NATO hesitation to give Ukraine weapons is one aspect of the snagging counteroffensive.
The timing prevented Ukraine from taking full advantage of Russia’s weaknesses, analysts said.
One analyst said it also “gave the Russians a lot of time to build up their defenses.”
The US and its Western allies hesitated in their rollout of weapons and defense systems to Ukraine — and it could be one aspect hindering Kyiv’s highly-anticipated counteroffensive, analysts told Insider.
“Because we staggered the debates for all of these different systems and didn’t implement them as part of a cohesive strategy,” said George Barros, a geospatial intelligence team lead and Russia analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, “We also gave the Russians a lot of time to build up their defenses, do their own retrospective thinking, learn from mistakes and incorporate lessons learned.”
Earlier this month, Kyiv launched a counterattack against Russian forces on the front lines. And while the operation is still in its early stages — as troops achieve partial success and new positions, according to an update from The Institute for the Study of War — it’s hit a snag against Russian defenses, which run deep with artillery and landmines.
On Friday, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak addressed the slow start to the counteroffensive, tweeting: “The time lost in convincing our partners to provide the necessary weapons is reflected in the specific Russian fortifications built during this period, the deeply dug defense line, and the system of minefields.”
The US and NATO have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars of aid, including Western weapons, air defense systems, tanks, artillery, and combat vehicles.
But the actual timing of these assets hasn’t always aligned with when Kyiv’s requested them — and Western leaders have often flip-flopped on how and when to send aid, such as US President Joe Biden’s reversed stances on F-16s and US Abrams tanks and Germany’s concerns over authorizing Leopard tanks.
According to Barros, debates around “a particular system for a certain number of months” before “finally agreeing we can send them with an approach that doesn’t take into account how you actually have to integrate these systems to make them maximally effective” ultimately “has protracted the war and made the task at hand for the Ukrainians more difficult for no good reason.”
Hesitation around providing Ukraine with certain weapons may have prolonged the war
In January, the Institute for the Study of War assessed that certain “delays in provisions to Ukraine of Western long-range fires systems, advanced air defense systems, and tanks have limited Ukraine’s ability to take advantage of opportunities for larger counteroffensive operations presented by flaws and failures in Russian military operations.”
While it’s not the only aspect hindering Ukraine’s ability to break staunch Russian defenses, Barros said more advanced weapons systems could’ve been mobilized more effectively to Ukraine as early as the beginning of the war.
“I see no compelling reason why the Western coalition would not have decided to send everything that we’re sending Ukraine now any later than it became clear that the Ukrainians defeated the Russian attempt to decapitate their state after the battle of Kyiv,” he told Insider, adding that the resources could’ve helped Ukraine “exploit” Russian weaknesses throughout the summer and fall of 2022.
Part of Biden and NATO’s concern for sending some assets — such as tanks and F-16s — was Russian escalation. Since the beginning of the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
But while Putin’s saber-rattling may have given Biden and Western leaders pause, his threats have so far proven hollow, according to Seth G. Jones, senior vice president, Harold Brown chair, and director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“At virtually every stage of this war, concerns about escalation have proven unfounded,” Jones said, “And really there’s not much the Russians can do at this point other than threaten.”
That’s not a complete guarantee — and Putin’s deployment of tactical nukes in neighboring Belarus earlier this month sends a strong message to the West — but the chances of Russia using nuclear weapons against NATO members and in Ukraine are still unlikely, Barros said.
“There’s no world in which Putin can drop one tactical nuke and then that fundamentally changes the outset of the war,” Barros added.
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