose Putin does take Ukraine – he's already levelling all these cities – he'll be stuck with a country where he'll have to establish a puppet government in order to have a regime change. But such a puppet government will have a really hard time with a people that put up SUCH fierce resistance, and will continue to do so. You can have a military victory, but if you don't win over the hearts and minds, you can't govern that country,” Crump says.
President Biden announced that America will immediately quit importing Russian gas and oil. On Nieuwsuur (8 March), Crump is a guest to tell what the consequences of these new sanctions are to Russia and Europe. "As long as it's just America, it's not that much of a serious blow to Russia. It will really become a serious blow if the European Union gets in on it too." As a reaction to this American move, Russia threatened to shut down Nord Stream 1, the gas pipeline through which gas flows from Russia to all of Europe. "This threat is effective from a Russian point of view, because Putin can sow division with it. That's a wedge because it has enormous repercussions for Europe and the EU countries, but not for the United States."
But America is well aware of Putin's tactic: "You see that Biden already tries to rhetorically anticipate for this threat in his speech by saying that he doesn't expect the EU to follow him," Crump says. In the Netherlands, there's currently enough gas left to make it to the end of winter, and just like in the European Union, there are plans in the works to reduce the dependency on Russia.
Continuous diplomatic negotiations
In the meantime, Russia and Ukraine keep talking. According to Crump, this indicates that both countries are still interested in a diplomatic way out. On VRT Nieuws (13 March), however, she tells that this way out is a “very complicated balancing act.” “The conflict seems to be in a stalemate on both fronts, both military and diplomatically,” she says. “That's not a coincidence. Both parties hope to gain some more victories on the military front, in order to then use them to force concessions on a diplomatic level.”
But there is still hope. Crump points out that the demands of both Ukraine and Russia have moved somewhat. “The things the Russian president Putin said in the beginning about that big Russian empire he envisioned and his idea on a quick regime change in Ukraine, these are somewhat further away now. On the other hand, the Ukrainian president Zelensky has said that it's also discussable to remove the idea of a potential NATO membership and possibly consider Ukraine as a neutral country with security guarantees.” Putin also no longer insists on replacing the Ukrainian regime, Crump says on EenVandaag (14 March). On top of that, subgroups are working on definitions. “That suggests that there are already certain themes being negotiated somewhat more concretely, that texts are in the works too.” Although it is likely that this is still about a temporary ceasefire and humanitarian corridors.
But the lack of a ceasefire is a less hopeful sign. “If you're really negotiating seriously, there's at least a ceasefire to briefly create the option to reflect and we haven't seen that yet,” Crump says on VTR Nieuws. She also warns that it is possible that Russia uses the negotiations as propaganda. A clue to this is the fact that the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs said in Antalya that he does not have a mandate to talk about humanitarian corridors. On Goedemorgen Nederland (15 March), Crump says on this: “That suggests, first of all, that Putin is still very much in control on that front, and, second, that negotiating is more of a propaganda stunt on the Russians' part. They can say: ‘We're on a peace mission and we're trying to make peace,’ rather than seriously looking for a peace treaty.”
European oil boycott
On Thursday 24 March, the EU leaders talk about a possible fifth package of sanctions in which a ban on the import of Russian oil is up for discussion as well. According to Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, the EU cannot go without Russian gas and oil yet. Laurien Crump tells on Geld of je leven (21 March) that the boycott is a serious point of discussion. "You especially see that the Baltic countries and Poland, which are of course close to the front line of the war in Ukraine as well, are insisting on that very much." Which is the opposite of Germany. "They are half dependent on Russian oil and are really hitting the brakes. That means that in the short run, it's very unlikely that there will be an embargo on Russian oil within the EU, simply because multiple member states are too dependent on it."
