by Lucas Webber
Thursday, 19
January 2023
Analysis
07:30

Can the West keep arming Ukraine?

As the conflict escalates, Zelenskyy's allies face a dilemma
by Lucas Webber
Ukrainian servicemen on a T-80 tank in eastern Ukraine. Credit: Getty.

Over the last two weeks, Western joy over Ukraine’s military victories in Kharkov and Kherson has started to dissipate. Russia has since managed to stabilise its defensive lines and is once again on the front foot in the Donbas. It has been a wake-up call for Western policymakers, who are actively trying to replenish Ukrainian equipment losses, train additional forces, and even introduce new weapons systems into the arena. This marks a significant escalation in the conflict, even though few seem to have realised.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently described the current period as “a decisive phase of the war” and has encouraged supporting nations to “provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to win — and to continue as an independent nation.” These comments followed British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, making it the first country to give assets from this class of heavy warfare equipment. This is in spite of the fears of General Sir Patrick Sanders, who suggested that parting with the Challenger 2s will leave the UK “temporarily weaker”.


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European leaders, for the most part, have been following Sunak’s cue. At Davos, Ursula von der Leyen, Sanna Marin, and Andrzej Duda were among those who doubled down on the necessity of a Ukrainian victory and a decisive Russian defeat. Olaf Scholz agreed with the sentiment during his own special address, but in practice the German Chancellor has been noticeably more reticent. According to Duda, Poland’s plan to send Germany’s much-coveted Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was a “very, very, very, very needed decision,” but so far Scholz has resisted due to fears that it would make Germany a party to war. When asked directly on Wednesday whether he would supply the tanks, Scholz was again non-committal (despite pressure from his Green party coalition partner).

Meanwhile, the United States had earlier announced the provision of an advanced Patriot defence missile system, as well as a new $3 billion aid package comprised of 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a diverse range of weaponry. This brings the total security assistance since the war began to $24.2 billion.

The hope is — as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley expressed in his first in-person meeting with Ukraine’s military chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi — to assure Kyiv of the US’s abiding support. But it also amounts to a huge escalation in Western involvement in the conflict — and one that might encourage Putin to take more radical action.

Russian forces have been advancing across Ukraine and, in taking Soledar, have pulled off their first significant breakthrough in months. Their string of local advances are now taking place in the parts of the front spanning from Zaporizhzhia Oblast in the south to Avdiivka, Klishchiivka, up to Bakhmut and Siversk further north. 

In the context of a widely anticipated Russian offensive, there is no end in sight for this conflict. The brutal war of attrition is about to escalate.

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Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
18 days ago

When I was young, there were elderly Ukrainian immigrants nearby who – 40 years after the event – hadn’t forgiven us for the Yalta agreement. Despite Europe certainly being in no position to confront Stalin.
Now WSJ reporting: “Germany won’t allow allies to export German-made tanks to Ukraine unless the U.S. agrees to send its own battle tanks, senior German officials said”
I trust whoever operates Biden isn’t assuming Europe will want to take over the heavy lifting. A child could tell you that Scholz and Macron are not keen. Because the US have previous in starting these things and running out of steam/money/political will.
I admit I was surprised that Putin actually invaded and also that the incursion went as far as it did. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, I fear he is now biding his time and as support dwindles he will take what he was after in the first place. And another generation of Ukrainians will learn not to trust Western politicians.

Jeff Watkins
Jeff Watkins
17 days ago

It is clear from all the independent media (non MSM) that Russia has already won this war and the Russians are currently building up a massive army ( over 600,000) for the final onslaught this winter. The Ukrainian infrastructure and economy is already destroyed and will take an estimated trillion dollars to put right, at least 7 million people have left the country and become refugees, At least 100,000 Ukrainian toops have been killed. It is madness prolonging this pointless war and four challenger tanks will not make a jot of difference.

Peter B
Peter B
17 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Watkins

Pitiful. Should I send this in for the “desperate marketing” column at Private Eye ?

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
17 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Watkins

Sorry, at the moment Russian advances seem minimal and stalled. Yes, they have rained huge destruction of Ukraine infrastructure but the people fight on. The losses on both sides are quite sad and are about equal. But the Russian troops have lower morale than the Ukrainian troops. Whether Russia can resupply its army remains to be seen and ,logistics rule all wars. The rate of Ukraine destruction has slowed recently. The west meanwhile is in the process of a huge production effort to supply Ukraine.

Peter Mott
Peter Mott
18 days ago

“The brutal war of attrition is about to escalate”. Wars of attrition do not escalate, they grind on.

