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US, UK & Europe have sent Ukraine weapons worth billions. Their post-war fate is stoking worry

At the end of May, US announced military assistance worth $4.6 billion for Ukraine, UK has announced military aid worth £1.3 billion, while EU has declared €2 billion in military support.

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New Delhi: Arms, ammunition, and weapons systems worth billions of dollars have been flown into Ukraine from the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union as emergency military aid since Russia invaded the country on 24 February this year.

While the conflict has galvanised western and NATO unity, fears have also emerged about the long-term fate of the weaponry floating around in Ukraine. Interpol chief Jurgen Stock, for one, expects an “influx” of weapons into Europe once the war winds down.

Alluding to NATO’s increased unity, Jens Stoltenberg, its Secretary-General, said to The Atlantic: “The Russian President wanted less NATO, only to end up with a lot more NATO than has existed at any time since the end of the Cold War.”

At the end of May, the US announced military assistance worth $4.6 billion for Ukraine, the UK has announced military aid worth £1.3 billion, while the EU has declared €2 billion in military support.

Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

Also read: Here’s how Russia is zeroing in on key Ukrainian stronghold Severodonetsk


US military supplies touch $7.3 bn since 2014

The US security assistance to Ukraine started in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea. According to estimates from the Stimson Centre, a think tank in Washington, the US sent around $2.7 billion in security aid to Ukraine between 2014 and 2021.

The US State Department highlights that, since 2014, the US has sent military aid worth $7.3 billion to Ukraine. This includes the $4.6 billion sent in after the war began in February 2022.

In a statement from the White House on 1 June, US President Joe Biden reiterated the country’s military support to Ukraine, declaring: “The United States will stand with our Ukrainian partners and continue to provide Ukraine with weapons and equipment to defend itself.”

The US has only sent weapons through which Ukraine can “defend” itself. This means that till now the US has abstained from providing long-range weapons through which Ukraine can attack Russian territory.

The war in Ukraine has reflected the centrality of drones for both reconnaissance and attack purposes in modern conflict. They have been central to Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s multi-pronged invasion.

The Department of Defense (DoD) reports that the US has sent in more than 700 Switchblade Tactical UAVs, and also specially developed and sent over 121 Phoenix Ghost loitering munitions for the Ukrainian forces.

Apart from drones, the US has sent in over 20 Mi-17 helicopters and 105 tactical vehicles to tow and recover equipment.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

The DoD and the State Department also confirmed that the US sent Laser Guided Rocket Systems in late May and would send High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) in June.

The Laser Guided Rocket Systems are essentially the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II. These were used by the US forces to target the Islamic State (IS).

The rocket system includes a 70-mm rocket with a laser seeker and control section attached. This converts the rocket into a precision-guided munition.

According to reports, the US will send in 4 HIMARS to Ukraine. The decision to send the HIMARS was announced in a statement from Biden on 1 June.

The HIMARS has been a consistent demand of the Ukrainian armed services and was only sanctioned after weeks of deliberations in the White House. According to a press briefing by senior US administration officials, it was sanctioned after the US got repeated assurances from Kyiv that it would be used only for defensive purposes and not to target Russian territory.

Further, the list of weaponry sent by the US includes 1,400 stinger anti-aircraft systems, 6,500 Javelin anti-armour systems, 20,000 other anti-armour missiles, 108 155mm Howitzers, and small arms and ammunition amounting to over 7,000 weapons and over 50,000,000 rounds.

Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

Boris Johnson commits UK to military supplies worth £1.3 bn

The UK’s support for Ukraine’s armed forces began after the invasion of Crimea, but was limited to non-lethal weapons.

In January 2022, in light of Russia’s aggressive posturing on the Ukraine border, UK Secretary of Defence Ben Wallace declared in the House of Commons that the UK would provide assistance to “increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities”. This meant enlarging the types of weapons supplied to Ukraine to include lethal weapons.

On 30 January 2022, the first consignment of lethal weapons landed in Ukraine from the UK. This consignment included 2,000 anti-armour missiles, as was confirmed by a press statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

However, after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, Westminster amped up the supply of weapons.

By April 2022, the UK Ministry of Defence had already sanctioned around £450 million in military aid. In May 2022, Prime Minister Boris Johnson further sanctioned £1.3 billion in military support to Ukraine during a video call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

According to latest data from the Ministry of Defence, the UK has delivered more than 5,000 Next-Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons (NLAWs), 200 javelin missiles, 1,360 anti-structure munitions, 5 air defence systems, and 4.5 tonnes of explosives.

