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Western officials are scrambling for tanks and heavy weapons to send to Ukraine while grappling with a dawning reality: They may need to supply — and retrofit — the country’s military for months or even years in its fight against Russian invaders.
In the short term, countries provide equipment that Ukraine can easily use. It’s the Czech Republic, for example allegedly Sending Soviet tanks already known to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
In the longer term, officials field Ukraine’s new demands – and determine what the allies are willing to do. The UK is trying to improve coordination between countries making supplies and last week held a donors’ conference with 35 participants. And the US is looking for partners who can deliver long-range air defense systems allegedly Accelerating its own production of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
In Germany, meanwhile, there is a dispute as to whether 100 tanks should be handed over, which would also require training for the Ukrainian armed forces.
“The conflict,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, “has entered a new and different phase with a more concentrated Russian offensive.” As a result, she added after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, there is support for “delivering new and heavier equipment to Ukraine”.
Above all, however, is the fear of supply bottlenecks. Some countries are already warning that they will simply be tapped. And military specialists say that rotating production lines quickly is difficult.
And while the war could be long, Western and Ukrainian officials are also concerned that, despite early defeats, Russia could make significant gains on the battlefield, particularly in eastern Ukraine, if they don’t act quickly.
“Two weeks ago it was enough to say what will be given,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after addressing NATO ministers. “Today it is more important to know when it will be given – and that is something that allies need to clarify and find appropriate solutions.”
Whatever decisions the West makes will be crucial in shaping the next phase of the war. Russia has withdrawn some forces from around Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and is now planning a punitive offensive in the east that Western officials say is likely to begin in a matter of weeks.
appeal of Ukraine
Kuleba arrived Thursday morning with a simple request for NATO members.
“My agenda is very simple,” he said. “There are only three things on it. It’s guns, guns and guns.”
Kuleba listed some of the specific items Ukraine is aiming for: fighter jets, more missiles, armored vehicles and heavier air defense systems.
Some of these devices, like jets, have been ruled out by the US as too escalating. But other things, like tanks and more robust air defense systems, are now on the agenda as the war moves into its next chapter.
“Today’s meeting sent a clear message that allies should do more and are ready to do more,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday after the foreign ministers’ meeting. “You see the urgency.”
The NATO chief declined to give details of this “more,” saying only that it included “both Soviet-era systems and modern equipment.”
So far, Western allies have focused on smuggling light weapons, as well as other equipment such as body armor and medical supplies, into Ukraine. A week in March, a US defense official told CNN that Ukraine’s allies sent about 17,000 anti-tank missiles and 2,000 anti-aircraft missiles, a number that has certainly increased since then.
But thinking is changing as Russia changes its military tactics.
Initially, Western officials estimated that Russian President Vladimir Putin expected his forces to quickly encircle Kyiv and other key cities in hopes of overthrowing the Ukrainian government.
After that failed, officials say Putin is now moving his battlegroups to the Donbass, an eastern region of Ukraine where Russia has been fomenting unrest for eight years, perhaps with a view to crushing an offensive that would cover more territory there claimed.
Russia’s mutating strategy has raised the prospect of a more conventional, long-term, heavy-fighting ground war for the foreseeable future. It’s a war that Western allies didn’t exactly anticipate, leaving them without a premeditated plan on how to arm Ukrainian forces in such a scenario.
“Ukraine’s needs are obviously evolving,” said a Western official. “The Allies’ appetite to meet these needs is very large, but there is still work to be done to ensure they get what they need.”
In Washington on Thursday, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the US was scrambling to get the equipment Ukraine wanted.
“We’re working with allies and partners literally every day to see if they can deploy some of these long-range air defense systems that we know the Ukrainians know how to use and are using very effectively because we they don’t have in our shares,” he told MSNBC.
Kirby also encouraged allies to send tanks, an issue that has become the focus of debate in Europe.
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is withholding approval of a plan to send “Marder” tanks to Ukraine, to the chagrin of partners in his ruling coalition, according to four people familiar with the situation.
The move would signal an important shift as it marks the first time a Western ally is supplying heavy weapons that require extensive training for Ukrainians and a process to ensure maintenance and ammunition. People said Scholz wanted Western allies to find a common position on such tank deliveries before moving forward.
The ambiguity in Berlin has left Ukraine frustrated.
“It is clear that Germany can do more given its reserves – reserves and capacities,” Kuleba admitted on Thursday. “What concerns me most is the length of the proceedings and decisions in Berlin. Because while Berlin has time, Kyiv has none.”
Even if Germany has reserves, not every country can claim that.
“In Estonia we don’t have any resources at the moment to provide anything extra,” Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets told POLITICO on Thursday, although she emphasized that as the war progresses the government will continue to assess what help it can offer.
Like its Baltic neighbors, Estonia was an early and vocal supporter of arms supplies to Ukraine, donating €220 million from its own arms, ammunition and protective equipment reserves – “a relatively large sum for a country considering our size”, so called Limets.
The challenge for the Western allies is that they do not want to stand empty-handed in times of military aggression by Russia. That makes them scramble to find new supplies for Ukraine and get them there quickly.
“There’s a massive supply problem,” said Nick Reynolds, a land warfare specialist at the UK’s Royal United Services Institute defense think tank
As for anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, he said, “it will take time to transport them if we had the supplies, but supplies are dwindling, especially in relation to Western European countries [that] will have to keep some things for themselves.”
He added, “I get the sense that ramping up production isn’t really happening, basically, not in the time frame we’re talking about anyway.”
This has left Western allies in what Reynolds called an “embarrassing position” — they are running out of their initial offerings of light weapons and they need time to integrate heavier equipment into Ukraine’s military.
Nonetheless, Kuleba expressed optimism that Western countries are determined to overcome these logistical and political hurdles.
This week’s NATO meeting, he said, was marked by “a growing understanding… that support for Ukraine should be stepped up.”
At this point he added: “The discussion is not about the weapons list, the discussion is about the schedule. when do we get them And that is crucial.”
Quint Forgey contributed coverage.
https://www.politico.eu/article/west-seeks-to-ramp-up-arms-deliveries-to-ukraine-as-war-enters-new-phase/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication West seeks to ramp up arms supplies to Ukraine as war enters new phase - POLITICO