Lorenzo Izzi is a final-year student studying Politics. He is passionate about European Politics and the role of the European Union in the International world, as well as international security and conflict. He is particularly interested in Europe’s relationship with Russia and China in key regions such as Eastern Europe or the Indo-Pacific.
We all remember the morning of the 24th of February 2022, when news broke out about the war in Europe. At that time, nobody would have believed that Ukraine could have had defended itself, but the Ukrainians proved to be tougher and exceeded expectations.
Ukrainians demonstrated a heroic attitude, and effectively pushed back Russian soldiers in an attempt of blitzkrieg war, helped by military and economic aid from the West. However, 2 years and a half after the beginning of the invasion, and more than 7 years of conflict, European support may not stay as extensive, and Ukraine will necessarily need to recede. This is due to various political and logistical issues, which this article aims to explore.
Allies stated that they will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, however, the length of this support depends on the political willingness to increase military spending to keep Ukraine safe.
In theory, NATO armies are much more powerful than the Russian army. This comes as a consequence of the West’s wealth and GDP, which is 12 times larger than Russia’s[LI1] . Therefore, in theory, the West should not have any problem in providing weapons to Ukraine. However, Russia is more than willing to spend on defence as compared to the Europeans.
When it comes to budgets, the Wilson centre reported that, in 2023, Russia is spending 37.3% of their national budget in military expenditures. This impressive percentage is clearly a financial manoeuvre to foster the war in Ukraine and it is the highest military spending ever for Post-Soviet Russia. In particular, in the first half of 2023, military spending in Russia rose by 75% compared to pre-war period. This number demonstrates Vladimir Putin’s commitment to victory, fuelled by the fear that a Ukrainian victory would put his regime at risk.
NATO members military spending, on the other hand, rose only by 0.9% compared to the pre-invasion period. The US, which accounts for 39% of global military spending, aided Ukraine with $19 billion dollars.
Excluding the US, the primary driver of the small rise in military spending in NATO are the Eastern European countries. In fact, as reported by the Stockholm International Peace research Institute[LI2] , the sharper rises were registered in Finland (+36%), Lithuania (+27%) and Poland (+11%).
Finland, who was not a NATO member before the war, has always undertaken a neutral approach due to its proximity to Russia, and has seen military spending increase only in the past years during its transition towards pro-NATO approach. Lithuania was already on the process of building their defence capabilities in 2018, when it increased its military spending by 30%. Poland, on the other hand, is projected to become a new regional military superpower. Despite their friendly relations with Ukraine, or perhaps the extremely un-friendly relations with Russia owing to the Soviet era, their political will to aid Ukraine is predicted to remain higher than Western European countries, but it is unlikely to provide Ukraine with the key to win the war given the limited defence capabilities and the huge investments Russia is undertaking.
In the UK – one of the countries that stood with Ukraine immediately after the invasion – the House of commons reported in March 2023 that the planned military spending of the country for 2023-2024 is likely to be negative (-6.5%), due to the effects of inflation. It is not predicted not rise for 2024-2025 either. Given the relative size of the British army and defence capabilities, this is a significant problem for Ukraine, which has seen in the UK its most important ally in Europe in terms of military aids.
Across the Channel in France, President Emmanuel Macron announced a 40% rise in military spending. However, Foreign Policy wrote that this apparent huge rise in the military spending of Paris is spent on things which will not be of any help for the Ukrainian battlefield. This is also confirmed by the Arabic news agency Al Jazeera that reported that most of this money will be directed towards modernising French nuclear arsenals.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky observed that if Ukraine fails to be as heroic and spectacular as it was at the beginning of the war, the European public attention will shift towards another cause (perhaps the current focus on Israel may be the first sign of this shift). President Zelensky’s strategy so far has been to push the European public that will then push their national government. However, he also realised that European national governments don’t support Ukraine as they did in the first stages of the invasion, and that poor performances on the battlefield might push Europe to push Ukraine towards compromises to end this conflict quickly. It will be increasingly difficult to justify to the public the financing of military spending towards a third nation unable to succeed on the ground. First signs of this were visible in some Western European states, with 55% of Italians being against Minister of Defence Crosetto’s plan to increase military spending.
Europe is therefore caught in an dilemma: on the one hand, working for a Ukrainian victory is in their regional interest; on the other hand, it might come at political costs that national leaders may not be willing to pay, especially if military aid towards Ukraine is not followed with success on the battlefield. Indeed, European history tells us that the public may not react well to additionial military spendings. However, for Ukraine to meet military expectations, more aid is required from its allies. With the US presidential elections in the coming year and Ukraine’s president Zelensky’s reported confidence that Trump’s election would be in favor of its fight against Russia, politics in the West and the Ukraine-Russia conflict seem more interlinked than ever.
Image Credit: Reuters.com