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Does the shipment of large amounts of a variety of sophisticated weapons to Ukraine carry a high risk for the senders? A couple of things come to mind:

  • Similarity to Afghanistan. We send weapons to Ukraine because the government is a friend of the West. But the population is ambivalent at best, with most families having members on both sides of the border with Russia. Thus, we just can’t say for sure on which side the next Ukrainian government will be (not even mentioning other possibilities like a coup). If the next government is against us, all the nice weaponry and technology might suddenly be in the wrong hands. Aren’t we afraid of an Afghanistan repeat?
  • Russia’s reaction to a significant damage caused by an offensive weapon delivered by the West. During the Falklands War, the Brits were very upset when one of their ships was sunk by a French-built Exocet missile. If an ally was so upset by that event, what could an adversary’s reaction be, especially in case the damage is caused by the Ukraine, which initiates a war (to recover Crimea, for instance) and sinks a Russian ship with an anti-ship missile delivered by the UK? Wouldn’t such an event put all British ships in the Black Sea (and elsewhere) at risk of, say, a one-for-one retaliation with a fairly strong justification?
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    To whom does "we" and "us" refer?
    – Rick Smith
    Feb 9, 2022 at 15:24
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    Thanks for the question, Rick. "We" refers to the West.
    – user28580
    Feb 9, 2022 at 15:29
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    "all British ships in the Black Sea" a null set.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9, 2022 at 18:23
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    The whole "Russian missile shooting down a civilian airliner" thing seems to have largely blown over, so why would a US-supplied missile sinking a military ship be worse? Feb 11, 2022 at 2:18
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    "Aren’t we afraid of an Afghanistan repeat?" There are no Mullahs in Ukraine and most probably we are much more afraid of Russia. Mar 15, 2022 at 9:23

6 Answers 6

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  • If Russia attacks Ukraine, relations between Russia and the West will suffer significantly. In all likelihood, they'll be out of SWIFT, and gas sales might be interrupted. Russia being upset about the source of Ukraine's weapons will hardly matter.
  • Under international law, nations are allowed to buy weapons, and they are then responsible for using them. An attack on a British ship to "retaliate" against an Ukrainian attack would, legally, be an unprovoked act of war. There have been occasions where states publicly proclaimed that they'd hold other states responsible for the actions of their proxy, but that was more a political declaration than a legal analysis.
    Your Exocet example does not apply because the UK and France are NATO allies, and hence supposed to coordinate defense policy. It wasn't about the legality of the sale, if was about the wisdom. (And as usual, hindsight is cheap.)
  • Things would look different if Ukraine attacks Russia. Russia voices this fear, but "the West" does not believe that this is a realistic scenario. So right or wrong, the West won't be guided by this concern.
  • This leaves the risk of arms getting into the European black market, as they did after the Balkans wars. In this regard, lots of AK-47s or pistols would be more worrisome than relatively few sophisticated ATGM or jammers.
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    If this post is not updated, the site will look more like History than Politics :)
    – Déjà vu
    Mar 15, 2022 at 18:01
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    @Déjàvu, that's the problem with anything that isn't history yet, it becomes history. One always has to check the dates of questions and answers.
    – o.m.
    Mar 15, 2022 at 18:52
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As a partial answer, it's because the situation is very different from Afghanistan. Ukraine has been a democracy for 30 years. It's also a country. Countries don't like to lose their weapons. We've been selling serious hardware to the non-Democracy Saudi Arabia for quite a while without them going missing.

Meanwhile the Stinger missiles weren't even sold to the country of Afghanistan. The were sold to a loose group of known anti-American terrorist-sympathizers who happened to hate the Soviets more. I dug this fun quote up from a 2001 Slate article on the Stinger sales:

Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., prophetically worried aloud that the rebels—dominated by Islamic fundamentalists who loathed the West almost as much as they hated the Soviets—might share the deadly Stingers with terrorist groups.

For context, this was before the Taliban formed, but these mujahideen were the precursors, in a non-surprising way.

