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An expert's point of view on a current event.

The Right Way to Arm Ukraine

There has been too much cheerleading and too little attention to detail when it comes to giving Kyiv the weapons it needs.

By , a former national and international security policy advisor to the British Conservative Party and the founder and CEO of Article7.
Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 lands in front of Military police officers at Graf Ignatievo airbase near Plovdiv on Feb. 21.
Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 lands in front of Military police officers at Graf Ignatievo airbase near Plovdiv on Feb. 21.
Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 lands in front of Military police officers at Graf Ignatievo airbase near Plovdiv on Feb. 21. NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images

Every day Russian forces stay in control of Ukrainian territory is another day innocent civilians are murdered.

Bodies of men lie face down in the mud, hands tied behind their backs. Women and girls have been raped. Local political leaders have been tortured and killed. Corpses not left on the street have been thrown into mass graves. In Irpin and Trostyanets, Bucha and Chernihiv, the Russian army has unleashed hell on the inhabitants. It is doing the same on a much larger scale in Mariupol, where the Russians have apparently deployed mobile crematoriums, which (in the innocent days of late February) the world thought were deployed to avoid having to send dead Russian soldiers back to their mothers. Now they are apparently being used to destroy evidence of war crimes.

There can now be no illusions about Russian plans for Ukraine. They are repeating what they did in Chechnya and Syria: systematically destroying the civilian population. It is treatment unseen in Ukraine since the genocidal Soviet famine known as the Holodomor or the Nazi invasion of 1941.

Every day Russian forces stay in control of Ukrainian territory is another day innocent civilians are murdered.

Bodies of men lie face down in the mud, hands tied behind their backs. Women and girls have been raped. Local political leaders have been tortured and killed. Corpses not left on the street have been thrown into mass graves. In Irpin and Trostyanets, Bucha and Chernihiv, the Russian army has unleashed hell on the inhabitants. It is doing the same on a much larger scale in Mariupol, where the Russians have apparently deployed mobile crematoriums, which (in the innocent days of late February) the world thought were deployed to avoid having to send dead Russian soldiers back to their mothers. Now they are apparently being used to destroy evidence of war crimes.

There can now be no illusions about Russian plans for Ukraine. They are repeating what they did in Chechnya and Syria: systematically destroying the civilian population. It is treatment unseen in Ukraine since the genocidal Soviet famine known as the Holodomor or the Nazi invasion of 1941.

Current intelligence suggests the Russians are planning a new, concentrated advance from the Donbas region. Civilians have been encouraged to evacuate Kharkiv and other major eastern Ukrainian cities. If the Russians succeed, they could perpetrate crimes against humanity that would make genocidal former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo fade into insignificance.

The moral imperative is self-evident: Ukraine must be given all the help it needs to expel Russian forces from its territory—and the sooner, the better. But even if Western leaders set aside worries about nuclear escalation and energy supplies to Europe, arming Ukraine effectively requires more thought and planning than it has been given.


Ukraine’s most immediate need is more anti-tank weapons (such as Javelin surface-to-air missiles, next-generation light anti-tank weapons, and panzerfausts) and drones (including the Switchblade kamikaze drones from the United States and the highly effective Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 models).

These destroy Russian armored vehicles, leaving its artillery, where Russia keeps most of its firepower, vulnerable to capture. Ukraine could also benefit from anti-ship missiles (the United Kingdom has announced it is supplying some Harpoon anti-ship missiles) and far more longer-range anti-aircraft capabilities to protect its cities and civilian infrastructure from Russian airstrikes.

In the long term, over a period of several years, Ukraine, whatever decision it chooses to make about formal NATO membership, should be integrated into the NATO military supply chain and build up a NATO-style force. Ukraine has imposed heavy casualties on Russia using old weapons. The latest modern tanks, aircraft, missile systems, and drones will give Ukraine the qualitative edge needed to make future Russian aggression unthinkable. This will be the strategic defeat Russian President Vladimir Putin deserves, given that he wanted the war to prevent Ukraine from ever being able to defend itself by integrating into the Western alliance.

Former Warsaw Pact countries have around 750 battle tanks, mostly in Poland, in their inventories. These can be used by Ukraine with minimal adaptation.

