Why Ukraine fights alone and how West is helping it

Under the conditions of the Russian invasion, the West provides official Kyiv with political support, imposes sanctions against Russia, and is ready to supply Ukrainians with weapons. But Western countries are not going to participate in the war directly. Belsat.eu studied how the international community could help Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldier near Kharkiv, Ukraine. February 26, 2022. Photo: Andrey Marienko / UNIAN

Why the West will not fight with Russia

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is now often compared to the events of 1939 when Germany attacked Poland. September 3, 1939, the third day after the start of the German invasion, Britain, and France declared war on Germany. Such a move by London and Paris was provided for by the relevant Polish-French and Anglo-Polish agreements signed earlier. Guarantees to act as defenders of Polish independence were given in the spring of 1939, after Adolf Hitler occupied the entire territory of Czechoslovakia, and further German expansion already looked inevitable. And the Anglo-Polish treaty was signed on August 25 – 6 days before the start of the war.

Although Russia’s intention to start a war with Ukraine has been discussed for several months, no agreements have been signed that would oblige the West to provide military assistance to Ukraine. Even before the start of the war, Western countries promised to give a decisive response to Russian aggression, primarily with tough sanctions in mind. There were also arms deliveries. However, there was no talk of sending soldiers from NATO states to Ukraine. The United States, Britain and the leadership of the alliance have repeatedly stressed that the deployment of their military in Ukraine is not considered in any of the possible scenarios.

Destroyed Russian MT-LB (multi-purpose transporter-tractor, light armored) near Kharkov, Ukraine. Photo: February 26, 2022, Andrey Marienko / UNIAN

This position of Western countries is explained not only by the unwillingness of their soldiers to die in Ukraine but also by the fact that an open military conflict with Russia could escalate into a nuclear war. During the Cold War, peace between the USSR and the US was largely based on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. The essence of the doctrine is that in the event of a world war, with the modern development of military technologies, the mutual use of nuclear weapons will entail the complete destruction of all parties, which means that there is simply no point in using nuclear weapons. But the Russian leadership has long promoted new approaches to the principles of using weapons of mass destruction. If before 2000 Soviet and Russian military doctrine considered the use of nuclear weapons only in the context of a world war, then during Putin’s rule, military doctrine began to allow for the possibility of delivering nuclear strikes in conflicts that are waged by conventional weapons, but threaten “the very existence of the state “.

It was about the use of tactical nuclear weapons, which have a less destructive effect than strategic ones: they can lead to a new Hiroshima, but not to nuclear winter and the end of the world. The essence of the idea was that Russia is not able to win a war with NATO if it is waged with conventional weapons, but it can blackmail Western countries with the use of nuclear weapons, which eliminates the difference in the military-technical capabilities of the parties. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, generally promoted the idea of ​​using nuclear weapons “not only in large-scale but also in regional and even local wars”.

Nuclear blackmail has become a hallmark of Moscow’s policy. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin said he was ready to use nuclear weapons if the West intervened. In 2022, five days before the attack on Ukraine, Putin staged a strategic deterrence exercise to practice the use of nuclear weapons—a clear signal to the West about what Russia would do if necessary. In the speech announcing the start of the war, Putin also hinted at a nuclear strike if anyone wanted to intervene.

“The Russian response will be immediate and will lead you to consequences that you have never experienced in your history,” he said.

Of course, for Russia, first of all, nuclear weapons are a means of blackmail and it is not at all a fact that the Kremlin would actually take this step, risking a tactical nuclear retaliation. But this is the scenario that the West has to take into account when making decisions. By the way, in February 2022, The Nation magazine published an article by Nobel laureate Airi Helfand, where he just spoke about the threat of nuclear war between Russia and the United States due to the conflict in Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers display items and weapons seized from Russian soldiers near Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo: February 26, 2022, Andrey Marienko / UNIAN

That is why the West does not intend to go directly to war with Russia. NATO is not ready to agree to the introduction of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as requested by President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Alliance believes that this could also lead to direct conflict with Russia.

“Who is ready to fight with us? Indeed, I don’t see them. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of joining NATO? Honestly, everyone is afraid,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated during a briefing at the end of the first day of the war.

Arms deliveries: there will be more

The maximum that Ukraine can count on in this situation is assistance with weapons.

Even before the start of the war, during January-February, a number of NATO countries sent weapons to Ukraine: Stinger portable anti-aircraft missile systems, American Javelin and British NLAW anti-tank missiles, M141 assault grenade launchers, as well as artillery ammunition. Javelin and NLAW are modern anti-tank weapons that are very effective against tanks. And “stingers” are used to destroy low-flying air targets (aircraft, helicopters, UAVs) and should neutralize Russia’s significant advantage in the air force.

At the same time, immediately after the start of the war, the flow of Western weapons to Ukraine did not pour. On February 24, Ukrainians did not receive any military supplies at all. On the evening of February 25, Poland delivered the first batch of weapons: mainly ammunition for mortars and guns. Warsaw is also ready to transfer a batch of Javelin missiles and Grot assault rifles to the Ukrainian military (it is impossible to say how soon this will happen). Earlier, Poland also promised to supply Piorun MANPADS to Ukraine.

