More than 18 months into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, NATO military aid to Kiev remains a crucial component of the war. The level of assistance provided by NATO has had a significant impact on the perception of the conflict, both within Ukraine and on the battlefield. However, there are growing concerns regarding the sustainability of NATO’s military aid to Ukraine.
NATO began providing assistance to Ukraine when the conflict started in 2022, and the volume of aid has increased over the past year. This assistance has shaped the attitude of the Ukrainian people towards the war, with many believing that victory is imminent due to the support of the international community. The aid has also influenced public policy, as countries providing direct military assistance are seen as Ukraine’s allies, while those offering financial support are considered neutral.
On the battlefield, NATO aid is responsible for the combat capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF). If this aid were to be discontinued, the Ukrainian army would lose its ability to fight within a few weeks, or as soon as ammunition stocks run out. The question now is how long NATO can continue to provide military assistance to Ukraine.
To answer this question, it is important to understand the stocks of weapons and military equipment among NATO member countries. While the US has the largest arsenal, it is still only providing a small portion of its resources to Ukraine. Other countries with significant weapons arsenals, such as Greece and Turkey, have limitations on transferring their stockpiles to Ukraine due to long-standing tensions. Most other NATO countries have relatively small military stocks intended for export.
These limitations on military aid allocation mean that assistance to Ukraine has started to decline. Unless the US and other allies find alternative suppliers or start handing over reserve military equipment, the level of assistance will continue to decrease. This situation could have been avoided if NATO had increased weapons production and deployed additional facilities in 2022. However, the bloc lacked a unified vision on this matter, making decision-making difficult. Additionally, there were false conclusions drawn from previous battles, which led to unrealistic assessments of Russian troop capabilities and defensive positions.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive in July highlighted the lack of necessary equipment and weapons to break through Russia’s defenses. Despite claims from NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander that Ukrainian troops were fully equipped, they were in fact lacking artillery, tanks, and engineering equipment. NATO had made long-term decisions and signed contracts to equip Ukrainian troops, but these may not be fully implemented due to the uncertain prospects of a successful counteroffensive.
The upcoming US elections further complicate NATO’s assistance to Ukraine in the coming year, as military aid may become a target for Republican criticism. NATO’s ability to significantly increase aid to Ukraine in the near future is doubtful due to the inertia of the military production industry. Furthermore, the unfavorable public image of Ukraine’s unsuccessful counteroffensive may prolong the process even further.
Interestingly, Soviet-made military equipment has proven to be the most effective for Ukraine’s army. This equipment does not require specialized training, maintenance, infrastructure, and ammunition, making it readily available for battle. If NATO had utilized Eastern European military-industrial cooperation in 2022, it could have had significant implications for the course of the conflict. However, this opportunity was missed, and the future production of Eastern European equipment remains uncertain.
In conclusion, the current situation on the front lines favors Russia, as NATO’s ability to provide substantial military aid to Ukraine is limited. Unless there are extraordinary developments, the West will likely continue to support the Ukrainian armed forces to a certain extent that allows them to continue resisting. However, Ukraine will not have enough equipment and weapons to launch a large-scale counteroffensive without additional support from the US, which may not be forthcoming due to strategic planning focused on China as the main rival.