Although there are changes taking place towards less dependency on Russian gas and oil in the long run, it does not result in a short-term direct boycott, we saw on RTL Z Nieuws (25 March). Crump said there that that is a sensible choice. Ukraine would be very much helped with a boycott on the one hand, but the European countries also have to consider their own energy needs on the other hand. "And that problems with national security can also come about, with certain branches of industry." But as she also says, "it is true that the NATO countries have said that this conflict will get a very different nature if Putin also starts using chemical and biological weapons." The United States have since announced that more liquid gas will be provided to Europe.
Three summits in Brussels
One day earlier, on 24 March, three high summits took place in Brussels: those of NATO, G7 and the EU. A total of 37 heads of states came to the Belgian capital, including the American President Biden. "Unprecedented measures are actually being taken," Crump says on BNR Radio (24 March). "At the NATO summit today, it will also be decided to double the number of units heading for the eastern flanks, and so Putin actually achieves the opposite of what he had hoped. NATO is more united and with more solidarity than ever."
Crump continues: "What is also discussed, is what to do with those NATO troops." Eventually, it turned out that the world leaders were reserved when it came to focused actions. This is a sensible choice according to Crump, especially because they have shown their hand too much early on, she tells on Dit is de dag (24 March). "Somewhat more uncertainty on that, and also somewhat more uncertainty on weapon deliveries, which both the EU and NATO spoke about quite explicitly every time, would seem a good idea to me too."
Focus on East Ukraine?
On that same day, Russia reported that 'the first part of the peace mission' was a success, and that it would focus on the east of Ukraine. A remarkable twist, which does not fully convince Crump. "The most realistic scenario is that the battles will continue for a while and that the Russians are looking whether or not they can get the upper hand," she told RTL Nieuws (26 March). "They want to at least conquer Mariupol and Kyiv as well." That does not line up with the Russian message. "They probably won't stop before they have the minimum of what they want, in order to have a big trump card at the negotiation table."
In the meantime, the peace negotiations are being continued. Crump notices a sympathetic response from Ukraine to the Russians' course change. "You see that they're saying on the Ukrainian side: 'We are willing to talk about the Donbas.' So at that very crucial point, both parties seem to grow somewhat more towards each other," she says on Goedemorgen Nederland (28 March). The negotiations are held in Turkey, a credible mediator, Crump states, "because [the country] is a member of NATO on the one hand, but doesn't join all sanctions against Russia on the other hand."
At the negotiations in Turkey, various new developments have come about. On Tijd voor Max (28 March), Crump sums them up: "One the one hand, the Ukrainian negotiators now seem to have really put in writing that they are willing to agree to a neutral Ukraine, so it won't join NATO, which is essential to the Russians. On the other hand, the Russians have said they'll cease their military activities in the north of Ukraine."
But it already became clear quickly after these concessions that especially the Russian promises cannot fully be trusted. "Today, you see that near the city Chernihiv in the North of Ukraine, those military activities have actually increased," Crump says. "The Russians are now saying that there was no breakthrough in the negotiations after all yesterday and the Ukrainians start thinking more and more that the Russians are trying to stall for time to still make some more progress in the military field." Unfortunately, this completely fits in the broader picture of the war according to Crump. "It's actually the same pattern over and over again: a step forward, almost an entire step back."
Russian troops do seem to retreat from Kyiv later in the week, but Crump remains sceptic about that, too. "They do seem to pull back their troops now, but that's more to regroup and then deploy them in the Donbas, where they now even want to deploy Russian soldiers from Georgia too," she says on VRT Radio 1 (1 April). So for now, it's primarily about moving troops instead of a real retreat. "It's clear that the Russians are concentrating more and more on the Donbas."
In their retreat from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, the Russians left the bodies of hundreds of murdered civilians behind. An unprecedented massacre. The West responded with the announcing of new sanctions, including an import ban on coal from Russia. Every blow you can deal is one, Cump says to RTL Nieuws (4 April). But “if you no longer want to fill Putin's war chest, you can hit Russia big time with an import ban on oil and gas,” and that is not in the works for now.
