Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Author: Alex Petriashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
In the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, one of the most relevant topics for discussion today is the consolidation of partners on the issue of international support; in particular, military and financial assistance. Undoubtedly, if it were not for the valiant struggle of the Ukrainians, the situation in Kiev and throughout Ukraine would be completely different, and Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the South Caucasus and Central Asia, would be facing a completely different threat. However, even the dedicated and heroic Ukrainians could not have achieved the results they have so far without international assistance. Our blog will explore the importance of that international support.
For more than 600 days, Ukraine has been fighting against Russia’s full-scale aggression. Casualties are high in both the military and among the civilian population. Yet, the Ukrainians, despite great resistance and difficulties, are regaining their territories. In late summer and early fall of last year, the Ukrainians ran a highly successful blitzkrieg. The liberation of significant parts of the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, including the city of Kherson, awoke the feeling that a turning point had been reached, or would soon occur, in the war with Russia. However, shortly afterwards, Bakhmut was lost and heavy fighting followed, and from January 2023, attention turned to intense talk about the importance of the summer counteroffensive, and the possibility of repeating last year’s blitzkrieg. As Ukraine prepared for this attack, Russia wasted no time or measures securing its control over the occupied territories. While Ukraine waited on the delivery of vital military equipment, Russia was setting minefields throughout the occupied territories, using all the explosive devices at its disposal (an estimated 5-7 mines per square meter). They also had time to fully organize three defense lines before the German Marders and Leopards appeared in Ukraine’s arsenal.
Ukraine, unlike Russia, though, does not send its fighters or equipment directly into the minefield to achieve its goals; while it acknowledges that it is impossible to succeed in an attack without casualties, it refuses to do so through the approach the Soviet Union employed during the Second World War, a tactic Russia does not shy away from even today. Here, we must not forget that when there is not at least equilibrium in the air in terms of the number and categories of aircraft, from the perspective of, for example, an experienced high-ranking American officer, it is unthinkable to even discuss attacking. Ukraine began its attack, though, and it quickly became clear that it would be very difficult to get through the minefields, break through the Surovykin line, and collapse the front line again. Nevertheless, Ukraine continues to advance, slowly but steadily. Much depends on the climate conditions. If the weather allows, Ukraine will have at least 1 and at most 1.5 months to continue its full-scale attack. The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, General Budanov, noted that the attack will slow, but will continue through the winter.
Meanwhile, the American Abrams 1 type tanks have finally arrived in Ukraine. They hadn’t even been deployed in combat when reports surfaced of the delivery of an additional 30 Abrams Type 1 tanks. The long-range ATACMS missiles delivered by the US to Ukraine have proved to be very effective, and similar British and French missiles are already successfully destroying Russian military infrastructure, command posts, weaponry, and manpower.
The final decision on the transfer of German Taurus missiles to Ukraine is still pending, but there is an expectation that after the transfer of ATACMS, just as it was in the case of the Leopards and Abrams tanks, the German Chancellor will give the green light.
The time for the American F-16 planes to appear in the Ukrainian sky is not far off. Several countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, have already announced that they will transfer these planes to Ukraine, Ukrainian pilots are actively being trained, and it is expected that Ukraine will be ready earlier than planned, in early 2024, before spring, to engage in combat using the American aircrafts.
In addition to aviation and heavy equipment, naturally, the continuous supply of artillery and shells is extremely important. In this respect, the situation has indeed improved. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who arrived in Kiev on an unannounced visit, declared that the alliance had signed contracts for the purchase of shells worth 2.4 billion dollars. The Secretary General also emphasized that there will be help coming from the member states of the alliance in terms of providing additional air defense systems. Following the experience of last winter, when Russia continuously bombed energy infrastructure to leave civilians without heating and electricity, the provision of additional air defense capabilities is one of Ukraine’s top priorities.
As the visit of the Secretary General of NATO unfolded, the ministers of defense of Great Britain and France arrived in Kiev, also without prior announcement. Within the same days, the “Kiev Defense Industry Forum” was held in Kiev, accommodating about 250 foreign companies, and it was confirmed that German, British, French, and American military industry giants (among them Germany’s Rheinmetall) will in the near future begin joint production with Ukrainians of heavy equipment, air defense weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles.
