Representatives from nine NATO countries gathered at Tapa army base in Estonia and pledged more military aid for Ukraine. Photo courtesy UK Ministry of Defence.
KYIV, Ukraine — After the opening salvos of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, NATO countries haven’t always been on the same sheet of music when it comes to delivering military aid to Ukraine.
Germany has been a consistent foot-dragger.
Recently, with the UK, France, and Poland ready to deliver main battle tanks and light tanks to Ukraine, Berlin has vetoed sending German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, fearing it would antagonize Moscow. Berlin barred other NATO countries from sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless the US approved the delivery of its Abrams tanks to Kyiv — a move Washington has so far rejected, citing logistical obstacles.
“We are never doing something just by ourselves, but together with others, especially the US, which is very important in this common task to defend the Ukrainian independence and sovereignty,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Leopard 2A5 main battle tank during a teaching and combat demonstration in August 2010. Photo courtesy Bundeswehr via Wikimedia Commons.
With a growing number of NATO countries signaling their willingness to deliver tanks to Kyiv, Scholz’s admonition of going it alone by sending Leopard 2s to Ukraine seems increasingly out of touch with reality. Poland, for its part, is considering sending its allotment of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine without Berlin’s approval, marking a breach of contract.
Berlin’s intransigence also spurred a group of NATO members to make a public statement in support of boosted military aid to Ukraine — including the delivery of main battle tanks.
On Jan. 19, representatives from nine NATO countries — not including the US — gathered at Tapa army base in Estonia and pledged “the delivery of an unprecedented set of donations including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defense, ammunition, and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine's defense."
The so-called Tallinn Pledge comprised signatories from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.
“The Tallinn Pledge accomplishes two things. Firstly, it helps send a message to American policymakers, who wrongly claim that Europe isn't doing enough, that Europe is more than just Germany or France. There are many European countries pulling their weight and the Tallinn Pledge shows this,” said Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who specializes in national security and foreign policy.
“Secondly, the pledge is meant to name and shame, by omission, those countries in Europe that are failing to live up to their obligations to help Ukraine — namely Germany,” Coffey told Coffee or Die Magazine.
The Tallinn Pledge not only calls for arming Ukraine to resist Russia’s invasion, but to also provide Ukraine's military the means to expel Russian forces from its territory.
According to a copy of the Tallinn Pledge posted to the British government’s website, “The new level of required combat power is only achieved by combinations of main battle tank squadrons, beneath air and missile defence, operating alongside divisional artillery groups, and further deep precision fires enabling targeting of Russian logistics and command nodes in occupied territory.”
The text added: “Therefore, we commit to collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defence, ammunition, and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine’s defence.”
The Tallinn Pledge signatories have all pledged stepped-up military aid deliveries to Ukraine. In particular, several countries are ready to deliver Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine should Germany unblock the process.
For its part, Estonia will supply Ukraine with €113 million worth of assistance, including dozens of 155 mm and 122 mm howitzers, more than 100 Carl Gustaf anti-tank weapons, and thousands of shells for various systems.
“Some countries like Estonia, the capital of which is the namesake of the pledge, has given $400 million, equal to more than 1% of its national economy, to Ukraine in assistance. For Estonia, this is a massive sum,” Coffey said. “Estonia has also given every single piece of towed artillery in its inventory to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Germany dithers over allowing others to send German made tanks to Ukraine.”
The Netherlands, which pledged a Patriot missile battery for Ukraine this week, said it's also considering sending Ukraine F-16 fighter jets and Leopard 2 tanks.
Denmark will continue to train Ukrainian soldiers and deliver 19 Caesar self-propelled howitzers.
Latvia pledged Stinger man-portable air-defense systems, two Mi-17 helicopters, dozens of machine guns with ammunition, dozens of UAVs, and spare parts for M109 howitzers.
Lithuania pledged dozens of L-70 anti-aircraft guns with tens of thousands of ammunition rounds, two Mi-8 helicopters, anti-drone systems, drones, optics, and thermal-vision devices.
The Czech Republic pledged to produce more large-caliber ammunition, howitzers, and armored personnel carriers.
Slovakia is considering deliveries of main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and air defense systems, as well as the increased production of howitzers, de-mining equipment, and ammunition.
Poland pledged S-60 anti-aircraft guns with 70,000 pieces of ammunition. Poland is also ready to donate a company of Leopard 2 tanks with 1,000 pieces of ammunition.
The United Kingdom is set to deliver a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks with armored recovery and repair vehicles; AS90 self-propelled 155 mm guns, hundreds more armored vehicles; a maneuver support package, including minefield breaching and bridging capabilities; dozens more UAV systems to support Ukrainian artillery; 100,000 artillery rounds; hundreds more sophisticated missiles including GMLRS rockets, Starstreak air defense missiles, and medium-range air defense missiles; 600 Brimstone anti-tank munitions; and equipment to repair Ukrainian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.
A British Challenger 2 tank being demonstrated in 2017 at the United Kingdom's ‘The Tank Museum," in Dorset. Photo by Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons.
After 11 months, the war is at a critical juncture, with Russia likely plotting a renewed offensive later this winter or in the spring.
On Friday, Jan. 20, one day after the Tallinn Pledge was signed, NATO and Ukrainian military representatives gathered at America’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany. There, the US-led Ukraine Defense Group charted the course for continued Western military aid to Kyiv in 2023.
“Like most wars, this is likely to end at the negotiating table, but what happens in negotiations is directly linked to what happens on the battlefield, so we need to deliver more weapons to Ukraine now,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the meeting.
Pedestrians walk past a display of destroyed Russian military equipment in central Kyiv on Aug. 21, 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.
The overall military balance of power in Europe has shifted since 2014 due to Russian aggression in Ukraine. NATO countries have seen the Russian threat in different ways.
Poland and NATO’s three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania perceived Russia’s 2014 aggression against Ukraine as a bellwether for a new era of existential threats.
Collectively, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania increased their collective spending on new military equipment from $210 million in 2014 to $390 million in 2016, according to a report by IHS Jane's. That boost made NATO’s three Baltic countries the most rapidly militarizing on Earth, in terms of percent defense spending increases.
For their part, Latvia and Lithuania had the two fastest-growing military budgets in the world between 2014 and 2016, according to IHS Jane's.
Polish military spending also increased by 18% in 2015, a consequence of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Germany, however, increased its reliance on Russian gas in the years after 2014 and green-lighted, up until the eve of the February 2022 invasion, the development of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe.
“In practical terms NATO has always been an alliance inside an alliance,” Coffey said. “In recent years this was the case in Afghanistan and Libya. To a certain extent, this is now the case regarding arming Ukraine.”