Russia-Ukraine War: As NATO Pumps In High-End Military Equipment Into Kiev, Who Is Tracking The Arms Stockpile?

OPED By Girish Linganna 

The war between Russia and Ukraine, which began on February 24, is still on. If Ukraine had been able to give a tough fight to Russia, how many arms would have been supplied by the US and other members of NATO? Both the suppliers and the receiver would probably find it tough to answer.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on May 22, asked the West, in particular the US, to supply more weapons to facilitate the reopening of ports and transport routes that Russia has blocked.

He said if Ukraine gets more arms to fight Russia, it can export grains and other food supplies that could contain global inflation and food prices.

Russia-Ukraine War 

Zelenskyy’s request came soon after America kept up its promise to deliver a $40 billion aid package to war-torn Ukraine on May 19. This included the military, economic, and humanitarian assistance packages and is considered one of the greatest foreign assistance efforts in decades.

After witnessing the renewed assault by Russia on Sievierodontesk, in the eastern Donbas region, the president said the situation in Donbas is challenging.

The earlier assistance from the US to Ukraine was $13.6 billion in March. US aid has touched a record $53 billion, with the second allotment since February 2022.

The US Senate has approved the financial assistance because Ukraine, by fighting against Russia, is defending democracy.

Despite all the foreign aid, Ukraine is still reported to be facing a $5 billion monthly deficit. Given that it is also going through a financially stressful period, the US is unlikely to be able to sustain this sort of economic support for too long.

Joe Biden-Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky with his US counterpart Joe Biden. (file photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, the US Senate’s attempt to fast track a $40 billion Ukraine aid bill was delayed owing to concerns about inflation levels and government spending and debt. Market analysts are also predicting that the US will enter a mild recession by 2022.

Heavy Arms Inflow Into Ukraine

However, the more worrying issue is that of the arms supply, as there seems to be no account of the used or piled arms in Ukraine. There has been no official announcement of the list of military assistance provided to Ukraine.

Yet, policy analysts and trade observers have said that no less than 31 countries have sent military aid to Ukraine amid its war with Russia. Guns and ammunition have been in ample supply. The US has probably shipped 50 million rounds of ammo for handguns, lightweight rifles, and artillery.

Different countries have despatched anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles over the last few weeks. The US has pumped in 7,000 user-friendly anti-tank Javelins, which soldiers can carry even on their shoulders. Another anti-aircraft gun seen in Ukraine is the self-propelled German-made Flakpanzer Gepard.

Ukraine has also been found using the ‘attack drones’ of the US and Turkey. Ukrainian officials have talked with MQ-9 Reaper Drone manufacturers in Washington. These are heavy attack uncrewed aerial vehicles with a range of 1,850 km. This is supposed to give an edge to Ukraine over Russia.

The war zone has also seen the landing of the Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar, a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned combat aerial vehicle capable of remotely controlling.

File Image: A Ukrainian TB2 drone, armed with precision-guided weapons.

Turkey has used the TB2 in its operations against the Kurds and the Syrian civil war. Ukraine, probably foreseeing a significant threat by Russia, had signed a deal to purchase 12 TB2 in 2019.

Later, the total number went up to 20 Bayraktar drones. In March, Russia published images of the TB2 wreckage in Ukraine, while Ukraine claimed the TB2 destroyed two Russian Raptor-class patrol boats near Snake Island and one Russian Mi-8 transport helicopter.

There could be more arms, ammunition, fighter jets, and drones of all sizes and capacities in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military has claimed that the usage of American-manufactured weapons is worrying Russian troops. Russia’s never-ending invasion of Ukraine tells a different story.

The question is whether the Ukrainian military and civilians are equipped to handle the arms being sent by the US. This query arose when the US shipped hundreds of “Switchblade” drones – battery-operated unmanned aerial vehicles that can carry three pounds’ worth of explosives to Ukraine.