Multiple European countries also deported Russian diplomats. A total of 250 diplomats have been deported so far, including 17 from the Netherlands. The reason many countries give is that these are Russian spies and that they want to secure the safety of (politically active) Ukrainian refugees. In the past, Russian agents have killed political enemies, including Georgians in Germany.
On NOS Met Het Oog Op Morgen (6 April), Crump tells that the diplomats deported by the Netherlands were also highly likely to be spies. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Minister Hoeksta were also tipped off by the AIVD that these people have spied, and have also been doing so for longer. According to estimates, it's also true that almost a third of the Russian diplomats also work for the intelligence agencies, so in that regard, not all spies have probably been deported from the country yet. What makes it special now is that this is now also a really concrete concern about security in the Netherlands.”
It looks like a new phase in the war is starting, Crump agrees on EenVandaag (11 April). Putin has set his sights on taking the Donbas as soon as possible, also if there is more violence involved in that. "That's what Putin is preparing his people for, as you can see in the Russian media. That's a completely different message than there was at the beginning of the war. Back then, the message was that the Russian army would simply march into Kyiv." The recent appointment of new soldiers also points to this according to Crump: "A new general has been appointed, who was also active in Syria. Over there, it was his tactic to literally exterminate the people in cities. So we're going to see the horror practices we've seen in Mariupol in the entire Donbas."
The reason for this new phase is the proximity of 9 May, the day on which the victory over Nazi Germany is celebrated in Russia. "Putin is sensitive to dates, that's why he also didn't begin the war until after the Winter Olympics. If he can get the Donbas before 9 May, he definitely would. But he definitely won't retreat if it doesn't succeed before that date," Crump states.
Finland and Sweden want to join NATO
Finland and Sweden are seriously considering applying for NATO membership. The two countries have historically valued their neutrality, but also want to avoid a similar Russian invasion at all costs. "Ukraine currently can't count on being defended by NATO countries, because the country didn't enter NATO. Finland and Sweden want to get ahead of that," Crump says on the NOS (13 April).
But an official announcement is dangerous, because NATO forms the biggest threat to Russia. "The West has to see that Putin is serious about that, justified or not. Possible expansion of NATO is exactly the red line he also began the war in Ukraine over," Crump explains. So NATO membership can provide more protection, but the submission of the applications by Sweden and Finland can also result in more aggression.
Russia responds to the rumours about the Finnish joining of NATO with the promise to militarily reinforce the border with Finland and to let the non nuclear status of the Baltic states expire. "The Russians have to respond, because if Finland joins NATO, the border between Russia and NATO will be 1300 kilometres longer. Russia has to show that this won't remain unanswered," Crump says on De Wereld Vandaag (14 April).
New Russian offensive
With the announcement of a big Russian offensive in the Donbas region, the new phase of the war has officially commenced in the meantime. "[There is] a front of 300 to 400 kilometres, all kinds of weapons are being deployed, 76 battalions with 800-1000 soldiers each are active and bombardments from the sky are expected," Crump tells on RTL Z Nieuws (19 April). "This indicates a fight that can take a while across the entire line in the Donbas."
It is the biggest offensive that we have seen so far in the war in Ukraine, Crump states, and it will result in a bloody battle. So to both parties, victory is still a long way off. "The difference between the Ukrainian and Russian forces is morale; that is lacking in Russia. There are still forces that defect. So the Ukrainians have a head start on that front, but the race is not over at all."
Prior to 9 May, the West was in fear of the speech that Putin would give on this Russian holiday on which the victory in World War II was commemorated. But this fear turned out to be unfounded: a new declaration of war, annexation or threat with nuclear weapons did not happen. "You could say that this speech is an anticlimax, and that it looks as if Putin is considering his options and realises he can't escalate any further," Crump says in VRT Nieuws (9 May). "I think that's not really his preferred strategy, but that he actually can't do much else anymore."