D Walsh
D Walsh
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter Mott

Well it does look like the Russians are building up for something big, they have a large army in Belarus and more units are on the way to the Donbas

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
17 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Have we not learned that a “large” army if not properly trained, motivated, resourced with appropriate weapons, and well supplied, is a liability and not an asset.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter Mott

And that’s the point. Lots of money to be made. O, War of state, grind on!

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
17 days ago

Ukraine lost its original, well-equipped and NATO-trained army by about June 2022. NATO then scraped together all the used Soviet-era kit it could find and supplied Ukraine with a second army, less high quality than its original army, but at least with equipment its soldiers was trained on, for which it had spare parts and maintenance skills, and which integrated into its fighting doctrine. Now that, too, is gone, and Zaluzhny has said he needs a third one.
One wonders what happened to all those Russian tanks Ukraine captured in the first months of the war, where we were assured that Ukraine in consequence had more tanks than it started out with.
Now NATO are trying to cobble together this third army, with pathetic numbers of individually reasonably competent equipment, but taken together a rag-bag of different technologies, different ammunition needs, on which the Ukrainian soldiers are not trained, for which Ukraine has no spare parts or maintenance skills, and which do not fit together to a coherent fighting doctrine.
It’s a good thing Ukraine is winning and Russia ran out of missiles in March 2022

Kat L
Kat L
16 days ago

I’ve read that our debt here in the USA now exceeds our GDP. We’re broke. This is turning into Biden’s Vietnam.

Andy E
Andy E
17 days ago

The simple fact that the Red Army will be fighting German tanks on fields of Ukraine (again!) will surely add a lot of extra popularity to Mr. Putin and his hawks.
What we don’t hear is that the crews will be also sent with the tanks — it would take long months to teach new people how to operate that sophisticated machinery.
This clearly makes German a part of the war with Russia and it never ends well for Berlin.

Last edited 17 days ago by Andy E
Peter B
Peter B
17 days ago
Reply to  Andy E

Where on earth do you get such nonsense from ? Germany won’t be sending tank crews.
Have some self respect and don’t post such obvious lies.

Andy E
Andy E
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

I assure you a modern tank is a bit more serious thing than your Volkswagen. It requires months of intense training. If it was foreseen and the crews were being trained — that’s different matter. But I doubt it.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
17 days ago
Reply to  Andy E

Well the US Army trains crew on the even more sophisticated Abrams in 3/4 weeks. Sure, they carry on training on exercises all the time honing tactics and developing doctrine and integrating with infantry and air support. But driving and gunnery less than a month from scratch. Motivated people wanting to get at the Russians and with urgency added – much less. And the Ukrainians already have tactics and doctrine honed in an actual war.

Andy E
Andy E
17 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

> Abrams in 3/4 weeks
Absolutely not. 3-4 weeks is for training if the crew is taking over a next modification. From scratch it is months. From old Soviet garbage like T65 it might be less, but still — the machine is completely different, the fire control is totally different, the safety procedures, you name it. But yes, motivation works, that’s true, I agree with you. I really hope Germany has a bit of sanity and stay away. We’ll see. But if Russians discover crews in these tanks and the crews are Germans, we all toast.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
17 days ago

So the American aid represents “a huge escalation in Western involvement in the conflict — and one that might encourage Putin to take more radical action.”
Like what?

j watson
j watson
18 days ago

We must. The West is on trial here and can’t fail the test.
Now perhaps we also tend to think too much about the repercussions for Europe and Ukraine. China is closely watching this, perturbed that the West has rallied and held together. It didn’t expect that. It is thus one of the best deterrents too to Chinese aggression, unless we fold. The Americans will be be v aware of this ripple and it will an additional reason they’ll stay the course if Europe does too.

Last edited 18 days ago by j watson
martin logan
martin logan
18 days ago

Given the alternative, the answer from anyone but a lemming has to be “yes.”

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
17 days ago

The Russian army in Ukraine is in the same position now as the Tsar’s Russian army was in World War I, close to collapse. They have huge supply chain issues. Russia is buying ammunition from North Korea, not known for producing high quality ammunition, because Russia has used up most of their own usable stockpiles. Russia is buying drones and missiles from Iran, because they’ve used most of their own, and sanctions prevent them from getting the electronics they need to make more. Russian artillery fire overall has declined over 60% due to a shell shortage. They concentrate it on narrow fronts, like Bakhmut, where they use World War I style infantry attacks after artillery barrages, with high Russian casualties, to try to break through. They’re short of tanks, and prefer to take massive infantry casualties instead.

