NewsNato summit: Cautious support for Ukraine amid rising tensions with Russia

Nato summit: Cautious support for Ukraine amid rising tensions with Russia

Oleksandr V Danylyuk: "After three years of war, we already understand how decisions are made in the White House. The Biden administration, like the entire West, is afraid of confrontation with Russia."
Oleksandr V Danylyuk: "After three years of war, we already understand how decisions are made in the White House. The Biden administration, like the entire West, is afraid of confrontation with Russia."
Images source: © East News, Getty Images | Samuel Corum, Sefa Karacan

9 July 2024 13:41, updated: 9 July 2024 14:59

Oleksandr V Danylyuk tells Wirtualna Polska that if Russia does not receive a decisive response, it will escalate, including the possibility of an attack on neighbouring NATO countries. The Ukrainian expert believes that the most important decision at the NATO summit will be establishing a long-term support fund for Kyiv, independent of elections in individual member states.

Tatiana Kolesnychenko, Wirtualna Polska: In Washington, the NATO anniversary summit will start today, dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Alliance. For several months, American politicians have been announcing that if not groundbreaking, it will be at least the most ambitious meeting since the Cold War. What do you expect from this summit?

Oleksandr V Danylyuk*, chairman of the Defence Reform Centre, collaborating with the structures of the Ukrainian government in the defence, security, and intelligence sectors: I do not expect breakthrough decisions. I assume there will be declarations that NATO will continue to support Ukraine. Maybe a specific amount of military aid will be given. That's all. Will it change anything? In my opinion, no. The invasion of Ukraine has been going on for three years now. This was the biggest crisis in Europe since World War II, and NATO still did not have a coherent strategy to deter Russia.

This strategy is supposed to be one of the critical elements of the summit. According to Jens Stoltenberg, the outgoing Secretary General of NATO today has a force "on a scale not seen in decades." There are 500,000 soldiers in full readiness, and within five years, the Allies plan to acquire thousands of air defence systems, artillery, and 850 modern aircraft. One can criticise the West for sluggishness, but you must admit that the invasion has strengthened the Alliance.

Let's start by noting that NATO was created to protect Europe from aggression by the Soviet Union. European countries provided the USA with their military infrastructure and committed to developing their defence capabilities. In return, the United States was to protect the old continent from USSR expansion.

Therefore, the US military presence in Europe was significant. Still, the most crucial stabilising element was the demonstration of readiness—especially in the 1950s and 60s—to immediately use nuclear weapons in the event of an attack on allied countries. This was crucial because, regarding the number of troops and equipment, NATO's capabilities were significantly smaller than those of the Warsaw Pact countries.

The concept of nuclear deterrence was successful because, after World War II, there were no armed conflicts between the Soviet Union and the West. For years, Europe lived without the fear that war could break out again. And when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia was no longer perceived as a potential threat. There were no concrete plans on how to react during a crisis.

Russia has been blackmailing the West with the use of nuclear weapons since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. Still, NATO avoids entering into this discourse because no one wants a return to the Cold War and a new nuclear arms race. Therefore, strengthening the atomic potential or expanding the nuclear sharing programme to include additional allies is not currently planned. Instead, the Alliance is increasing its presence in countries bordering Russia.

Yes, but the number of units deployed in countries bordering Russia is still tiny. They are not capable of stopping Russian aggression on their own. So it's a meaningful gesture of solidarity but not a real solution. Russia stops at a point where it knows it will receive a decisive response immediately. It now perceives the Baltic states as grey areas, territories of potential expansion.

In the event of possible aggression, the Baltic states will become a battlefield before reinforcements arrive. Ukraine's example shows how difficult it is to recover occupied territories. After all, in southern Ukraine alone, Moscow has occupied a larger area than the Baltic states combined.

We are still in a situation where the response of Western leaders and NATO remains inadequate to the level of threat that Russia poses today. The West still does not understand that the Kremlin is in a state of total war. But Russia is not only at war with Ukraine. In its perception, it is a war with the entire West and, therefore, also with NATO. This point of view is also prevalent in the countries of the Global South. Not receiving a decisive response, Russia will escalate, including the possibility of an attack on neighbouring NATO countries.

