Ukraine victories put renewed focus on Europe’s waning military aid – POLITICO

Ukraine’s rapid advances on the battlefield are forcing European governments to once again ask themselves an awkward question: will they dramatically increase arms shipments?

It’s a hot topic in many European capitals, where the energy crisis and cost of living woes have dominated public attention in recent weeks, prompting warnings of war fatigue. But Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russia in recent days has changed the narrative – at least for now – giving a new opening to those who want European governments to step up their arms deliveries.

The first of these is the Ukrainian government itself.

“We are turning the tide and need more heavy weapons and ammunition from our allies to keep up the momentum, save more people and liberate more Ukrainian territory faster,” Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said on Monday. Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba to POLITICO in a statement.

“The more military support we get now, the sooner this war will end,” he added. “That’s why Ukraine calls on its partners to focus on timing: a quick supply of what the Ukrainian army needs will bring victory and peace closer.”

It was a sentiment echoed by those who found their calls for more immediate European military assistance falling increasingly on deaf ears as Kyiv partners focused on training Ukrainian soldiers and increased arms production.

The trend will of course not change overnight. The Ukrainian push does not necessarily indicate a permanent change in the war. And, logistically, many European governments lack consumable supplies. Other countries, including France and Germany, also appear reluctant to dramatically increase donations, even though military experts say it is possible.

Still, that hasn’t stopped proponents of increased support from jumping at the chance to resurrect their rhetoric.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces made a remarkably rapid advance over the weekend,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in an email.

“With our unwavering military support, they can make a difference on the battlefield,” she added. “It encourages me to step up the game even more.”

“An energizing ray of light”

Kuleba presented Kyiv’s demand as his forces pushed northeast across the Russian line over the weekend, retaking key supply centers in the Donbass region. It was a winning streak, Kuleba argued, that shows the impact of Western donations.

“Ukraine’s advances to the east and south prove that all the investments our Western partners have made in our defense capabilities are yielding astonishing results,” he said.

“There should be no doubt now,” Kuleba added, “that Ukraine can win and Russia can be defeated on the battlefield.”

Dutchman Ollongren argued that it was necessary “to speed up cooperation and maximize concrete deliveries, ammunition, training and maintenance in particular”.

The United States is ultimately the largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine. He continued to approve further arms deliveries, announcing last week a new $675 million worth of weapons, as well as a broader military funding package of $2.2 billion for Kyiv and 18 regional partners.

Still, recent progress by Ukraine’s military has raised hopes that Kyiv’s performance will spur efforts to convince European capitals to do more.

“I am certain,” said a senior diplomat from an eastern NATO country, “that the recent Ukrainian successes will irreversibly consolidate the resolve of those who support Ukraine.”

“There is an invigorating ray of light,” the diplomat said, “which should normally translate into more solidarity and support for Ukraine.”

Germany and France stay the course

Initial reactions in Berlin and Paris were more wary, however.

Even as the Ukrainian counteroffensive was underway late last week, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht ruled out an increase in arms deliveries to Kyiv.

“Our values, democracy, freedom and security are upheld in Ukraine,” she told POLITICO in an interview.

But, Lambrecht pointed out, German stocks are depleted – the result of years of underinvestment. Berlin must hold back its weapons to secure its own defense capabilities until it can rebuild its forces via a recent €100 billion investment fund.

“I would love to be able to give Ukraine a lot more,” Lambrecht said. “If the Bundeswehr had not been so fragmented in previous years, it would have been possible. But now it is the consequence of this irresponsible economy.

Lambrecht’s arguments did not prevent German Chancellor Olaf Scholz from facing renewed pressure to step up military assistance to Ukraine. International allies, political opponents and even some within his own government are all counting on him to act.

“Everyone in government knows that even more would be possible,” said Omid Nouripour, co-leader of the German Greens. Told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. The Greens are part of a three-party coalition government with Scholz’s Social Democrats and the Liberal Democratic Party.

Nouripour specifically called on Scholz to send Germany’s own modern tanks to Ukraine – which he avoided, opting instead to give replacement tanks to NATO allies if they donated era models. Soviet to Ukraine.

“My expectations are even higher for Germany,” said Amy Gutmann, US Ambassador to Germany. Told German public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday evening, without going into details.

Scholz on Monday defended his government’s approach, saying arms deliveries from Berlin directly contributed to the counteroffensive.

“The weapons that we have delivered”, he said at a press conference in Berlin, “in fact contribute to the fact that it is now possible in the battle of the East to change the outcome of the way that we currently see”.

The pressure felt in Germany has so far spared French President Emmanuel Macron. Public debate has focused elsewhere despite international rankings showing France lagging behind the UK, Germany, Poland, Estonia and Denmark in military support for Ukraine.

During a briefing with reporters on Monday, Macron said he was satisfied with the comments he had gotten from Ukrainians on arms deliveries and argued that France should not descend into a ranking battle with other other countries.

He argued that France should strive to avoid escalation, echoing a recent speech in which Macron encouraged France to project itself as “a balancing power” and “not to align itself with more warmongering policies”. [countries]which would risk prolonging the conflict and closing the lines of communication.

However, in a phone call on Saturday, Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed “Ukrainian needs that France could meet”, according to a French reading. No new deliveries have yet been announced.

Some experts say France could do more to support Ukraine at what could be a crucial time in the conflict.

“We need to speed up arms deliveries, more tanks, more air defense systems – even if that means letting our stocks fall very low,” said Nicolas Tenzer, an expert on Franco-Russian relations at Sciences Po.

According to Tenzer, France’s arms stocks have suffered in recent years due to budget cuts. But the country could still donate game-changing tanks and fighter jets “if the Allied limitation on such weapons were lifted.”

NATO sends subtle signals

As Ukraine’s counteroffensive began last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was playing his own part, relying on his allies.

Speaking alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, Stoltenberg said he had two messages for NATO members.

The first: “We welcome the unprecedented support, we call for even more support, and we urge them to dig deeper into the inventories.” The second, he added, “is of course to produce more”.

The secretary general’s remarks were interpreted in Berlin as a discreet criticism.

Stoltenberg’s comments “send a clear message to Lambrecht and Scholz,” said center-right German lawmaker Roderich Kiesewetter, “that their argument about having to withhold weapons for Germany’s defense capabilities or its obligations within of NATO is not valid”.

Meanwhile, on NATO’s eastern flank, allies have warned that Ukraine’s partners cannot be complacent.

“It’s good to see that Ukraine is doing well, but we can’t forget that a very large territory is still occupied and winter is coming,” Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said. in a text message.

“We must help Ukraine,” he said, “as much as necessary and for as long as necessary.”

Mary I. Bruner