The words spoken by the NATO Secretary General in Kiev on the unwavering will to continue aid to Ukraine, the inevitability of Ukraine’s accession to NATO, and the signing of a truce on Russia’s terms, along with all the aforementioned, really do not give grounds for saying that international aid will slow down or stop altogether. In general, vocal debates, discussions, and statements regarding the continuation of support are caused by several circumstances: 1) the situation on the front line, i.e., the slow progress of the Ukrainian armed forces 2) the current political situation in the world, and 3) Russia’s conducting of a hybrid warfare.
We have already explored the situation on the front line, and we think it is necessary to share these assessments with you: “Shame on those who are 8,000 kilometers away from the front line and criticize the Ukrainians’ pace of progress,” tweeted American retired General Ben Hodges. “Ukrainians have made serious progress in the fight,” NATO Secretary General said in Kiev. Other statements and assessments are abundant, and as such, we can say that the wave of dissatisfaction, baseless complaints, and hopelessness has been temporarily neutralized.
In the United States of America, which has allocated 113 billion dollars in aid to Ukraine so far, the issue of dispatching an additional 24 billion dollars has greatly aggravated the political conflict between the Democrats and Republicans. Naturally, political forces and their leaders are already preparing for next year’s elections and, therefore, the issue of accountability to taxpayers, that is, their potential voters, and, accordingly, the issue of incurring new costs, is one of the main topics in American domestic politics today. Perhaps few will connect it directly, but in my opinion, the list of reforms to be carried out in Ukraine as soon as possible, voiced by the US president and then officially handed over by the ambassador to the Prime Minister of Ukraine, is part of these domestic political intricacies. Among the issues on the list of demands are strengthening anti-corruption in the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office, increasing the efficiency of the law enforcement and judicial authorities, and regulating the prices of energy carriers. The American partners understand no less than the Ukrainian authorities that the implementation of such requirements would not be easy in conditions of war; however, it seems that this was a necessary step to take to appease the American voters.
In the United States, the domestic political situation has become so tense that Congress, where the Republicans have a slight advantage, approved 45 days of government funding only after the aid to Ukraine was removed from the draft budget. However, the issues remain unsolved, and in fact worsened. As a result, the Republican Speaker of US Congress, Kevin McCarthy, was unable to retain his position. The main complaint of the “rebellious” ultra-right Republicans against him was that McCarthy had entered into a secret agreement with the Biden administration on aid to Ukraine. In view of this, President Biden held a telephone conversation with the leaders of the G7 member states and the leaders of the Bucharest 9 – Poland and Romania, as well as the heads of NATO, the European Union and the European Commission. During the conversation, he confirmed the unwavering support of the US to Ukraine. Shortly after, the US indeed announced a new package of military aid.
The European Union also plans to allocate an additional 50 billion euros, having already allocated 88 billion euros to Ukraine in terms of military, financial, and humanitarian aid since the beginning of the full-scale aggression. Even within the EU, there are heated debates and, in some cases, obstacles, for example, from Hungary. In addition, the individual Central European countries and politicians have their own domestic political agendas, goals and interests, which affect the issue of aid to Ukraine, but it is likely that in the near future the existing differences will be resolved and the aid will continue to flow.
The good news is that communities in both the United States and Europe are still actively supporting the allocation of aid to Ukraine. In the US, support is still solid: 50% of the respondents think that the US should continue, and even increase, aid to Ukraine, while, according to the European Commission’s statement, in Europe, 65% support the continuation of financial and economic aid to Ukraine, 57% support military aid, and 67% support Ukraine’s integration into the European Union.
Despite the propaganda war being waged by Russia, the collective West is ready to continue supporting Ukraine. Obviously, the tangible victories on the front line, which we must assume that Ukraine will have after receiving additional arms, will further increase the international support that is so important to defeat Putin’s regime in Ukraine.