As the onset of the autumn rains threaten to curtail the Ukrainian armed forces’ already-incremental advances against Russia’s invading forces, Kyiv is confronting additional constraints caused by the politics of its allies.
While NATO Secretary Jen Stoltenberg stressed in a call with transatlantic leaders on 3 October 2023 that “we are all committed to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes”, Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, stressed at the Warsaw Security Forum on 4 October that the West’s arms industry needs to ramp up weapon and ammunition production “in a much higher tempo” as “the bottom of the barrel is now visible”.
That warning comes amid fresh uncertainly over military aid for Ukraine from the United States after former US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was forced to leave out provisions for Ukrainian military aid in a stopgap US spending bill in order to avoid a federal government shutdown. McCarthy was subsequently ousted from his position as House Speaker on 3 October by a right-wing Trump-supporting faction in the Republican Party that does not support military aid for Ukraine, throwing the US House of Representatives into disarray that is likely to disrupt further Ukrainian funding.
Meeting in Paris in late September, NATO Allies and partners in the Land Battle Decisive Munitions framework drove forward efforts to increase ammunition stocks, with the NATO Support and Procurement Agency putting framework contracts and orders in place for hundreds of thousands of pieces of key ammunition. These contracts, estimated to be worth EUR 2.4 Bn including EUR 1 Bn in firm orders, will deliver a wide variety of critical munition types such as 155 mm artillery rounds, anti-tank guided missiles and main battle tank ammunition, but the first deliveries of these are not scheduled to start until the end of 2023.
Although the US Department of Defense (DoD) has the funding to continue to support Ukraine’s war efforts in the short term, Pentagon officials have underscored that more funds will be needed to continue to assist Ukraine in the long term.
The US DoD has remaining approval to send about USD 5.4 Bn (EUR 5.13 Bn) worth of military equipment to Ukraine through presidential drawdown authority and also has about USD 1.6 Bn on hand now to replenish its own stocks after sending those weapons and munitions. However, continuing to support Ukraine while replacing its own stocks will require assistance from Congress, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh warned during a briefing at the Pentagon on 3 October.
“We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine’s battlefield needs for just a little bit longer, but we need Congress to act to ensure there is no disruption in our support, especially as the department seeks to replenish our stocks,” Singh said. “We have seen bipartisan support for Ukraine in Congress and we urge members of Congress to keep their commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure the passage of support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”
Meanwhile, the Slovakian government, which in March 2023 became the second NATO country to donate fighter aircraft to Ukraine in the form of around a dozen MiG-29s, was in danger of being taken over by the pro-Russian SMER party when it won 22.9% of the vote in a parliamentary election on 30 September. The SMER party under leader Robert Fico has proposed ending military support to Ukraine and has criticised EU sanctions on Russia. Fico needs at least two other parties to gain a majority in the parliament.
Furthermore, Ukraine’s situation was not helped by a spat in September 2023 with Poland, which until recently has been one of the country’s staunchest supporters. Poland announced on 20 September that it would no longer supply new weapons to Ukraine amid a diplomatic dispute over Ukraine’s grain exports. Positioning itself for an October election, the governing Law and Justice party in Poland has positioned itself as the strongest defender of Polish interests and is chasing the Polish farming vote by claiming to protect its domestic market from Ukrainian grain, which must travel by land through eastern Europe as the result of a Russian maritime blockade.
This onset of what is generally termed ‘Ukraine fatigue’ comes as Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russian forces is unlikely to make any significant headway amid the weather conditions of autumn and winter.
Although Ukraine’s military capability could be transformed by the arrival of the F-16 fighters promised by Denmark and the Netherlands in August 2023 with the blessing of the US Biden Administration, these aircraft are unlikely to become operational in Ukraine before 2024.
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