The BBC reported that the UK has sent in “hundreds” of short-range Brimstone missiles, 120 armoured vehicles, dozens of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and more than 400,000 rounds of small-arms munitions.

The UK is seeking permission from the US to send advanced, medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine. According to Politico, the UK is planning to send the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System to Ukraine. It reportedly has a range of 80 km and will help Ukraine’s armed forces in targeting long-range targets.

The US has to approve the transfer due to export regulations. However, the transfer will again be predicated on guarantees from Ukraine for not using them to target Russian territory.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

EU members act, but there’s lack of standardisation in arms’ provisions

The EU approved and sent military assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces on multiple occasions, with the most recent round taking place in mid-May. It marks the first time that the EU has ever, as a group, militarily financed arms distribution to a third-party non-member state.

On 11 March, the European Parliament released an “at-a-glance” note detailing the extent of this assistance, which at the time amounted to a billion euros, using the European Peace Facility (EPF), “an off-budget instrument aimed at enhancing the Union’s ability to prevent conflicts, build peace and strengthen international security, by enabling the financing of operational actions”.

As such, €900 million of the assistance was for “lethal support”, with the remaining €100 million for “non-lethal support”.

“The EPF has a financial ceiling of €5.692 billion (in current prices) for 2021-2027, with the planned ceiling for 2022 being €540 million,” the note added. By 16 May, the European Parliament agreed to increase the total assistance to €2 billion.

However, there has been a lack of standardisation or uniformity in the details of military assistance between the EU’s member states on the type and number of arms to supply to the Ukrainians.

As reported by Politico EU in April, providing heavy weaponry, and tanks, became central issues of debate in several European countries.

While some politicians in Germany disagreed with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s stance on giving Ukraine Marder infantry fighting tanks, Estonia Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets said her country didn’t have the reserves to send additional equipment beyond those worth €220 million worth that had been sent at the start of the war.

Citing data from the Forum on the Arms Trade and several media organisations, the European Parliament lists Poland and Germany as the union’s biggest suppliers to Ukraine in financial terms of bilateral military aid, at €1.47 billion and €1.34 billion, respectively.

Poland’s assistance includes over 200 T-72 tanks as well as Piorun, Polish-made air defence missiles. Germany has reportedly sent 50 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, 56 infantry fighting vehicles, 1 000 anti-tank weapons, 500 Stinger missiles and, according to Deutsche Welle, seven self-propelled howitzers too.

Among the most significant arms contributions are those from the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. The Czechs have sent T-72 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, man-portable anti-aircraft weapons, and thousands of machine guns of several varieties, mortar pistols and assault rifles. The Dutch have provided 200 Stinger missiles, 100 sniper rifles, and 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, alongside ammunition.

Bigger nations Italy and France, by contrast, have been less forthcoming not only in terms of weaponry assistance but also in public disclosure. The likes of Austria, Cyprus, Hungary and Ireland have not sent weapons, instead focusing on fuel, medical supplies and protective equipment.

Graphic Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

Fears over weapons falling into wrong hands after war

Aside from the continued military threat of Russia in light of the war, fears have emerged over Ukraine’s illegal arms market, which has reportedly proliferated since the initial period of conflict and separatism in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

“Officials estimated that at least 300,000 small arms and light weapons were looted or lost between 2013 and 2015, comprising 200,000 lost mostly in the [eastern conflict] zone and another 100,000 in Crimea. Of these, only 4,000 weapons were reportedly recovered,” said an April 2017 paper for the Small Arms Survey, adding that individuals from both sides looted storage facilities belonging to Ukraine’s security service, and interior and defence ministries.

On 2 June, The Guardian reported that Interpol chief Jürgen Stock had flagged similar concerns — that “an influx of weapons in Europe and beyond” is expected once the war winds down — and called upon Interpol’s 194 member nations to “track and trace” the “illegal weapons”.

“Criminal groups try to exploit these chaotic situations and the availability of weapons, even those used by the military and including heavy weapons. These will be available in the criminal market and will create a challenge. No country or region can deal with it in isolation because these groups operate at a global level,” Stock added.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)


Also read: Why it’s obscene to tell Ukraine to give in & how war-upended global balance of power brings openings for India


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