NATO’s more technologically advanced militaries keep their firepower in the air, allowing them to attack the enemy at greater distances and at less risk to their soldiers and equipment. In this war, Ukraine has shown itself able to operate with the “mission command”—major authority delegated to local commanders—necessary to bring modern weapons’ firepower to bear in modern combat, where things move too fast to allow top commanders to micromanage effectively.

Mission command enables high-end forces that pack far more power per soldier than Russia’s and are more suited for a population, like Ukraine’s, where there are fewer people of fighting age. However, such high-end equipment requires time to train on and needs to be supported by logistics and maintenance services considerably different from the ones Ukraine currently has.

The most difficult problem is what to do in the medium term, when Ukraine will need to fight to drive the Russians back. Such offensive operations require heavy firepower—meaning tanks, planes, and artillery. Ukraine mostly uses ex-Soviet equipment, which is these days mainly manufactured in Russia, so it’s obviously not possible to just buy more; it must be obtained from other ex-Eastern Bloc states like Slovakia and Poland. NATO equipment can only be used once operators have been trained to use them and maintenance crews learn how to fix them up. Personnel being retrained on new equipment can’t be used to operate what Ukraine already has, and right now, it needs everyone it can muster.

There is, however, at least a partial solution, especially on the ground. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance, former Warsaw Pact countries have around 750 battle tanks, mostly in Poland, in their inventories. These can be used by Ukraine with minimal adaptation, almost doubling Ukraine’s prewar tank force. Considerable quantities of artillery can also be supplied.

The air situation is more difficult. Former Warsaw Pact countries retain relatively few Soviet-era aircraft (though the United States was wrong to block Polish MiG-29 fighter jets from being sent to Ukraine), and military aviation has advanced hugely since the 1990s. Although the Ukrainian defense minister insists his pilots could learn to fly F-16s in a few weeks, it would probably take longer to fly them well. Supplying fuel, missiles, and ammunition to Ukraine is also a significant challenge.

However, sending tanks and planes to Ukraine (the Czech government has already announced it has sent tanks, and Poland has begun some transfers this week) leaves holes in these NATO members’ defenses. Those holes need to be plugged in the medium term with modern equipment and in the short term with permanent West European or North American forces and equipment.

It’s clear then that a phased strategy is needed to give Ukraine the weapons it needs to beat Russia.


First, NATO countries should supply all available Warsaw Pact-style equipment that Ukraine can use: This should include tanks, planes, missiles, and ammunition. Eastern European NATO members that supply this equipment must immediately be reinforced with high-end NATO troops and equipment from Western Europe and North America. This is particularly crucial for Poland, which, because of its size, is where most of this equipment would come from.

Second, Ukraine needs Lend-Lease-style programs so it can buy all the equipment—including artillery, drones, targeting systems, and loitering munitions—it needs on the market and be able to pay it back over the long term after it regains its territorial integrity and integrates further into Europe. Lithuania has announced it will train Ukraine in the use of Western weapons while the European Union is running its accession process on turbo speed for Ukraine, which has also shown during the war that it has built impressive civil as well as military capacities. (Electric power, internet, and rail services are still operating, for example.)

Third, militaries in Central and Eastern Europe as well as Ukraine and Moldova need to be upgraded. The amount of money required will be orders of magnitude greater than the $1 billion or so already being supplied by the United States and the European Peace Facility. This military assistance needs to be part of a coherent long-term program and should be financed by a European financial instrument similar to the post-COVID-19 recovery and resilience fund as well as restricted to countries committed to supporting Ukraine; Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Hungary, for example, should not benefit from the fund.

Fourth, there must be a long-lasting commitment to upgrading Ukraine’s military to NATO standards and equipment. Even if Ukraine does not formally become a NATO member, it should—like Sweden and Finland—now develop interoperable forces that are strong enough to deter Russia on their own.

Enabling Ukraine to defeat Russia is practical and feasible. The massacres uncovered last week in Bucha, Ukraine, are just a foretaste of what awaits Ukrainians if the world doesn’t act.

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy advisor to the British Conservative Party and the founder and CEO of Article7. Twitter: @garvanwalshe

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