Making amends: emotions and the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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The Western response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was unprecedented. But what explains this response? In this article we argue that the answer lies in the emotions of guilt and shame for past actions and mistakes in the West’s dealings with Russia and Ukraine. Informed by a qualitative discourse analysis of key speeches, statements, and interviews with leading Western policymakers (past and present), we regard –these two emotions, expressed as apologies and the acknowledgment of mistakes– as important drivers of policy.

This article contributes to the bourgeoning literature on emotions in world politics. In addition to offering a coherent explanation of the West’s unprecedented response our argument has policy implications. While the admission of wrongdoing is laudable, it can lead to actors overcompensating, resulting in further mistakes and policy-failures. Fast-tracking Ukraine into the EU would be one such error.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1149–1169
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2024


  • Ukraine
  • Nato
  • Emotions
  • Guilt
  • Shame


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