What was expressed in the speech were the concerns about the security of Russia, which Crump believes are justified. "We do say that NATO isn't planning to invade Russia, but it feels different to many Russians and to Putin if that much of your country is next to a military alliance that was founded 'to keep the Russians out'."
Putin also seems to be looking for new support for the invasion with this message. "He doesn't present the Russians as perpetrators, but as victims. It's possible that in that perspective, the speech made a contribution to the Russian support for the offensive in Ukraine", Crump states.
In a few days, the EU will come with a decision on definitive oil sanctions against Russia. On the radio show Spraakmakers (24 May) Crump tells that it is already taking much time before new and especially concrete sanctions from the EU come about. "The United States already declared these sanctions in March. It's of course easier for them because it costs them less, but I think energy sanctions are the only thing that will hit Putin really hard."
Exactly which sanctions are coming is currently still unclear. "It's going to take a while before everything is complete and we will know what these sanctions are going to look like exactly. Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, is also still obstructing, but it's high time for the sanctions to come about," Crump comments. Eventually, Orbán also agreed to an oil boycott. By the end of this year, maritime imports of Russian oil will be suspended almost completely.
Since the start of the Russian attack, the Ukrainian harbours have been closed. That results in big problems, primarily because Ukraine is also called 'the granary of the world'. There currently is about 8 billion euros worth of grain stuck in transit and this leads to a big famine. From various angles, there are pleas for additional sanctions in order to have the grain exported. "This could be the last straw before escalation," Crump says on Dit is de dag (31 May). "On the other hand, you still see them trying to support Ukraine as carefully as possible without crossing a line."
Crump warns of too many Western reasonings when it comes to Putin's decisions. "We've seen in the past three months that a sensible analysis is often lacking, and that he does things that are close to irrational. It's appalling, but millions of people who are starving is of course an enormous leverage to Putin." Crump believes that Russia, Ukraine and NATO will have to do serious concessions if they want to find a diplomatic solution and prevent an armed conflict.
One hundred days of war
On Friday 3 June, it was exactly one hundred days ago that Russia invaded Ukraine. The war has completely changed since then. "I think we're feeling the consequences much more now," says Crump on the podcast De dag (3 June), "like at the gas station and in the super market." The situation in Ukraine has changed as well. "There was at first the real fear that Putin would take Kyiv and that Prime Minister (sic) Zelensky wouldn't survive it. Now, the war seems to be limited to Crimea and the Donbas region after all."
The developments also result in the West changing its position. "The unity of the first days has weakened," Crump tells the NOS (3 June). "The West was very afraid at the time that in Kyiv, a legitimately elected leader would be taken out. That even went too far to the Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán. The stakes have been lowered since then, it's no longer about 'saving a democracy'."
Crump sees that the rhetoric in the West is heating up more and more. She believes the war will last longer because of this: "You're rubbing salt in Putin's wounds and that further reduces possibilities for negotiation."
On the radio show Spraakmakers (9 June), Laurien Crump is a guest to provide input on the statement 'the West should continue to talk with Putin', after the Polish President Duda called to no longer meet with Putin. "All diplomatic channels must be kept open," Crump says. "The West is sending weapons and participating in all kinds of sanctions, but it's Ukrainian civilians and soldiers who are dying over there."
Crump also warns that in the long run, coming to solutions such as an accord will become much more difficult if the talks are already suspended this early and that it is therefore better to still keep as many options open as possible. "I think it's too easy to say we should stop talking now, that would eventually be at the expense of the Ukrainians themselves," Crump says.
Siege of Severodonetsk
The full conquest of the city Severodonetsk in the east of Ukraine seems only a matter of time. The Ukrainian President Zelensky already warned that the battle of this city will demand a big human toll.
On De Wereld Vandaag (15 June), Crump tells about the situation in Severodonetsk. "People can't leave the city anymore, there is a big water shortage and the UN believes it's a matter of time before people will die of hunger and thirst," Crump says. There are talks about a possible human corridor like in Mariupol, but the civilians are stuck so far. On 25 June Ukraine gave up Severodonetsk.