Let's return to the summit in Washington. Volodymyr Zelensky and the countries of Central Europe hoped that Kyiv would receive a membership negotiation offer from NATO this time. But the closer we get to the summit, the clearer it becomes that the situation from last year's summit in Vilnius will repeat itself. Ukraine will not hear a concrete proposal again?

There was no hope for a concrete proposal last year, and there is none now. The fact that Ukrainian authorities publicly demanded an invitation to membership negotiations did not correlate with analysts' assessments of NATO's readiness to take such steps, especially that of the USA. The question of Ukraine's accession to the Alliance has been artificial for many years. It is worth considering why this is happening.

Is it because it's another red line set by the Kremlin? Moscow would perceive the expansion of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia as an escalation. Ukrainian experts often emphasise that the situation essentially boils down to Russia having an informal veto right in NATO.

At this stage, Russia is winning the psychological war with the West because it knows precisely which buttons to press at any given moment. It does not want Ukraine in NATO, just as it does not want any other country to join the Alliance or for NATO to exist at all because it is a shield against Russian expansion—not a threat but an obstacle to its expansion.

So, currently, Ukraine's formal membership in NATO is impossible. All discussions about it are artificially inflated. Besides, granting candidate status at this stage will not help Ukraine at all.

Why won't it help?

The situation is black and white. Ukraine will join NATO only in one case – if it wins the war. Then, the path to the Alliance will be smooth and straightforward.

We do not need formal gestures, such as an invitation to negotiations, but weapons to win the war. Suppose the USA is afraid to grant Ukraine candidate status because it considers it an escalating step. In that case, it is more effective to demand that military aid arrive when needed and in quantities appropriate to the situation.

At this stage, the West, especially the United States, which accounts for 70% of NATO's total potential, is still not ready to take even this step. Yet, providing weapons is a much simpler decision, not requiring the consent of the entire Alliance.

Even when the United States passes large aid packages, less than half of that money goes to help Ukraine. The rest is spent on programmes that often have nothing to do with this war at all. For example, of the last package of 49 billion pounds (USD), 19 billion pounds were used to rebuild Ukraine's arsenal due to equipment transfer and 9 billion pounds for maintaining US forces in the region. Realistically, only 11 billion pounds will go to purchasing weapons for Ukraine.

Earlier, in expenditures declared as support for Ukraine, Germany included, among others, funds for the development of democracy in Romania. At least the White House spends these funds on rearming itself.

I understand that from Washington's point of view, this is related. They give away weapons and weaken their military potential, so they must rebuild it parallel. But it's not fair to show these funds as aid to Ukraine. Baltic countries that give Ukraine a significant percentage of their GDP do not do such things.

Ukraine can still win this war but needs the transferred weapons to meet its challenges. That requires increasing the effectiveness of existing aid programmes. The scale of the conflict also requires the West to rethink the arms industry. Let me give a simple example. The production of a 155 mm artillery shell, which is being transferred to Ukraine, costs ten times more than a Russian 152 mm shell. Under such conditions, we will not even achieve parity, an advantage.

Are you talking about switching the European economy to wartime mode? Can you imagine a situation where the governments of France, Germany, or Poland announce to their voters that they are cutting funding for culture or education in favour of arming Ukraine? The West will never catch up with Russia in the ease of spending money on war because it has to take into account the opinions of its societies, and they do not feel threatened enough to give up their comfort.

Of course, I can imagine it. Why is Russia experiencing economic growth despite sanctions? Because it switched its economy to war mode. For Europe, which is now experiencing an economic downturn, this could be an opportunity to create new jobs and production capacities.

And then Russia will experience an equally abrupt decline because jobs created for war purposes will sooner or later have to be eliminated.