Destroyed Russian MT-LB (multi-purpose transporter-tractor, light armored) near Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo: February 26, 2022, Andrey Marienko / UNIAN

On the morning of February 26, the Dutch government approved the transfer of 200 Stingers to Ukraine. In the evening it became known that Belgium would transfer 2,000 machine guns and 3,800 tons of fuel to Ukraine, and Slovakia – 12,000 mines, 12,400 tons of fuel, and demining complexes.

The slow resolution of issues with military supplies (as well as their small volumes) is largely due to a lack of confidence in the West in Ukraine’s ability to resist Russia over the long term. The evacuation of embassies even before the start of the war is just evidence of this mistrust.

According to Newsweek, US officials believe that Kyiv could be captured within 96 hours of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Such forecasts affect decisions regarding the supply of military supplies: no country wants its modern weapons to fall into the hands of an aggressor. By the way, the situation also has parallels with World War II. When Germany defeated France in 1940, the United States was in no hurry to help Great Britain: President Franklin Roosevelt first wanted to make sure that the British themselves would not capitulate in the near future.

The fierce resistance that the Russian army encounters every day in Ukraine will gradually change the mood of Western politicians and push them to take more decisive action in matters of military supplies.

Corresponding promises have already been given to Ukraine at the highest level. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on February 25 that NATO members would help Ukraine with weapons. US President Joe Biden has issued a memorandum authorizing Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to transfer $600 million in emergency military assistance to Ukraine.

At the same time, each country has a different approach to the issue of assistance to Ukraine. The Baltic countries and Poland are the most consistent supporters of the transfer of lethal weapons to Ukrainians. These states are sure that Russia’s actions are a threat directly to them.

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Ukrainian military aircraft shot down near Osokorka. Kyiv, Ukraine. February 25, 2022. Photo: Belsat

Germany at first categorically refused to supply lethal weapons. However, under the influence of recent events, Berlin’s position began to change. As early as February 25, it was only about sending 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine, and on the evening of February 26, chancellor Olaf Scholz had already allowed the allied countries to transfer German weapons to Ukrainians. Immediately after that, it became known that the Netherlands would send 400 German rocket-propelled grenade launchers to Ukraine.

Sanctions: unprecedented, but far from the maximum

At the same time, sanctions still remain the main mechanism of the West’s response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Sanctions in case of war had already been prepared for several months, so the reaction was very prompt: the first packages of restrictions were approved on February 24.

The US calls its sanctions “unprecedented.” The “black list” included the largest Russian banks (including VTB, Sberbank, Gazprombank), as well as their subsidiaries. In fact, 80% of banking assets were hit. In addition, a number of Russian companies have limited the possibility of lending, trading in their shares was stopped. An embargo is also being introduced on the supply of high-tech products. Biden believes that these sanctions will undermine the ability of the Russian Federation to finance and build up the armed forces.

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To view it, click on the photo/video
Ukrainian military aircraft shot down near Osokorka. Kyiv, Ukraine. February 25, 2022. Photo: Belsat

At the same time, the United States imposed sanctions against Belarus: in addition to the military and businessmen close to the regime, Belinvestbank and Bank Dabrabyt, as well as a number of defense enterprises, were included in the “black list”.

EU sanctions against Russia affected 70% of the Russian banking market, as well as large state-owned companies. The EU tightened restrictions on access to financial markets, banned the supply of high-tech products, and the sale of aircraft and spare parts to Russians. Separately, a ban on the supply of goods, equipment, and technologies for oil refining is prescribed. French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the EU wants to “cut off all ties between Russia and the global financial system.”

“Our goal is to bring the Russian economy to its knees,” he said.

The UK approved sanctions against VTB Bank, Aeroflot and banned the export of high-tech products to Russia. In addition, the United States, Great Britain and the EU have imposed personal sanctions against Vladimir Putin and his entourage. An unprecedented step: for example, among the heads of state under EU sanctions, only Bashar al-Assad and Alyaksandr Lukashenka were previously under sanctions.

A number of countries have introduced national restrictions. Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Poland have banned access to their airspace, Germany has suspended the certification process of the Nord Stream 2 project, which is important for the Kremlin. Individual companies are also joining the restrictions: world-famous car manufacturers (Audi, Land Rover, BMW, Mercedes, Citroen, General Motors, etc.) have suspended the shipment of cars to Russia, etc.

After shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine. February 24, 2022. Photo: BelsatThe sanctions of the US, EU, and Britain can indeed be considered unprecedented in history. But, firstly, these restrictions will still not have immediate consequences for the Russian economy, and the fate of Ukraine is being decided here and now. Secondly, this is far from all that the West could do even in the field of sanctions.

For example, there is still no talk of an oil embargo and a refusal to import Russian gas, as well as the closure of airspace over Russia. Official Kyiv has already turned to the international community with calls to introduce all these restrictions in order to “destroy the Russian economy”.

The situation is changing very quickly. On the evening of February 26, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmitry Kuleba said that Western countries had agreed to disconnect the Russian Federation from the SWIFT payment system, although at first, they could not reach an agreement on this issue.