Severodonetsk's symbolic meaning
The city mostly has a big symbolic meaning to the Russians. "If Severodonetsk falls, the Russians actually control the entire Luhansk region. In terms of morale, that will have a big influence on the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers," Crump explains. "This way, the occupation of the entire Donbas is coming one step closer at the time."
Although it remains tricky to make predictions because of Putin's unfathomableness, Crump does not think he will focus again on taking all of Ukraine once the Donbas is under Russian control. "Putin has to declare total war for that while he wants to uphold the idea that this is a liberation operation, no matter how crazy that may sound to us."
Green light for Ukraine as an EU candidate member state
Last week, it was announced that the Netherlands have approved Ukraine as a candidate member state of the EU. On Nieuws en Co (17 June) Crump tells what this new step symbolises. "The Ukrainians feel they are fighting for European peace and security. If the EU had rejected them now, that really would have been a slap in the face to the Ukrainians."
But quite a lot will have to change in Ukraine, if the country wants to officially join the EU. "A country at war can't join the EU anyway," Crump explains. "The war will also probably lead to weakened infrastructure and freedom of the press."
It is not unusual that a country is a candidate member state for decades; for instance, Turkey has already been one since 1999. According to Crump, it is possible that it will also take that long for Ukraine: "I think that after the war, Ukraine will have a longer way to go than it had before the war."
Ukraine and Moldova officially become EU candidate member states
On 23 June, it was announced that both Ukraine and Moldova have officially become candidate member states of the European Union. Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, called it a historic moment. On the French EURadio (24 June), Crump told what this means for the EU.
Crump also expects new challenges for the European Union, which is now expanding eastward. This moves the centre of gravity of the Union to another place. On top of that, the consequences of the war will also make a financial impact. "If Ukraine really becomes a member state in twenty years, they will still be feeling the aftermath of the current war and the EU would have to subsidise them."
Turkey drops opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO
After initial refusal and extensive diplomatic negotiations, Turkey dropped its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO on 28 June, the same day that Severodonetsk fell into Russian hands. All NATO countries must now give their individual consent, and whether the Turkish parliament will also agree is still unclear.
On Spraakmakers (30 June), Crump tells that the joining of NATO is a cause for concern to her. “Especially the new border between NATO and Russia of 1300 kilometres worries me,” Crump says. “This greatly increases the likelihood of border conflicts or matters that accidentally get out of hand or escalate.”
Disappearing of a buffer zone
The joining of Finland and Sweden also means the disappearance of the neutral buffer zone between Russia and NATO, which Crump believes was also pleasant for NATO. This is because the two countries also played a mediating role during the Cold War, which Russia will no longer see as credible in the future because of their joining.
“By joining NATO, Finland and Sweden are saying: ‘We are with the Western alliance that was once founded to keep the Russians out,’” Crump explains. “You're now getting a very black-and-white image in Europe, and what will happen to that grey area you actually need to resolve conflicts peacefully?”
Putin: “Tensions will rise”
In the meantime, Putin warns that Finland and Sweden joining NATO will result in rising tensions between Russia and the Western countries. Crump does not know what exactly he means with that. “He's keeping that a bit vague because, I think, he doesn't know yet either what exactly is going to happen.”
“It will mean that he will station weapons in other places, maybe nukes too, and that he might escalate the offensive in Ukraine to areas that are closer to the West,” Crump thinks. “In any case, Putin will want to sabre-rattle, so NATO won't get any ideas about actually entering into that war with Russia.”
Attack in Crimea
On 9 August, nine Russian military planes were destroyed in a series of explosions in Crimea. It is likely that Ukraine is responsible for the attacks, even though the country has not claimed any responsibility. "It is a painful blow for Putin that the peninsula, which he has considered Russian territory since 2014, is now also attacked," Crump said on the radio programme Langs de Lijn en Omstreken (10 August).
