Over the past three years, Ukraine has found itself in the spotlight of the global community due to the onset of a full-scale war. The country continues to resiliently face geopolitical challenges, and military assistance from international allies has become a crucial element in this struggle. Unfortunately, when comparing 2024 to 2023, aid, both military and financial, is expected to decrease. This indicates that Western partners in Ukraine have nearly exhausted their resources and are currently unable to sustain the level of arms deliveries.
For instance, in 2024, France plans to provide Ukraine with only 3,000 shells monthly for artillery systems of French production with a caliber of 155 mm, as reported by Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Defense, Ivan Gavryliuk, citing the Minister of the Armed Forces of France, Sébastien Lecornu. This amount is significantly insufficient, even for active defense. Is there any other way out?
The war will not end in 2024
The situation on the battlefield remains uncertain. Ukraine's winter offensive seems to have halted, yet there has been no breakthrough from the Russian side. At the same time, the unity of the West, demonstrated in 2022 and maintained throughout 2023, is beginning to waver. But let's return to the support.
Since the start of the full-scale invasion, Ukraine has received significant financial assistance from international partners. This has allowed Ukraine to increase its state expenditures from $55 billion in 2021 to $82 billion in 2022 and to $98 billion by the end of 2023. It is the support of partners that has helped sustain the economy, led to the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves by the National Bank of Ukraine, stabilized the situation in the currency market, and made financing in social sectors possible. As for military aid, from February 24, 2022, to December 1, 2023, Ukraine received military assistance exceeding $100 billion. The main donors were the United States ($49 billion) and the European Union ($48 billion). It is expected that in 2024, the volume of military assistance will surpass $50 billion. Looking at defense financing plans by country, Ukraine's total expenditures, considering assistance, may reach $93 billion. In this regard, Ukraine ranks among the top five countries in terms of defense budgets. However, this is still less than Russia's expenditures.
What kind of equipment has been provided to Ukraine and continues to be provided?
From May to July 2023, Russian artillery was firing approximately 1.5 million shells per month. This equated to over 1,000 shells per kilometer of the front line each month. In April 2022, the United States made the decision to supply the first American howitzer, the M777, paving the way for dozens of other Western artillery systems, such as the M109, PzH 2000, L119, Caesar, and eventually the most modern artillery piece, the Swedish Archer, which was delivered to the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) only in 2023.
Why is the West delaying the provision of equipment? And is NATO equipment as good as it is often portrayed? For example, the Soviet and Western schools of military technology production significantly differ in their approaches. Soviet designers focused on firepower, while Western designers emphasized accuracy, better protection, and survivability. Consequently, Soviet tanks, BMPs, and APCs usually had more powerful guns but significantly less protection. The Soviet T-72 tank was equipped with a 125mm gun, while the initial Leopard and Abrams tanks were armed with only a 105mm gun. Even now, the primary caliber on NATO tanks is 120mm, smaller than that of the main Soviet tank. The Russian BMP-3 features a 100mm automatic gun, yet its weight is around 20 tons. In contrast, the Bradley BMP has a 25mm automatic gun and a couple of ATGMs, with a weight of up to 36 tons. It boasts equally powerful protection from the front and sides. Despite the smaller caliber, Western technology is significantly more effective and survivable on the battlefield due to better visibility, the ability to accurately fire on the move, advanced night vision systems, and robust protection from all angles.
However, this is not always the case, as the equipment provided to Ukraine, according to soldiers, frequently breaks down and requires repairs. So, why does the West provide unreliable equipment and not the most advanced weaponry? And where are the promised F-16 fighters? Many seem to have forgotten about them altogether.
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, allies have transferred over 3,000 armored vehicles and approximately 2,000 light armored personnel carriers (APCs) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) to Ukraine. It is worth acknowledging that this is orders of magnitude more than the quantity of weaponry Ukraine possessed before the invasion started. In 2023, Ukraine requested around 500 tanks and other units of equipment. However, by the start of the counteroffensive last year, the West had supplied Ukraine with only about 113 tanks and 200 heavy APCs. Specifically, 31 American Abrams tanks arrived later.
Additional Leopard 2A tanks were not provided to Ukraine, and as a replacement, allies decided to supply restored Leopard 1A tanks, sparking mixed reactions on social media. In total, allies planned to deliver over 220 older Leopard 1A tanks to Ukraine, which were supposed to undergo a certain modernization at EU repair facilities and be ready for participation in combat operations. Approximately since May 2023, the pace of equipment deliveries has gradually decreased. While last year Ukraine received around 450 armored vehicles and 75 artillery systems monthly, these figures have dropped by at least half since May.
What lies ahead for Ukraine today?
Unfortunately, Ukraine may lose stable tank and armored vehicle deliveries in the near future. The reserves of equipment in smaller countries, typically among the staunchest supporters of Ukraine, are running out, and we are increasingly dependent on major players such as the United States, Germany, and France. However, these countries may face challenges in providing new heavy weaponry to Ukraine due to insufficient political support within their own nations.
Another significant factor in the reduction of arms shipments to Ukraine is the internal rift within the political elites of the United States. A considerable number of pro-Trump right-wing Republicans, whose support is crucial for Congressional action, vehemently oppose further military aid to Ukraine. Similar challenges exist within the European Union, where Hungary consistently blocks the funding of military support for Ukraine. However, it was reported last week that the EU would indeed allocate $50 billion to Ukraine.
$50 billion is certainly a welcome development, but the primary challenge persists: military hardware. The 3,000 artillery shells from France, while appreciated, amount to a mere drop in the ocean. The Ukrainian government has found a workaround for this predicament: ramping up the production of mortar rounds to offset the shortage of shells. Additionally, albeit belatedly, Ukraine is endeavoring to revitalize its domestic defense industry, akin to Russia's efforts last year. In turn, the West has pledged to provide Ukraine with long-awaited aviation assets, including F-16 fighter jets, new air defense installations, and other military equipment, later this year.
The takeaway from this is clear: Ukraine must primarily rely on its own capabilities and strengths, steering clear of uncertainties in the West, as promises may abound but tangible deliveries remain a looming question mark. The dynamics of arms supply and the push for domestic production underscore the unfortunate likelihood that, in 2024, the prospect of ending the war remains elusive.