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The Ukrainian military is basically starving for more advanced equipments. From what is public information, it is clear that the West hasn't been supplying to the levels that would satisfy the Ukrainian's side needs (e.g. Anna Malyar recently remarked that Ukraine had only received 10% of what it needs).

So why doesn't Ukraine just buy these weapons? Now obviously, not all the weapons that Ukraine has received from the West are for free. But I imagine that the country as a whole has the resources to at least buy part of what it needs?

Perhaps the problem is not resources but rather that they cannot find adequate sellers for this kind of advanced/heavy weaponry since most (if not all) sellers should be countries, and even the sellers that are not countries are probably depended on their government's approvals for such transactions?

Or perhaps there is also a bit of propaganda going on here and their needs are actually for the most part quelled (though this appears to be very unlikely)?

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    A lot of speculation here... Have you done any preliminary research? A quick search leads me to think financial resources are a major limitation: reuters.com/world/europe/…
    – Brian Z
    Jun 15 at 10:36
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    There also might be supply side issues. Companies build big systems to order, they do not have stockpiles of current weaponry sitting in their back yards. So even if Ukraine could order something now, it would take a very long time before any kind of heavy weapon would actually be ready for use. Jun 15 at 14:19
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    They are buying some. They've annouced $700M deal with Poland for 60 self-propelled howitzers defence-blog.com/… I'm not sure if the money will be compensated/donated by thrird parties though.
    – Fizz
    Jun 16 at 4:48
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    N.B., according to Wikipedia only 80 such Krabs have been built... and some equip the Polish armed forces so I'm guessing deliveries will take a while. The Polish army has donated 18 vehicles from its stock to Ukraine, not included in that contract.
    – Fizz
    Jun 16 at 5:42
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    advanced equipment typically requires substantial training to use effectively. If Ukraine has not previously had this equipment available it likely doesn't have people trained to use it (with the possible exception of some foreign volunteers). Even if they got advanced equipment tomorrow it couldn't be deployed to the front lines for some time
    – Tristan
    Jun 16 at 9:02

3 Answers 3

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Buying arms isn't like buying a TV set, or even buying a car.

  • Normally, it takes several years from order to delivery.
    In the normal case, arms are manufactured for the specific export customer, with cash in advance and a long lead time. There may be some used/refurbished/surplus arms for sale, but those may not be exactly what Ukraine needs. There are situations where Ukraine could "jump the waiting list," but those usually involve government action to use national security clauses in the contracts. The first IRIS-T SAMs will arrive in October, for instance, and that means other customers (presumably Egypt) will wait longer. Arms manufacturers don't like breaking contracts.
  • Normally, arms exports require permits.
    Getting those is relatively routine for friendly countries not at war, but exports to belligerents face greater scrutiny because they might involve the seller in a conflict. If a nation is willing to sell to Ukraine, they can just as well donate -- money isn't the main sticking point. There is even an EU fund to reimburse EU members who give arms to Ukraine, called the European Peace Facility for some reason.

So if Ukraine needs weapons now, most of them come from government stocks. There Ukraine is in competition with war stocks reserved for NATO contingencies. Every howitzer or MLRS that goes to Ukraine now will not be available to defend the Baltics or Poland if that should become an issue. Of course defending Ukraine might prevent further Russian attacks -- or provoke them, we don't know.


Regarding the propaganda angle, Ukraine argues that it is fighting Russia to defend the rest of Europe and the West in general, and hence deserves unstinting support. The West is providing billions in arms, more billions in humanitarian aid, and shelter to millions of refugees. The West is not doing all it could do. The West made clear, successively, the Ukraine is not a NATO member, that there would be no NATO ground troops, and that there would be no NATO air forces and air defense troops (the "no fly zone" proposal).

The OP asked if the needs are getting mostly fulfilled. I don't think so. This might explain the Ukrainian communications strategy. They may be asking for weapons they will not get to make sure that they get other weapons as a "consolation prize." Or they are using public diplomacy to pressure governments. Or they are simply under so much stress that they are getting undiplomatic. Or all of the above.

