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Why Western Military Aid For Ukraine Is Never Enough

The U.S. and Europe have again committed to supplying weapons to Kyiv, whose gratitude has its limits in the face of the life-and-death struggle against the Russian invasion.

Photo of Ukrainian soldiers walking through a field near Donetsk on May 17

Ukrainian soldiers near Donetsk on May 17

Anna Akage

-Analysis-

With a quick glance at the headlines, it may seem like a running contradiction — or even ingratitude. The West announces another new round of military support to Ukraine, and Ukraine promptly says: “Thank you, but it’s not enough.”

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Just in the last 48 hours, the U.S. approved a $700 million package of military support for Ukraine that included longer-range Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised to send state-of-the-art air defense systems and tracking radar.

Over the past three months, there have also been shipments of weapons and munitions from more than 30 other nations, including the UK, much of Europe, Australia and Japan.


To the long requested U.S. rocket launchers, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Rezniko offered a sincere “ thank you” Wednesday night via Twitter. But at the same time, President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials are keeping the heat on the West to pledge more weapons — and send them faster.

Victory ASAP

From the Ukrainian point of view, the reason is simple: the war must be won, and must be won as quickly as possible.

It’s been 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, and we have come a long way since early fears of rapid surrender or a bad peace treaty. Both options were off the table quickly, because Ukrainian troops surprised the world by pushing back Russian forces — and because of the brutality of the invaders and the constant shelling of civilians.

It’s been 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army command notes that after Russian infantry defeats and the destruction of a large number of tank divisions, Moscow switched to bombing attacks launched from fortified positions, including border regions, Crimea, and the Black Sea.

In Ukraine, even with the constant support coming from foreign allies, there are not enough missiles and air defense systems to repel these attacks, much less for counterattack. In the eastern Donbas region, Russian troops are advancing on old Soviet tanks, most of which had been mothballed since the collapse of the USSR. Yes, these tanks are obsolete, but they are still enough to destroy a house or block a road.

To defeat the larger Russian army, Ukraine needs a decisive advantage in heavy weapons, as well as in hand-held arms and ammunition for soldiers on the Western front who had been trained and were ready to join the war effort. But thousands remain in reserve standby for now, lacking the arms to take up battle.

Pro-Ukrainian demonstration in Munich on May 28

Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA

What's slowing down the West

The U.S. and other NATO countries made clear even before the Russian invasion that direct military intervention was off the table, which has left supplying weaponry support (and imposing sanctions) as the best indirect ways to help Ukraine.

But military aid, like sanctions, has come with limits as well. Germany, which was widely hailed at the beginning of the war for finally renouncing its post World War II limits by supporting Ukraine militarily has severely slowed down the shipments. Die Welt reported on Sunday that Berlin had sent only two deliveries of light weapons since March. This week Germany did pledge new air-defense systems, but as with other such declarations it will take time to arrive.

The possible explanation for the limits in both supply and typology range from domestic budgets to fears of escalation, as was noted in the U.S. insistence that the recent long-range rocket launchers not be used by Ukraine to fire across the border into Russian territory.

The West has been clear that it does not want any offensive action against Russia, which remains a nuclear country, and a strike on its territories might push Putin to take that extreme decision to use tactical nuclear weapons.

Waiting for Russia to just shrivel up and go away is not an option.

Still, there are other analysts who believe that the limits on military hardware deliveries are part of a more complex calculation: the West wants to weaken Russia through a longer war — to see Moscow exhaust its military potential, use up all its missiles, undermine itself politically and economically by letting all the Kremlin's power go to war in Ukraine.

A wounded Russia is a dangerous beast with a nuclear missile. Instead, a weakened Russia is good news for long-term global stability. So goes the thinking.

Of course such calculations include Ukraine bearing the brunt. All Ukrainians are interested in nothing other than a quick victory, the return of territories, and the strengthening of its borders.

Kyiv’s all-in approach is supported by Poland and Britain, both of which have long-standing political scores to settle with Russia.

Downsides of fear

Still, there are other reasons that a prolonged war is unlikely. Russia and Ukraine are world leaders in grain exports as well as a variety of other foods, without which starvation awaits many poor countries, while Europe and America face rising food and energy prices.

The way the war in Ukraine winds up will affect every nation on the planet, economically and politically. Some key dynamics, from supply chains to the fate of democracy, are already evolving — and will take years to understand the lasting consequences.

Postponing the victory of Ukraine for a longtime calculation or short-term fear of a nuclear attack only convinces Putin that the West continues to fear Russia. And waiting for Russia to just shrivel up and go away is not an option either. This is a war that Ukraine must win, quickly. That requires the maximum help from all those who want to see Putin defeated, (almost) as badly as we do.

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