One year of military support for Ukraine marked by secrecy of arms shipments

Germany is the exception and has displayed unusual transparency by releasing weekly lists of the weapons it is sending to Kyiv

A Polish soldier walks next to Leopard 2 tanks during a training that is part of the EU's military assistance to Ukraine.
A Polish soldier walks next to Leopard 2 tanks during a training that is part of the EU's military assistance to Ukraine.Michal Dyjuk (AP)

The European Union has mobilized as never before to provide military support to Ukraine. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, countless taboos have been broken and member states have made up to seven payments to a common fund that already totals €3.6 billion to finance national contributions. During these past 12 months, there has been a succession of public debates on the advisability of sending tanks or fighter planes, along with conspicuous announcements about providing armored fighting vehicles and ammunition. One year later, however, the details of the military equipment sent to Kyiv remain unknown. The secrecy so common to this field also characterizes the weapons transfers to Ukraine from major EU economies, with the exception of Germany, which publishes weekly lists.

Spain, Germany and Italy have made it a rule not to export arms to countries in conflict, although there have been exceptions, such as when Berlin sent weapons to Kurdish troops in northern Iraq, or the Spanish shipments to the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. In an abrupt twist of script – in Germany a speech delivered by Chancellor Olaf Scholz known as Zeitenwende (turning point) on February 27, 2022, will long be remembered – these countries, together with others such as Belgium, decided to break the rule and announced that they would send arms to Ukraine as soon as the invasion began.

Other states such as France and Poland had already been transferring weapons to Kyiv, to a greater or lesser extent, since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Warsaw, which has long warned about the Kremlin’s imperialist tendencies, made its first decision on the urgent arms shipment on February 8, two weeks before the invasion began.

When war broke out, European countries remained reluctant to export heavy weapons. France, discreet at first, reported that it would send operational systems equipped with ammunition and spare parts, justifying this on the grounds that its stockpile was low and that it wanted to keep open a channel of dialogue with Russia. Germany has been increasing the level of its contributions as pressure on the government has increased. Berlin agreed to send Gepard anti-aircraft guns in April after pressure from the United States. The same pattern has been seen with the decision to send Leopard tanks.

Scholz announced the first shipment of weapons on Twitter, but after that the German government remained silent. Responding to questions about the supply of weapons to Ukraine, he answered in the same way most EU member states do: that they would not be disclosed for military and security reasons. That is, in order not to give Russia information about the Ukrainian arsenal that could help it to plan its offensive. In response to public pressure and reports questioning whether Berlin was keeping its promises to Kyiv, Germany decided in late spring to publish its contributions on a weekly basis.

Pieter Wezeman, a researcher in the arms transfer program at SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), does not consider this criticism of Germany to be fair. “From a very early stage, it started supplying significant quantities of weapons and throughout the year it has most likely been one of the most important suppliers,” he said.

Beyond the security reasons invoked by governments, public opinion can have a direct effect on transparency, as was evident in Germany. At the other end of the spectrum is the Italian case. In Italy, a large part of the population is opposed to arms deliveries because they fear a nuclear escalation, because they think Russia will win anyway, or because they are worried about the effect of war on their own well-being and security. Mario Draghi’s and Giorgia Meloni’s governments have sent six military aid packages to Ukraine shrouded in a great deal of secrecy that the media has tried to break by piecing together a puzzle with weapons seen on the ground, for example. From what little is known, it is worth noting that the last package contained neither artillery pieces nor tanks.

In Poland there is no public debate about whether to send weapons, but, if anything, about the hesitation of the West, and yet the country is very secretive about the details of its contributions. “We are the third country, after the US and the UK, in terms of military aid to Ukraine,” Polish President Andrzej Duda boasted on Friday, without providing details. Apart from major announcements, such as 14 Leopard tanks, the country is known to have sent between 260 and 360 T-72M tanks and various models and types of post-Soviet weaponry, such as the 9K33 Osa and S-125 Neva short-range launchers, but the precise quantities are unknown.

Of the announcements Spain has made, such as the intention to send up to 10 refurbished Leopards, six Hawk missile launchers and an Aspide battery (both medium range anti-aircraft systems), Wezeman concludes that Spanish military aid is “not impressive,” especially compared to what is known about Germany or the United Kingdom, who have both been very transparent in line with the United States.

It is impossible to compare the contributions of the EU member states and their pledges given the opacity of these transfers. Compared to the more than one million 155mm artillery shells provided or promised by the USA, key on the Ukrainian battlefield, it is known that Germany has sent 19,520 and Spain, the equivalent of at least €118.3 million. Little else is known, except that it is proving insufficient in the face of Ukrainian needs (Estonia has proposed creating a joint purchasing platform inspired by the purchase of vaccines against Covid).

Wezeman, an expert in transparency, explains that lack of information is the norm in the sector and that the German case is the exception. The US model is similar to Germany’s – this week Washington announced the 32nd military aid package to Ukraine since August 2021, which already totals $30.4 billion. Some European countries, such as the Czech Republic, are publicly taking stock these days of what they have contributed in the last year. Since the 1990s, EU countries have been publishing annual export reports between June and the end of the year, which include data from the previous year. It will then be possible to begin to see what the states that have contributed weapons to Ukraine are reporting.

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