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    His answer could do without the biased off-topic commentary at the end.
    – Mavrik
    Jun 15 at 21:33
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    @Mavrik, the last paragraph of the answer answers the last paragraph of the question.
    – o.m.
    Jun 16 at 4:09
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    Sorry, it was an autocorrect - I meant "this". The part about Ukraine communication strategy has little to do with Ukraine buying weapons and it's very subjective while adding nothing to the core question asked.
    – Mavrik
    Jun 16 at 8:37
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    Having been following sources like Kyiv Independent daily for months, and I'm almost certain its the former/middle reason. In their position they have to ask for the moon because their only downside is the stuff they don't get that they could have. Its like how when the soccer ball goes out of bounds, both players always insist the other team did it, no matter how clear-cut it was. They are going to always insist the democratic west isn't doing enough, because from their perspective more is better than no more.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 16 at 14:04
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    ...this statement isn't a criticism BTW. They have soldiers and citizens they are responsible for dying by the hundreds right now, and are quite likely faced with the extinction of their nation and culture. It would be irresponsible of a government in that situation to not be doing all it can. Just don't mistake what they are saying for an impartial military/political assessment.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 16 at 14:09
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  • First, they are buying gear. The Turkish drones for example were straight out purchases.

    • Now that the war has started, some countries may either have laws against supplying belligerents. Or they may choose to stop selling more. This is for example what Turkey has done with their drones. They have stopped, at least officially. Russia is a big country to annoy, not everyone will want to do so. Israel, another big independent arms supplier, is sitting this out for now, and keeping it that way is presumably why Lavrov's asinine "Hitler was Jewish" was quietly shelved by the Kremlin.
  • Second, as others have pointed out Ukraine is poor to start with, with about 1/3 the GDP per capita of Russia and 1/3rd the population. And that's before the war started, they have had probably 30+% recession by now: cribbing from the comments above. As a seller, you'd want cash, not credit. So there's an inherent limit to how much they can buy. Comparatively, Western economies can easily match Russia's purchasing power, if the only problem was paying for military gear.

    • Russia also has huge stockpiles of guns and ammo, making them hard to match in that domain. Their initial losses have presumably been more frontline infantry and AFVs, rather than further-back artillery.
  • Third, supply constraints. It takes years to purchase and manufacture heavy military equipment. There probably just isn't that much capacity, on short notice, to really build a lot of new stuff, in the West. This is exacerbated by the fact that many Western arms suppliers aren't really tooled up to be high-volume manufacturers right now but rather get just enough ongoing orders to preserve competency and for jobs-for-the-boys reasons.

    • The Stinger manufacturing chain for example, is shut down and they are trying to restart it, but some components are not available anymore.

    • Western arms vendors are too fragmented into many small national suppliers. That, coupled with the frequent insistence of smaller Western countries to do some at-home manufacturing even when they buy abroad doesn't help. Canada's arctic icebreakers are Norwegian-designed but built in Canada, for example. That has sent the unit price in the stratosphere but it also means that neither the Canadian nor the Norwegian shipyards build a lot (yes, this is only an example, arctic icebreakers would probably not be hugely useful in the Donbas).

    • So Ukraine is getting donations from existing Western stockpiles, rather than buying new gear. But there is only so much available: Canada sent 4 measly 777 howitzers, but they have only 37 in total, so that's a bigger actual slice for Canada, than it seems, while remaining very limited for Ukraine (one saving grace is that they are getting the same 777s from a number of countries).

  • Fourth, yes, there have been promises made, to great fanfare, but with little effect. Germany supposedly isn't actually shipping much, yet. Spain at some point talked about 40 good-shape older model Leopard 2 tanks, which later turned into 10, not-in-good-shape, Leopard 2s, not worth setting up a complex logistical chain for.

  • Fifth, if we step back and look at the actual problem, that of not having enough artillery at the front, there is an extra, unfortunate issue: Ukrainian forces have to be trained on the newer, more sophisticated gear and those weapons can't be used until they are.

    • initially, Stingers, Javelins, NLAWS and the like shared several features: they were easy to train people on and they were single use.

    • heavy guns like the 777s need more training before they can be used. But they also need a lot more training for maintenance. They are not single use, so they need ongoing TLC to keep operational. Apparently, the initial wave of deliveries has encountered some maintenance issues and weapons need to be held back until their operators are sufficiently trained.

  • Sixth, Ukraine is transitioning from using Soviet-era artillery and ammo to Western artillery, but is running out of the first before the second is fully available. Things may look very different in two months, one way or the other, but those two months are going to be hard.

Re. propaganda:

Or perhaps there is also a bit of propaganda going on here

Yes, there probably is a bit of that going on as well. Zelensky has been unexpectedly brilliant at his job (mind the dates on those 2 links), which is to balance keeping up Ukrainian morale and pressuring Western countries for more assistance.

I am sure Ukraine's interests would not be well served by saying that all's well, regardless of how much weaponry they had. But they do seem to be fighting to Russia's strengths right now and one of those has always been artillery, which is key to a concentrated static battle. So things are looking very different from Russia's surprisingly inept start even though Russia still has morale and manpower problems and Zelensky's concerns are unlikely to be much of an act.

