Shifting the Ukraine War Burden

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Munir Ahmed

As the Ukraine war approaches to complete its first year, the United States – the key proponent of the Ukraine war against Russia, now seems to be taking a back and pressuring its partners to support Kyiv with more expensive and sophisticated artillery.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, and Under Secretary of Defense Dr Colin H. Kahl travelled to Kyiv in January 2023 to meet with President Zelenskyy, members of the Office of the President, and senior Ukrainian officials to reaffirm the United States strong and steadfast commitment to Ukraine and its defence against Russia’s “unprovoked” aggression. Prior to the visit, the delegation made stops in Germany and Poland to review the US security assistance to Ukraine. In the meetings, the US officials stressed upon the two countries to increase their military support to Ukraine in the coming days. The US is especially eyeing Germany as what comes out of their strategic cooperation.
The news agency Reuters reported from Berlin on 19 January 2023 that defence ministers from roughly 50 countries meet at an airbase in Germany where “all eyes will be set on what Berlin is – and is not – willing to provide Ukraine. The focus is expected to be not on what the United States will provide, but on whether Germany will send its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine or at least approve their transfer from third countries.”
The US has so far provided about $29 billion in military aid to Ukraine, which is more than NATO has contributed altogether. The US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Reuters, said Washington would be pushing Germany to at least allow for the transfer of Leopard tanks to Ukraine given an expected Russian spring offensive. While the United States aims “to break the dynamic of grinding warfare and near-frozen front lines in Ukraine with newly announced military capabilities” that it hopes will breathe fresh momentum into Kyiv’s battle against Russian forces, the Pentagon is still not prepared to meet Kyiv’s calls for gas-guzzling M1 Abrams main battle tanks. Contrarily shifting the Ukraine war burden on other NATO and non-NATO countries.
But Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said after returning from Ukraine, Germany and Poland visit and before the meeting of the NATO defence ministers at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany to coordinate military aid for Kyiv that “We are not there yet. The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on. It has a jet engine.” The United States has committed roughly $24 billion to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian forces, including a new $3.5 billion package announced this month that includes Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, self-propelled howitzers, armoured personnel carriers, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition.
It seems that the US has exhausted and is now mounting pressure on Germany to send its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine or at least approve their transfer from third countries. Reuters reported, but Germany appears to want to tie any such contribution to a US decision on Abrams. A German government source told Reuters Germany would allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help its defence against Russia if the United States agrees to send its own tanks. The lead proponent of the Ukraine war is also mounting pressure on Britain to send 14 of its Challenger-2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. Colin Kahl has confirmed Britain’s commitment, but has apprehensions about German conditions on providing the Leopard, saying “I think if there is a concern about being alone in providing this capability, that shouldn’t be a concern.”
The US believes that the front lines have hardened in Ukraine since Kyiv wrested back significant territory in the east and south in the second half of 2022, and consistently struggling to pressurize the countries to focus on surging the capabilities to Ukraine for the next phase of the conflict. But, trying hard to change the dynamic of the war and continue the momentum that the “Ukrainians” had built in the late summer and early fall. The US provision of Bradley fighting vehicles, combined arms training, and other new weaponry for the Ukrainians are meant to enable Kyiv to change the dynamic of static defences “by being able to fire and manoeuvre through the use of more mechanized forces,” Kahl has said.
Washington is forcing its allies in the Asia-Pacific region too to sponsor Kyiv due to the rapid depletion of its own weapons stocks. Thus, the US will buy from Seoul more than 100,000 pieces of ammunition for 155-mm artillery guns with their further shipment to Ukraine. At the same time, Washington does not intend to consider the fact that amid the growing threats in the region, South Korea’s decision to support the Kyiv regime will be termed as its indirect participation in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It will also undermine public confidence in the leadership of the Republic of Korea. In addition, such a policy demonstrates the limitations of the US ammunition arsenal. The US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin H. Kahl does not hide the existing problems and openly speaks about the shortcomings of the country’s military-industrial complex, due to which the United States’ allies in the Asia-Pacific region have to bear serious costs.
According to him, the military conflict in Ukraine has put serious pressure not only on the United States. Another senior Pentagon official has stressed that “In the current circumstances, the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation is becoming a “headache” for our key allies as well. Apparently, the US is having serious complications to continue the Ukraine war in the absence of “much required” weapons from the allies. On the other hand, US officials and close allies have started discussing the “rebuild” of Ukraine. The second year of the war seems unlikely to continue till the last month of 2023.