Russia’s recent conquest of Soledar has no strategic significance. Ukrainian artillery is pounding the town now.

Putin can’t depend on the loyalty of mobilized mobiks, so he can’t allow them to be armed and trained adequately, even if he had the means to do so. (Please remember the Tsar was overthrown by draftees.) Most mobiks are well over 30 and out of physical shape. Typical mobik training is 20-60 rounds fired through a very old AK-47, and that’s all. After a week of such “training,” mobiks are sent to the front, often without officers. They are placed in front line trenches to draw Ukrainian artillery fire, facilitating Russian counter battery fire. Mobiks generally have minimal equipment, no tents, sleeping bags or bullet proof armor, and at best minimal rations of food.

Casualties and equipment losses in Russias professional army have been high. Russia invaded with 160,000-180,000 of their most elite soldiers. At least 80,000-90,000 are dead or seriously wounded. Ukrainian estimates of Russian casualties are double that. Also, proportional amounts of their equipment have been destroyed or captured by Ukraine. The trained soldiers are irreplaceable.

You might think equipment can be replaced from reserve stocks. However, old Soviet tanks are stored in open fields subject to Russian winter weather. After 30-50 years, they need a lot of maintenance, almost complete reassembly to replace engine seals and hoses, to work. Further, many of their valuable parts have been stolen and sold. In an unrelated example of theft, 1.5 million uniforms vanished from their warehouse in Russia. They were either stolen, or paid for, but never made.

Russia isn’t the USSR. Putin ain’t Stalin or even close. Quite a number of oil oligarchs have fallen from windows or boats, or died in other mysterious circumstances. The Russian Army’s command structure since the start of the invasion has changed every 3 months. The FSB (formerly KGB) has had a couple of shake ups. Putin looks ill and is rumored to have cancer. There seems to be discontent inside the oligarchy with Putin’s decisions. At some point, military power inside Russia will become more important than military power in Ukraine. I think Putin will be replaced if he continues to lose, or if he orders a nuclear attack.

In short, I think this article has vastly over estimated Russian resources.

Andy E
Andy E
17 days ago

No worries, but just a few simple not so convenient facts. A big chunk of Ukraine is occupied by Russians and they are currently gaining momentum. Not vice versa. Electrical grid is severely damaged. Seven million refugees – poor Ukrainians, not Russians. And there still some delusional thinking Ukraine is winning? Okay, we’ll see.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
17 days ago
Reply to  Andy E

Yes, we’ll see. If things were as bad as Mr. Proudfoot suggests, Ukraine should have taken over all of Russia by now.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
17 days ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Russia need not fear the west attacking them given their nuclear arsenal. On their homeland one might expect a much tougher fight. Ukraine simply wants Russia with all it’s superior resources out. The west is supplying just enough to get that done but not enough to do it quickly.

M F
M F
18 days ago

The west must stay the course here. This is simply test of whether tyrants and autocrats such Mr Putin can use military aggression and bullying towards functioning democracies to get their way or not, and, if so, we’ll be seeing much more of this in future. Whilst years of appeasement and suspending belief towards Mr Putin by many in the West undoubtedly encouraged him in his decision to invade Ukraine, doing the wrong thing in the past is no reason not to do the right thing now.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
17 days ago
Reply to  M F

“The west must stay the course here. This is simply test of whether tyrants…”
To quote Mr Johnson about Vietnam

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
17 days ago

You do know that the US never really tried, right? Most of the North’s infrastructure was spared during that conflict.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
17 days ago

If the West does not continue to support Ukraine the long-term outlook for the survival of democratic free nations is grim indeed.
It is bad enough that we are destroying our civilisations from within – though that hopefully will soon pass, but to abandon our free friends and allies would be the height of folly.

Iris C
Iris C
17 days ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Zelensky’s political party won the democratic election that brought him to power but I don’t think you can compare Ukraine which was (and is?) notoriously corrupt with its democratic neighbours in the rest of Europe..

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
17 days ago
Reply to  Iris C

But it’s heading the right way (and much more so than Russia). And helping it to see that the West is a good example can only help. Or should we just throw them to their invaders?

james boo
james boo
18 days ago

The US has over 10,000 armored vehicles in storage. The question isn’t can the West continue to arm Ukraine but why isn’t Biden doing it.