The drones have fitted cameras for surveillance and explode after attacking the target. When US defense officials were apprehensive about sending weapons unfamiliar to the Ukraine military, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said that some of the Ukraine troops would be trained to use the Switchblades drones.

He also announced that the Pentagon would send at least 120 ‘Phoenix Ghost’ tactical drones, specially redesigned for Ukraine. The features of the Ghost are not made public. It is believed that, like the Switchblades, the Ghosts are also suicide drones.

Switchblade 300 loitering munition. (via Twitter)

While there is no doubt that Kyiv has received a variety of anti-tank systems, lethal weapons, Javelins, and more, there is no certainty that all of them have been put to use? And if they are unused, are they in safe custody?

Into Extremist Hands

Ukraine claims that the weapons are being utilized in its war against Russia. But there is no third party to verify the claims.

Questions have been raised regarding Russia still continuing to carry on with its airstrikes, including the seizure of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant in the third week of May. These questions poke holes in Ukraine’s claims.

There are anxious voices raising concerns about military aid to Ukraine ending up in the hands of undeserving forts or in the wrong hands. The information flow from Ukraine is only one-sided – Zelenskyy and his claims.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has noted that the US Department of Defense (DoD) sends trucks loaded with pallets of arms to Ukrainian armed forces in Poland. He has said that it is up to Ukraine to decide to use them.

The US could use satellites if it wants to monitor or keep a tab on the war in Ukraine. Furthermore, the US must have trained Ukraine’s military for many years to use it against Russia when the time comes.

There is no definite answer to when the war will end. If the fight goes in favor of Russia, what would the fate of the arms and ammunition piled up in Ukraine be?

There is a chance that it might replicate the happenings in Afghanistan, where the US dumped weapons for decades and then suddenly vacated. Indeed, the unused leftover arms are in the hands of the Taliban, who are ruling Afghanistan now.

Just late last month, it was revealed that the US had left behind military equipment worth an estimated $7 billion. The equipment was reportedly transferred to Afghan forces by Washington during the curse of its involvement in the Asian nation.

Taliban fighters had proudly showcased this weaponry after they acquired it, with videos of the same going viral on multiple social media platforms. This was not a one-off incident, either.

In 2019, CNN reported that the US had shipped weapons to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners in Yemen and the UAE.

The weapons ended up being transferred to al-Qaeda-linked groups and a Salafi militia. The Pentagon had said the Gulf monarchies were breaching the terms of the arms deals with Washington. But beyond that, the US could do nothing.

In keeping with the trend, some analysts believe that US weapons coming into Ukraine might fall into insurgent hands. The statement was given by Eurasia Center Vice President- Earl Rasmussen – to news service Sputnik illustrates this well.

He said, “Much of the equipment [to Ukraine] will never reach the front lines.” Sputnik reports that Rasmussen further added that the equipment “will either be sold on the black market or destroyed by the Russians in its staging area.”

The possibility of weapons falling into the hands of ultra-nationalists and other terrorist organizations is also not far removed.

File Image: Macron and Putin

Corruption & Chaos In War

The weapons and monetary aid that Kyiv is receiving will have to face yet another barrier: corruption. Despite taking several measures before the war, Ukraine’s track record in handling various kinds of humanitarian aid has been sketchy.

Corruption is further exacerbated in a situation of war, where most institutional check mechanisms have had a partial or complete breakdown. The huge amount of funding and equipment involved further compounds the seriousness of the corruption issue.

There are several propositions in the US Congress to increase documentation and monitoring to counter these effects.

However, transparency regarding weapons and funds in a war-torn country is extremely difficult. The flow of munition and aid also can not be blocked. Ukraine needs to be “fortified” with arms and ammunition. This process will continue for a few more weeks.

Not only for its survival but also for the survival of the West, particularly the European countries. The aggressive measures of Russia have already sapped the energy of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Out of fear of being targeted, the West will continue to pump in guns, jets, and drones, among others.

Repercussions can be felt only later.

  • The author is an Aerospace and Defence Analyst & Director ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd. Views expressed are personal.
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