Political developments in Ukraine’s two most important suppliers of arms could significantly plug the weapons pipeline – just as Kiev has regained the operational initiative in a war that has been raging since February.
In the UK, newly inaugurated Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – whose professional experience is in the economic rather than the geostrategic sphere – has already pledged to rein in public spending.
In the US, President Joe Biden may well lose control of Congress and/or the Senate at November 8 mid-term elections, with opposition Republicans vowing to cut back on US arms shipments to Ukraine.
Both could have a serious impact on Kiev’s war-making capabilities given the importance of the two Anglosphere democracies in aiding Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. The US and UK are, respectively, the number one and two arms suppliers to Kiev and the first and third providers of financial and humanitarian aid.
If a slowdown in US and UK arms shipments is significant, it would play into the hands of an embattled Vladimir Putin, whose decimated and undermanned forces are on the back foot across most of the Ukrainian warscape.
The Kiel Institute for the World Economy tracks multiple nations’ arms exports to Ukraine.
The institute’s data shows that between January 24 and October 3, 2022, the US pledged the largest amount of military aid worth 27 billion euros followed by the UK with promises of 3.74 billion euros.
The next largest suppliers of military aid fall well behind Washington and even London. EU institutions pledged 2.5 billion euros worth of arms over the period, while Poland promised to supply arms valued at 1.82 billion euros.
In terms of humanitarian and financial aid, the institute found that the US was, again, the largest donor, with pledges of 24.7 euros, while the UK was in third place pledging 5 billion. EU institutions were in second place, promising 13.7 billion to Kiev.
Overall, both Washington and London have pledged 0.2% of their respective GDPs to support Kiev, the institute found.
All key players – Zelensky and Putin; Biden and Sunak –are most certainly aware of these metrics. The two Anglosphere leaders put a brave face on matters during an October 25 telephone call.
According to the White House, during the call between the US president and the British premier, “The leaders reaffirmed the special relationship between our countries, underscoring their desire to further enhance cooperation on issues critical to global security and prosperity.”
The US presidential office continued, “The leaders agreed on the importance of working together to support Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for its aggression.”
A Downing Street readout of the same discussion did not mention Ukraine at all.
However, a separate readout of a Sunak-Zelensky call on the same day, October 25, stated that Sunak pledged “The United Kingdom’s steadfast support for Ukraine…the Prime Minister said the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine would be as strong as ever under his premiership, and President Zelensky could count on his government to stand in continued solidarity.”
Whether these statements will survive the spending cuts Sunak must make is unclear. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt needs to find a minimum of 40 billion pounds ($46 billion) to fill the gaping holes in the UK’s public finances.
And with mid-term elections imminent in the US, Biden may be in an equally tough spot, albeit for political rather than economic reasons, as lawmakers rally against “blank check” support for Kiev.
“Biden’s Ukraine policy faces bipartisan squeeze”, the Washington Post said in an October 25 report. But while Democrats may fall behind their warrior president, Republicans are sounding strident notes.
“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession, and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy said last week.
According to the LA Times, “McCarthy’s comments indicate that skepticism about US support for Ukraine is spreading from the [the party’s] nationalist fringe to the party’s mainstream.”
These political discussions and developments coincide with multiple reports of ammunition stockpiles running short across Europe and North America – although the reports may be overstated.
An industry source told Asia Times he was unaware of a production shortage of 155mm artillery shells – the main NATO heavy munition used by multiple howitzer batteries that have been supplied by NATO countries to Kiev – in one key factory with which he was familiar.
Meanwhile, Poland – a fervent supporter of Ukraine and antagonist of Russia – is buying a colossal new armory from a very distant partner of NATO: South Korea.
In addition to a record July deal for hundreds of tanks and self-propelled guns, as well as scores of jet fighters, yet another bonanza for Korean arms suppliers was announced last week. Under it, Seoul will supply Poland with 288 multiple launch rocket systems.
The delivery timelines of these massive shipments are not yet known. But, backfilled with this vast new armory from the Asia manufacturing powerhouse, Warsaw could feasibly ship huge quantities of older, legacy weapons to Kiev.
If developments do lead to a slowdown in arms for Ukraine, they could not come soon enough for Putin.
Russian forces went to war manpower-light, with their battalion tactical groups short on infantry. The bayonet shortage was intensified in the war’s early phases when Russian armor was massively attrited on the road nets and urban spaces in battles around Kiev.
That led the Kremlin to lean heavily on its advantage in artillery fire in the war’s second phase in a “grinding” offensive in the Donbas.
But the deployment of NATO-standard, data-linked, long-range artillery systems, synched to NATO and US satellite intelligence networks, subsequently granted Ukraine a huge advantage.
US, German, British and French systems proved able to see and strike supply and command nodes far behind the front. Russia’s lack of eyes in the skies forced Russian troops to rely on far more limited intelligence assets – aircraft, drones, ground patrols, spies and sympathizers.
Russian troops continued to blast away with old-school munitions on the ground, but in the sky, its bomber force was robbed of eyes by Ukraine’s targeting of its ground radar networks.
And, short of “stand-off” munitions, fighter bombers were forced to fly into the teeth of Ukraine’s air defenses, leading to losses of Russia’s most up-to-date airframes.
After Ukraine recaptured the initiative with separate offensives in both the northeast and the southwest, Russian forces were thrown onto the back foot. Currently, only in the town of Bakhmut, a key Donbas communications hub, are Russian forces still on the offensive.
But even there, a reinforced brigade of Wagner Group mercenaries – apparently one of the few Russian units still capable of launching attacks – is making limited headway against staunch resistance in a fight that has been raging since July.
And that is despite Russian artillery reducing sectors of the front to the kind of plowed, treeless wasteland seen on the Western Front in World War I.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s mobilization of under 300,000 reservists has been chaotic, with many suffering from poor equipment, dire barracks and a lack of leadership and training.
Moreover, the number of so-called “mobiks” looks highly unlikely to shift the manpower equation in Moscow’s favor. Kiev undertook a general mobilization in February, and tens of thousands of troops are being trained across the EU and UK.
And while the arrival of the mud season appears to have halted Ukrainian maneuver operations in the northeast, Ukrainian forces continue their tough slog toward the key city of Kherson in the south.
Russia’s bridgehead there is its only foothold on the left/western bank of the Dneipr River. The city itself has strategic value as it controls water supplies to Russian-occupied Crimea, and prestige value as the capital of Kherson oblast, which Russia claims.
In the face of all this, Putin currently appears to be waging an energy war – pulverizing Ukrainian power-generation facilities with drones and missiles, while banking on energy-challenged Europeans withdrawing support for the war as winter arrives – to revive his and Russia’s flagging fortunes.
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