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    "We've been selling serious hardware to the non-Democracy Saudi Arabia for quite a while" - Who exactly is "we" in the context of this answer?
    – Philipp
    Feb 10, 2022 at 8:20
  • By example of Afganista it looks, at least for me, OP is refering to curent situation and not the 80s, where USA suported islamists in a proxi war against USSR.
    – convert
    Feb 10, 2022 at 12:37
  • @convert Good point. Afghanistan mid 1980's is the real example of dangerous arms getting lost -- last summer the Taliban didn't get much useful -- but the OP might not know that. The problem is the recent withdrawal is still a hot-button topic and would completely derail the Q. Feb 10, 2022 at 17:54
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    @Philipp I'm purposely using that "we" in the same sense as the question's "we". I could change it to "the US" or "the West" (as the OP wrote on a comment) but it feels like a distraction. Feb 10, 2022 at 17:59
  • @Philipp: obviously the US, but also Germany. dw.com/en/surge-in-german-arms-sales-to-saudi-arabia-and-turkey/… (Because that didn't annoy Puting, I guess.) Apr 19, 2022 at 21:45
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Similarity to Afghanistan. We send weapons to Ukraine because the government is a friend of the West. But the population is ambivalent at best, with most families having members on both sides of the border with Russia. Thus, we just can’t say for sure on which side the next Ukrainian government will be (not even mentioning other possibilities like a coup). If the next government is against us, all the nice weaponry and technology might suddenly be in the wrong hands. Aren’t we afraid of an Afghanistan repeat?

The parallel with Afghanistan does not hold for cultural, historical and political reasons: Ukraine is far from a tribal society, technologically and socially rather close to North America or Western Europe, and certainly lacking any religious extremist movements worth of mentioning. Even if being subordinated to Russia for most of the last few centuries, Ukraine has strongly centralized state authority - the worst that one (more precisely the West) can fear is a government that is more friendly with Russia than with the West (or a government that is sufficiently strong and/or smart to balance between Russia and West, in order to further the Ukrainian interest.)

Russia’s reaction to a significant damage caused by an offensive weapon delivered by the West. During the Falklands War, the Brits were very upset when one of their ships was sunk by a French-built Exocet missile. If an ally was so upset by that event, what could an adversary’s reaction be, especially in case the damage is caused by the Ukraine, which initiates a war (to recover Crimea, for instance) and sinks a Russian ship with an anti-ship missile delivered by the UK? Wouldn’t such an event put all British ships in the Black Sea (and elsewhere) at risk of, say, a one-for-one retaliation with a fairly strong justification?

It is pretty certain that the weapons sent to Ukraine are chosen in such a way as not to undermine the military edge of the weapons suppliers themselves. In fact, weapons supplied as "help" to other countries are often outdated ones, which would have to be recycled anyway.

A more serious risk is posed by confrontation with Russia, a nuclear power, since even a small clash could potentially escalate into an all-out nuclear war. This seems to be the largest miscalculation regarding the Ukrainian crisis: it is treated as a local conflict, as if it were a proxy war with Russia in a remote country. In fact supplying weapons to Ukraine or stationing NATO forces nearby poses direct threat to Russia (even if laughable in its scale) and roughly equivalent to Russians stationing their weapons in Cuba or Mexico, just across the American border. That these risks are downplayed in western discourse is rather surprising, but with time they may eventually lead to a number of more hawkish politicians getting voted out of office.

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  • But it´s only west Ukraine close to North America or Western Europe, the eastern part is still closer to Russia. Also extremist movements don´t need to be only religious.
    – convert
    Feb 10, 2022 at 12:46
  • @convert If we compare with Afghanistan, then Eastern Ukraine or Russia are just as close to North America and Western Europe as Western Ukraine or any Eastern EU members. In fact, perhaps closer then Latin American countries or Turkey (a major NATO member) Feb 10, 2022 at 13:01
  • I don´t think that by close, you mean geographical distance. There is a big diference in culture, religion, mentality and values.
    – convert
    Feb 10, 2022 at 14:36
  • @convert yes, I don't mean geographical distance. Geographically anywhere in Europe is much closer to Russia than to the US :D Feb 10, 2022 at 14:55
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The amount of resistance Ukraine shows indicates that the nation is pretty difficult to dissuade from its current views and preferences. This does not really look like Afghanistan where the army received lots of American weapons but was not motivated enough for the serious fight.