Although this does not put Ukraine on the winning side all of a sudden, it is symbolically significant. "This means that the Ukrainians are no longer just concerned with keeping Ukraine afloat, as it was in the beginning of February, but that they are reclaiming the whole country, including the Crimean peninsula."
It is also quite a sting to the Russian public image. The Russian Defence Minister therefore speaks of an 'incident'. "It may well be that this causes further escalations," says Crump. "It shows that Ukraine has a plan and military equipment, and that the Russians do not have things sorted out. That gives the Ukrainians hope to continue."
Finland is well prepared for a Russian attack
Now that Finland wants to officially join NATO, it must say goodbye to its previously neutral status. "Finland was a neutral country for 70 years," Crump told Nieuwsuur (20 August), "and now it's going to join an alliance that Russia really sees as their biggest enemy."
The country has previously been invaded by Russia, and it is now well prepared for another attack. For example, the country has the largest army in Europe and it is dotted with civilian shelters.
Second Cold War?
The current situation is sometimes referred to as 'the second Cold War', but Crump does not agree with this typification. "I think the current situation is actually less predictable than the Cold War," she warns again, "precisely because the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO leads to far fewer neutral countries."
The world only becomes more black and white, Crump repeats. "The possible grey areas that neutral countries can form are getting smaller and smaller, which also makes the role of mediator in future negotiations more and more complicated."
A new speech
In a new televised address on 21 September, Russian President Putin announced a partial military mobilisation. According to Crump, the Ukrainian army's advance is creating considerable new tension in the Kremlin.
During the speech, Putin also announced 'referendums' in four occupied territories. Remaining citizens would be allowed to vote on annexation by Russia. Putin is legally allowed to deploy only reservists on Russian territory, so if the four territories, according to the Kremlin, will soon belong to Russia, Putin will have all possible means to defend them.
Putin's threat to deploy "all available means" if the West continues to threaten Russian territory should therefore be seen in the context of these upcoming referenda and the new military mobilisation, Crump told NOS (21 September). "We see here a president who is in dire straits," she says. "He will not be satisfied if he comes out of the war with less than he started with."
It also gives him an immediate reason to strike hard. "If there is fighting in areas that the Kremlin will soon regard as Russian, Moscow will see it as infringing on Russia's right to exist," Crump explained.
In the televised speech, Putin also accused the West of "nuclear blackmail". If the territories taken will soon belong to Russia, the nuclear option may well be on the table, Crump believes. "He will not just pull out a nuclear weapon, but also does not want to lose face."
Norway raises state of readiness
On 31 October, Norway increased the army's state of readiness. This comes after seven Russians were arrested for using drones to take images of military equipment, airports and energy infrastructure and at the University of Tromsø, a Russian spy was researching Norwegian security policy in the Arctic north under a false identity. The prime minister therefore spoke of the most alarming security situation in decades.
According to Crump, it is not surprising that Norway is reacting so strongly to this. "Norway considers Russia an unpredictable neighbour", Crump explained in De Morgen (2 November). "At the moment no one can accurately assess what Putin is capable of if he is cornered further. By keeping the army ready, Norway is already preparing for the worst."
NATO membership for Finland only?
Turkey is still thwarting the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland. Until now, the countries have always said they would only join together, but Finland may now go for membership, even if Sweden is not admitted. Remarkable, Laurien Crump thinks. “It’s a real U-turn compared to the past,” she says in De Nieuws BV (26 January 2023). “It is not at all in line with how Finland has behaved so far – Finland and Sweden have been in solidarity the whole time.”
The turn might get Finland NATO membership sooner, Crump thinks. “It would just be premature, because there are elections in Turkey in May, so Erdogan wants to make a fist now.”
With its stance, Finland allows Erdogan too much influence, Crump says. “By mentioning this possibility, the Finns are also giving Erdogan space to pit Sweden and Finland against each other and veto Sweden’s NATO membership while allowing Finland to join.” In early February, Finland backtracked on its statements.