I also don't see requesting weaponry relevant to this fight as the same approach as the no-fly zone, NATO convoys in the Black Sea, cutting off Russian internet, etc.... These were maximalist, unrealistic, requests used as bargaining chips to get aid: Zelensky knows NATO can't get involved in direct combat with Russia because of nukes. Getting artillery that allows Ukrainians to go toe to toe with their Russian foes, on Ukrainian territory, is not in that league at all.

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    Honestly the number of Leopard units is probably less of an issue that it's made to be. Ukraine has happily accepted totally piecemeal donations of a few M109 Norwegian model, a few French Ceasars, etc. Maintenance on such a diverse park gotta be nightmare.
    – Fizz
    Jun 16 at 9:37
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    @Fizz quite possible. But the artillery fulfills an urgent need while those Leopard 2s do not. If Russian ATMs are anywhere as efficient as Javelins then they may be less of an asset than one could assume, especially with older models without active defense. Dunno if Russia fields reliable top-armor-aiming missiles for example. But vid was also flagging that bridges in area do not support L2's 60t weight, nor does Ukraine's bridging equipment - they're set up to deal with 40-45 ton T72s. I agree tho: this hodgepodge of stuff is probably not as efficient as having consolidated gear Jun 17 at 1:46
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Even old Maljutka missiles were already dangerous in the Yom Kippur War. Since then, USSR and Russia stocked better models. Jun 18 at 12:24
  • @VladimirFГероямслава Correct though the tanks in question weren't using modern composite armor which came out in the early 80s. But the Israeli Merkavas - which are using composite armor like L2s - did somewhat poorly in the 2006 Lebanon war, against mostly Russian Kornets, I believe. That's why Israel developed active defenses like Throphy. Which L2s of Spain's models dont have. So, yes, Russian ATMs could probably make a mess. Jun 18 at 17:42
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There's two moving parts here

Ukraine's GDP wasn't large before and has dropped considerably

Ukraine had an estimated $155B GDP (USD) in 2020 (for comparison, US GDP for 2020 was around $21,000B). They're estimating just under $120B for 2022, but I suspect that's high. With Russians occupying the Black Sea ports, exports of major things like wheat have become considerably more difficult, plus much of the country has been devastated by the war and a great deal of infrastructure has been destroyed. Ukraine didn't have a great economy before the war. Ukraine's victory is far from assured still, so their GDP will likely shrink even more the longer the war goes on. Without GDP, you can't exactly raise the money necessary to buy these advanced weapons. Even if they were at pre-war levels, that's not a very large economy to buy advanced weapons with.

Then there's the cost of weapons. One F-22 Raptor fighter jet costs about $150M. Ten of them would be $1.5B, or around 1% of 2020 GDP. For comparison, Germany just agreed to ramp their military up to 2% of GDP. And 10 jets wouldn't be a lot against the Russian air force. The same goes for the M1 Abrams tank. Let's round the cost to $10M per tank. 100 tanks would be $1B. Same problem.

Will other countries sell you their advanced tech?

The US, for instance, has sold the Ukrainians Javelin missiles, but also balked at facilitating Poland transferring their MiG fighters to Ukraine

The proposal Poland floated on Tuesday, however, would have involved the US more directly than the plan initially backed by Blinken and Thomas-Greenfield. Poland’s updated plan would have sent the MiG-29s to Ukraine via the US’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany, which also houses NATO’s Allied Air Command headquarters. Such a move could have more directly linked both parties to Ukraine’s war effort.

That added level of risk appears to have ultimately sunk the deal, though as Politico’s Alexander Ward and Joseph Gedeon point out, Poland could still unilaterally deliver the jets if it wishes to do so.

One of the keys here is "How much is too much for Russia?" There's a balancing act between sending them simpler arms and far more complex weapons of modern warfare (aircraft, armored vehicles, etc). Too little aid and Ukraine falls. Too much aid, and Russia starts World War III (which might be over in minutes if they launch nuclear missiles).

You also have to consider that you're also sharing your tech with a place where it could fall into enemy hands. Obviously the US is only selling marginal stuff the Russians know about. So selling F-22 Raptors isn't in the interest of the US either, since it's possible some Russian intelligence mole gets a hold of it.

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    You might mention Ukraine's credit rating. Ukraine will struggle to obtain money to buy anything.
    – mikado
    Jun 15 at 17:42
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    @mikado, actually Ukraine is getting donated money to buy arms.
    – o.m.
    Jun 15 at 19:11
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    The F-22 specifically cannot be exported: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. But of course your point is still valid. Jun 17 at 7:51

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