The existing lines can be switched to the production of civilian goods. This was done in the USA after World War II. First, production capacities were expanded for the army, and then they were switched to commercial activities. This is how the economic power of today's United States was built.

We must understand that Russia will wage war as long as it has funds for it. It has now reached the limit of its capabilities, as in 2023, it spent 82 billion pounds on the war, about 30% of the state budget. Ukraine has fewer resources, although the West has an obvious economic advantage.

For example, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost American taxpayers 1.3 trillion pounds. Meanwhile, the total US military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion has amounted to about 35 billion pounds. We keep coming back to the same place: there are too few weapons, and they arrive too late. This signals to Russia that the West lacks the determination to achieve Ukraine's victory, which only encourages raising the stakes. The Kremlin is convinced the West can be outlasted and pressured into giving in.

Even with Trump's help, who could become president again? According to leaks, a plan to create a long-term support fund for Kyiv will be presented during the NATO summit. NATO officials say openly in the Western press that this move is driven by the fear of Trump's return to power and the attempt to make arms supplies independent of political turmoil in allied countries.

The announcement of the creation of the fund is a very positive signal. It shows the evolution the Alliance has gone through. In 2022, NATO was more than cautious. There was no talk of providing Ukraine with offensive weapons; only humanitarian programmes were in operation. Now, it is a declaration that NATO has taken on long-term commitments. The problem is that such decisions should have been made immediately after the invasion, not in its third year. Maybe then Putin would not have the appetite to move from a blitzkrieg, which he lost, to a long-term war of attrition.

As for Trump, assuming or analysing what he will do after coming to power is pure speculation. Even if he regains control, it does not have to be a catastrophic scenario from Ukraine's point of view. Frankly, during Joe Biden's presidency, Ukraine had a bad situation. Once again, I emphasise that weapons did not arrive in Kyiv at the right pace in critical moments.

However, Trump supporters have blocked Ukraine's military aid in Congress for the last six months. This has led to a significant shortage of ammunition and, consequently, the loss of, among others, Avdiivka.

As Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, Biden had enormous opportunities to provide Ukraine with military aid bypassing Congress. He could have activated the previously approved Lend-Lease. But he did not want to do this, which is Ukraine's greatest tragedy.

After three years of war, we already understand how decisions are made in the White House. Like the entire West, Biden's administration is afraid of confrontation with Russia. It fears a severe internal crisis, collapse, and even a change in Putin's regime.

The problem lies in this fear. The truth is that the West would like to agree with Putin. It believes that eventually, Russia will get tired, and then some agreement can be pushed through. Of course, the West would not mind if Kyiv regained some of its territories, but this is not the goal. Some pieces will be returned, and some will be taken by Russia as a trophy—in other words, the Korean scenario.

It would be different with Trump? He hasn't even become president yet, and there are already leaks that he is preparing a "peace plan," considering how much of Ukraine to give to Russia.

Leaks – that's the keyword. The election campaign is in full swing, and there is a lot of speculation. Assessing these speculations as very realistic is a thankless task. In my opinion, there is no "peace plan" of Trump. Remembering how he came to power last time and how he behaved, I think his only real plan is to win the presidential election. The same goes for Biden, for whom the election race in the USA is now more important than the war in Ukraine.

Trump is entirely different; we cannot predict his behaviour now. Of course, he can assume that the USA has other priorities. However, failure in Ukraine would be political suicide for him, as any American politician would.

Tatiana Kolesnychenko, journalist at Wirtualna Polska

*Oleksandr V Danylyuk is the chairman of the Defence Reform Centre, collaborating with the structures of the Ukrainian government in the defence, security, and intelligence sectors. Before the war, he was, among others, the chief advisor to the Minister of Defence of Ukraine, a special advisor to the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, an assistant to the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and a long-time member of the Parliamentary Working Group on Countering Hybrid Threats. In recent years, he has coordinated the Ukraine-NATO platform for early detection and countering hybrid threats. He is the creator and lecturer of a training course for high-level government officials on countering hybrid threats conducted jointly with King's College London.

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