From tents to tanks; a big year in Ukraine for NATO allies
The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, the leaders of NATO’s 30 member countries held an emergency summit to address what they described as the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades — the launch of what would become the biggest land war in Europe since 1945.
“In this very evolving and difficult situation, it’s hard to predict what will (happen) in the future, but allies are providing support and are very committed to continue,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. What that support might look like was an open question.
In the months that followed, Ukraine’s supporters at NATO and elsewhere sent fuel, helmets, medical supplies and other non-lethal support. Then, after much hand-wringing, came artillery and air defense systems in the hope that these would not provoke Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
NATO, as an organization, was wary of being dragged into all-out war with nuclear-armed Russia. Technically it still is, but a year on the Ukraine Contact Defense Group this week held talks at NATO’s Brussels headquarters, where the alliance’s leaders, ministers and envoys usually sit.
Having just secured a promise of sorely needed battle tanks Ukraine wanted more: fighter jets.
“Ukraine has to win this war,” said Hanno Pevkur, the defense minister of Estonia, a Baltic country that shares a border and a long history with Russia and is extremely wary of Putin’s intentions. The government has stepped up conscription and NATO has boosted its troop presence there.
“We had many questions. Should we send tanks? Now this decision is made,” Pevkur said. “Always, there has been the question before, and then the answer after that. We know that Ukraine needs any kind of help, and that means also jet fighters.”
All that’s missing, it might seem, is the boots of allied troops on the ground. Indeed, the public in Europe and North America could be excused for believing that their taxes funding the world’s most powerful security organization are being spent in a war with Russia.
In the year since the Russians invaded, the U.S. has provided more than $27 billion in military help to Ukraine. Two senior defense officials estimated this week that other allies have stumped up more than $19 billion worth, with over $1 billion each from Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.
That’s on top of the tens of billions the West is sending to keep Ukraine’s battered economy afloat.
For the nationalist government of Hungary, a NATO ally, there is no doubt about what this means.
“If you send weapons, if you finance the entire annual budget of one of the belligerents, if you promise more and more weapons, more and more modern weapons, then you can say whatever you want. No matter what you say, you are in the war,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last month.
Not so, says Stoltenberg. Even as he exhorted allies and partners this week to give Ukraine more weapons and ammunition, the former Norwegian prime minister insisted, in response to a question from The Associated Press, that NATO is not at war with Russia.