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    I think the OP is rather referring to the armament of the Mujahideen in the 1980s against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan that later fueled the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan. Mar 15, 2022 at 9:22
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In the east of Ukraine there are several militant factions.

The once we have often heard about are the Pro-Russian separatists.

However, there are also militant factions that are Pro-Ukraine but not Pro-government. The west has taken the risk of these factions holding such advanced weapons when the conflict is over into consideration and has decided that supplying Ukraine with sophisticated weapons right now outweighs the risk of these same weapons falling in the wrong hands when the conflict is over.

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    This is a very vague answer. Can you expand on who these “factions” are and provide some sources, both for their existence and their riskiness?
    – divibisan
    Apr 15, 2022 at 18:53
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Russia will not attack all British ships in the Black Sea, possibly the ones delivering weapons, but even in this case there is a more "peaceful" solution, like naval blockade similar to the one made by USA during Cuba crisis.

Also now there is an official statement by Russia about such weapon shipments.

Now about "wrong hands", there is more then 1 type of such "wrong hands":

Enemies of the West

Pro russian groups don´t need to invade Kiev or any other territory held by current Ukrainian government to get western weapons into their hands. There is some easier way to do that, as the Ukrainian conscripts are not really high motivated. Most of that Ukrainian conscripts were forced to join the army which is the main reason for their relatively low motivation. It´s not such big problem to get the western weapons from that low motivated conscripts when they surrender or even run over, some of them are ready to sell that weapons for some good money.

Russia already claims to have captured some western weapons in Ukraine.

Also there is a video claiming to show Ukrainian soldiers selling weapons to their Donbass counterparts. Unfortunately there is no english subtitles.

Evidence of resale of weapons received from NATO by Ukraine is published

Friends of the West

This is a bit problematic definition of a friend as an enemy of the enemy. So this "friends" are nationalists and even islamists. I know it sounds like some kind of Russian propaganda, specially about islamists, but there are western sources proving that. Also not all that nationalists are automatically nazis. This both groups are very high motivated and experienced in what their doing even before 2014. They will not easily surrender to any Russian or pro russian troops and definitely never collaborate with them. The risk western weapons would go from that groups into Russian hands is about 0. The Ukrainian nationalists see Russian as their main enemy but they are not really friends to Poland and some other neighboring countries to the west of Ukraine. Among the nationalists there are not just Ukrainian ones, nationalists from some western countries are fighting among that nationalists groups, they could take the weapons later to their home countries. Now about islamists, most of them are Crimea Tatars or Chechens. These groups are also very hostile to Russia, but sometimes to the West, as we saw in Boston or France.

This is more or les the risks from supplying Ukraine with weapons. To decide how high the risks are is very difficult and speculative.

Here an article from non Russian source about islamists fighting for Ukraine. And some more references about islamists:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dzhokhar_Dudayev_Battalion

And here about nationalists. Some more references about nationalists in Ukraine. Also here a trustable sorce, that definitely can't be called Russian propaganda.

Some references about Ukrainian soldiers surrendering:

https://www.bitchute.com/video/zvWiPlbZSQ0/

https://www.brighteon.com/084f8dd8-4c7b-4011-b4c9-b41923ca3251

Also there is a statement from Russia about such arms shipments here.

CNN: U.S. admits their weapons could end up with Ukrainian terrorists

There is even a conection between Christchurch shooter and Ukrains far right groups like Azov as can be seen here and here. So an other "Christchurch shooter" with some of that weapons is not a good idea.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – CDJB
    Apr 20, 2022 at 11:13
  • @CDJB Just asked the downvoters for their resons, so I could improve my answer.
    – convert
    Apr 20, 2022 at 16:31

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