Peter B
Peter B
18 days ago
Reply to  james boo

Correct. The US have only armed Ukraine sufficiently to survive and avoid triggering Russian escalation. They have a lot more in reserve. Both more advanced weapons and quantity. The Russians don’t – they have quantity only – but they’ve burnt through much of their quality (trained officers, troops and equipment) and will struggle to replace them. They’re like a one club golfer – they’ll keep hammering away until they can’t any longer.
Enough of these losers desperately hoping that Ukraine will lose.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Maybe we are suspicious that the US wants another war to again profit at our expense

B Emery
B Emery
18 days ago
Reply to  james boo

I have to hand it to the Germans, us trying to pressure them into sending tanks – they turned around and said fine, but you send tanks first then we’ll talk. Why isn’t the us sending its own tanks? All we hear about is the mighty American army. The trillions of dollars spent on defence. Its about time they put their money where their mouth is.

Peter B
Peter B
18 days ago
Reply to  B Emery

I think there are good reasons here. The US Abrams is apparently very complex and uses a lot of fuel (gas turbine engines) and requires a huge amount of field support. So German Leopard IIs would be far easier to support in the field.
Apart from that, the US have given the most equipment and support to Ukraine. It isn’t the Americans (nor the British) who aren’t pulling their weight here. Frankly, the Germans and French have been a disgrace. But probably no great surprise.

B Emery
B Emery
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Well tbh the Germans have taken a massive hit to their industry, much heavier than the Americans. In fact America has done rather well off lng. America is the one giving it all the free world rhetoric, their tanks sound unreliable then if they are that complicated and require that much fuel and field support. It’s not really the Germans problem surely if the us tank design is crap. They are reluctant to get pulled into sending that kind of equipment. I don’t blame them. Every American war has been a money pit. This one has already eaten billions. I say send American kit. At least they should match what they are asking others to send. Or compromise and send some along side Germany. The US is massive it makes sense its sent more.

Last edited 18 days ago by B Emery
Peter B
Peter B
17 days ago
Reply to  B Emery

You’re misunderstanding the US tanks.
They are designed to be very high tech and require more support. That’s the way a lot of US military kit is designed. But it means that you can’t just give it to anyone and expect them to get the same results. Much the same as an F1 racing car needs a large support team, but has exceptional perfomance for its specialised tasks. But a Land Rover can go anywhere and can be repaired in the field.
The US has the backup and logistics to support Abrams tanks. The Ukrainian army probably doesn’t.
If you’ve been paying attention. Ukraine is asking for Leopard IIs (German) and not the US Abrams. This is why.
Again, you are not paying attention to the facts if you insist on stating that that US are somehow the “lightweights” in supporting Ukraine and they are somehow not keeping up with the Germans on this. Alternative facts certainly. But incorrect.

B Emery
B Emery
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

OK I get you on those type of tanks being easier to maintain in the field. Right fair enough. But I can’t believe in the whole of the American armies enormous weapons depots there aren’t some kind of armoured vehicles close to a tank, they could send. That the Ukrainians could use. Seriously. We trained them on uk kit so that wasn’t a problem for us.
Just to be clear, I think we have no choice but to help them. But the original comment was why isn’t biden sending more. I concur. Why isn’t he.

Last edited 17 days ago by B Emery
Peter B
Peter B
17 days ago
Reply to  B Emery

They’ve just sent a load of Bradley armoured fighting vehicles. Something at least, but not tanks.
Apologies for being rather terse.

B Emery
B Emery
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

No worries, terse is fine I like a good terse comment battle 🙂 better to get to the point.
Fair enough, I like to have a good dig at the us tbh, I understand why it’s easier to send German ones I think that’s a fair point. I do think it’s about time the us pulled their socks up though. There’s a lot of words from across the Atlantic expecting quite a lot at the moment.

j watson
j watson
17 days ago
Reply to  B Emery

The Germans don’t even need to send their own Leopards IIs. They just need to suspend their export licences and allow Spain, Finland, Sweden et al to send theirs. They are all keen to do so, and I understand they’ll ignore the licence issue if it comes to it and send anyway. Some of this is why Lambrecht has been replaced as German Defence Minister. I also understand the Leopards can be transported quicker and less time to train up Ukrainian soldiers on these than the US Tanks.
Ukrainians currently being trained on Patriot missile defence system in US and once deployed that’ll make big difference too.

B Emery
B Emery
17 days ago
Reply to  j watson

All very fair points. Let’s hope they get it sorted, maybe the Germans applying a bit of pressure will get the us to send some kind of additional armoured vehicles too.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
18 days ago

In answer, Yes!