Hi from Madrid,
Yes, we have to talk about weapons – again. In Spain, when trying to find out details about the arms supplied to Ukraine so far, one runs up against a wall of silence. But the issue of weapons is key to each new phase of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the latest opening with a terror chapter of cheap Iranian drones in the skies above.
This new sound of war accelerated Europe’s realisation that some former red lines no longer apply, such as providing Ukraine with more comprehensive air defence systems. But with winter upon us and the war already eight months in, it’s easy to get caught up in the mounting production and funding problems.
Perhaps it seems paradoxical to believe that more weapons for Ukraine will shorten the war, but certainly scaling back the supply would put Ukraine in an unacceptable position. For some countries, this is crystal clear, while for others, the extra incentive to develop their own defence industries also plays a role. And yet others use shrill narratives as weapons, so that we can hardly believe our ears.
When the first drones struck Kyiv, Oksana Kovalenko, 42, shared in a group chat on Telegram what she was seeing and hearing in real time. For this week’s European Focus, our authors Anton Semyzhenko asked her what she felt then and how she feels now.
The latest phase of Moscow’s terror strategy in Ukraine tells us something: that Russia is helpless. But it also tells us that there is no better moment than now to further strengthen Kyiv’s military. The Russians are unable to hold the occupied territories, let alone conquer new ones. The Ukrainians are making progress and gradually liberating the country thanks to weapons supplied from the West.
But the capacity of the countries that have sent most of the weapons so far is slowly running out. This is a dangerous moment for the EU. However, it needs to become even more involved, instead of scaling back the arms deliveries.
In Poland, the conviction that standing alongside Ukraine means defending itself against Russian aggression has followed both those in power and the entire opposition from the very beginning of the conflict.
So far, Warsaw has donated equipment worth $1.7 billion. The country has given Ukraine so many weapons that it is now struggling with its own stockpiles. That’s why it is rapidly ordering tanks, aircraft and heavy weapons from the United States and South Korea, regardless of the cost.
Poland feels that the rest of Europe is not doing enough. In Warsaw’s view, the recently agreed EU military aid package of €3.1 billion is too little. The equipment already handed over by the Poles accounts for more than half of that amount and will not compensate for the country’s outlay (and there are 26 other EU countries waiting to be reimbursed).
It is time for other European countries to become more involved in the defence of Ukraine. Russia’s withdrawal cannot be achieved other than through military victory. Paradoxically, this is the only way to save thousands more of Vladimir Putin’s victims from death.
Tens of thousands of freedom-loving teachers and students rallied in Budapest over the weekend on the 66th anniversary of the 1956 revolution, protesting against the government, demanding better wages and educational reform. At the same time, many expressed their disgust at the current abuse of the memory of the revolution by the Orbán regime.
Why? Because, in a shocking U-turn, the prime minister now says that the Hungarians of 1956, thousands of whom lost their lives, were in fact not fighting for their freedom or democracy – but to force a ceasefire and peace negotiations conducted over their heads by the Western and Eastern blocs.
That’s what he wants for Ukraine, too. It does not matter what the Ukrainians want, the war can only be ended by negotiations between the US and Russia, Orbán said in Berlin in mid-October.
To get them to the table as quickly as possible, the parties must be forced, Orbán explained. For example, he said, a major problem is that weapons from the West are pouring to the front. He did not mention weapons from the East. He also hopes that the Americans will turn away from Kyiv.
Thus, for Orbán, it is not the Russians who need to be coerced, but the country under attack.. In the struggle between two political systems, he is rooting for autocracy. Meanwhile, a current government campaign portrays the EU’s sanctions against Russia as bombs falling on Hungary.
The memory of the revolution could perfectly mirror Ukraine’s struggle today. As in 1956, Russian tanks have once again invaded a country striving for freedom and democracy.
Unlike our prime minister, who began his career by standing up to the Soviet empire in 1989, many Hungarians have not forgotten this.
Last week, 24 deputies of the governing Green and liberal FDP parties published an appeal calling for more German initiative in a European restructuring of the weapons deliveries to Ukraine.
However, not a single member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD signed the appeal, even though its chairman, Lars Klingbeil, acknowledged a day earlier the party’s misjudgments toward Russia in recent decades as clearly as never before.
Even today, the party is still struggling to come to terms with its own “Zeitenwende”, the historic shift in German foreign and security policy declared by Scholz on February 27.
When Iranian suicide drones slammed into Ukrainian cities, the new reality dawned on Western Europe: Ukraine needs an effective anti-aircraft shield to protect its people from these terror attacks.
Paris, criticised over its meagre military support for Kyiv, has pledged its help. On October 12, Emmanuel Macron announced the delivery of “radars, anti-aircraft systems and missiles to protect Ukrainians from attacks, especially drone attacks.”
After getting to grips with ‘Caesar’ self-propelled howitzers, Ukrainian soldiers will now have to learn how to handle ‘Crotales’, French-made air-defence missile batteries. Paris has committed to supplying them to Ukraine within two months. Although the quantity was not specified, it will be limited: the French army itself has only twelve Crotales.
Though helpful in the war, they will have very limited impact on the drone battle, according to military expert Vincent Tourret. “The Crotales are rather designed to shoot down aircraft or missiles. They are more likely to be used to hit Russian Sukhoï helicopters or intercept cruise missiles in the terminal phase. It would not be very cost-effective to use them against drones. With their range of only four kilometres, the German Gepard guns would be more effective.”
By helping Ukraine, Paris also wants to support its own arms industry. It has set up a fund of 100 million euros, “from which Ukrainians can buy whatever they want, provided that the supplier is French,” said Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu.
Kyiv has reportedly begun using the fund to buy motorised pontoon bridges to help cross rivers. However, this solution has one important limitation: production time. Unlike selecting them from army stocks, the production process is lengthy. On average, it takes a year from order to delivery of a 155-mm shell.