Zelensky successfully toured Western countries
Earlier, Europe anxiously tried to keep the balance between supporting Ukraine and not provoking Russia. But, Laurien Crump tells BNR Nieuwsradio (9 February 2023), “since the shift from defence to offense these weeks, this balance has tipped over to the other side.” She points out the debatability of supplying heavier equipment such as fighter jets. The new reality was also noticeable during Zelensky's visit to the European Parliament.
“Ukraine will become a member of the European Union,” Zelensky addressed the European Parliament. He was welcomed with open arms and his speech resonated, Crump observed. From the president of the parliament, he was handed the European flag, while the European anthem was played. “And that may seem like symbolism, but it also says something about how receptive people are to his rhetoric.”
While it is not at all a fact that the war is about all of Europe, there is a growing perception that Ukraine is on the front line of a battle for the peace and freedom of the West, Crump says. “And the fact that we are already experiencing that, that’s where Zelensky has already made an awful lot of gains. Because it means we will think: we are also involved in this war, so we have to start to supply more and that is exactly the goal Zelensky is trying to achieve.”
China peace proposal
China announced it was working on proposals for peace negotiations. “We should not expect too much,” Crump tells BNR Nieuwsradio (20 February 2023). Although China is the only country she believes can exert any influence on Russia, she expects the Chinese proposals to get little beyond platitudes and “a few general statements”.
Crump thinks China is putting forward a plan to create an image of peacemaker. At the same time, the country wants to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States. "They did talk to Europe," Crump explains, "but did not share that with the US."
Officially, China is not taking sides, but indirectly it appears to be doing so. If the peace proposal fails, Crump expects the country to explicitly support Russia to force a breakthrough. “What China does not want is for Ukraine to win with Western weapons and for it to be framed as a US victory over Putin. That is to China’s disadvantage.”
Putin’s new ‘State of the Union’
On 21 February 2023, Putin gave another speech. A year ago, he declared independence for Donetsk and Lugansk, self-proclaimed people’s republics that lie partly on Ukrainian territory, so expectations were tense. Would Putin now declare war on Ukraine completely?,
Putin did denounce the New START treaty with the United States, which limits the possession of nuclear weapons, but otherwise seemed to focus mainly on the Russian people. “He is replaying a record we have often heard,” Crump tells The Correspondent (24 February 2023). “A story about Nazis. The West gone to war. Ukraine he explicitly calls ‘a battering ram of the West’. A story about Western decadence and homosexuals marrying each other. Nothing new.”
Analysis: one year of war in Ukraine, is there an end in sight?
24 February 2023 marked one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. “Russia has a completely nihilistic president,” Laurien Crump says, “who will endlessly send his own people to the front as cannon fodder.” On the Western side, however, she sees no exit strategy either. “Western government leaders, such as Joe Biden, but also Mark Rutte, explicitly proclaim their support of Zelensky and Ukraine, and Zelensky gets to decide when it ends. That end could be bitter.”
“The longer the war continues and the higher the stakes, the more dangerous, including for us,” Crump warns. “Moreover, it plays directly into Putin’s hands: for a despot, there is nothing better to keep his citizens in line than a common enemy. The more offensive the West is towards Russia, the easier it is for Putin to paint a public image of the West as the aggressor and the more he can pressurize the home front.”
Crump does see a parallel with the war in Afghanistan (1979-1989). A worrying prospect for the future, she thinks. “The Russians were in Afghanistan for ten years and today the Taliban is still fighting with the weapons the Americans supplied to the Afghan Mujahedeen in the 1980s. I think that’s a terrifying prospect in every way, including for Ukraine.”
“It is necessary to bring both sides to the table. This will require extremely painful compromises. On one hand, security guarantees must be offered to Ukraine, but no NATO membership. On the other, there has to be a compromise on the status of the Donbas and Crimea that Putin can sell within Russia as a victory. If he cannot, he will not agree.”