24

In a recent answer, user kandi made this statement:

the war probably could have been ended by now if the West wasn't passionatly supporting the bloodshed by provided just as much arms as to keep parity. This is a clear indication that the West's goal is to weaken Russia and not help Ukraine (sending more arms than now and defeating Russian army might cause a democratic revolt in Russia, which might strengthen Russian economy in the long run and thus bad for the West).

In other words, the user suggests "the West" (presumably, this means the political players relevant in Western countries that support Ukraine) intentionally tries to make the fighting last as long as possible - not because a certain military goal must be reached that can only be achieved after x weeks of fighting, but specifically to draw out the fighting just so the fighting doesn't stop.

Is there any sign/statement/etc. that supports this hypothesis? I am asking because in my impression, there are several other reasons for why certain Western countries deliver the amount of weapons they do, not more, not less, all while hoping for the war to end rather sooner than later.

15
  • 3
    So the question is really what the plan of Ukraine and the West is. Probably there is a plan, but we don't know it.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 25 at 21:37
  • 12
    I'm not sure it's possible, my issue is with the logic of how someone is supposed to answer. We could say "yes", because supplying Ukraine with some weapons is undoubtedly going to prolong the existence of that country, or we could answer "no," because a country will defend its territory as long as it can. How do we objectively choose which way to answer? Jun 25 at 21:47
  • 5
    I think the problem with this question is what does "for the sake of fighting" mean. Clearly the US admits it intends to maximize pain for Russia. So one aspect of that is destroying as much as possible of the Russian army materiel and personnel.
    – Fizz
    Jun 25 at 22:06
  • 2
    "the war probably could have been ended [badly for Ukraine] by now if the West wasn't passionately supporting [it]." - Russian military spending eclipses Ukraine's by an order of magnitude. I don't see how one could detest that statement [made in full].
    – Mazura
    Jun 26 at 19:55
  • 14
    As long as there are enemy troops inside Ukranian territory, it can hardly be said that Ukraine is fighting "for the sake of fighting". Every single conflict ever would be "for the sake of fighting" if we applied that reasoning. What is the alternative? Letting the invaders keep half the country just because?
    – walen
    Jun 27 at 7:11

5 Answers 5

31

Additionally to the answer by o.m. one should add that sending military equipment isn't very helpful alone and there is training and maintenance on this equipment needed. The training for artillery would typically take five weeks (for professional soldiers I take it).

Another issue: additional equipment or ammunition may need to be produced first and that also takes additional time.

And the equipment must be delivered in a way that the Russian military cannot easily intercept and destroy the delivery. That probably also takes time.

That's why the weapons support today might be the result of Western assessments and decisions weeks ago.

So why not help even more and send also personnel for example? That would risk increasing the scope of the war and ultimately the use of nuclear weapons by Russia if they feel like they are in a corner. That's why everyone treads carefully there and tries to maintain some sort of balance.

In the end this resulted in a war of attrition. Ukraine gets all the help that the West feels safe with giving, given the considerations above. That's not enough to win decisively against Russia but just enough to strongly delay Russian advances. Ukrainians pay with their lives and could e.g. decide that it's not worth it and the help they get is not sufficient and aim at a peace with lots of territorial concessions from their side. But they don't seem to be willing to do that currently.

Leaves the question what the plan of the West is? Nobody knows exactly and maybe at a NATO meeting in one week they still have some more ideas how to tip the favor in Ukrainian direction but apart from that the only ways this war and the killing end are:

  • Ukraine surrenders
  • Russia recognizes its errors and stops
  • Both sides get tired of fighting and negotiate according to perceived strengths

Ukrainians pay for their country with their lives. It will always be a big question if the West could have done more and supported Ukraine more before and during this war and if this would have resulted in much less casualties in the end. But you also have to give them some slack, war is difficult to predict, a nuclear weapons possessing country is involved. Assuming no further plan and just saying that more killing is the plan itself is too cynical for me.

I basically expect Western military support to ramp up over the coming weeks with more and more modern weapon systems coming in (Himars for example) but also declining abilities of Ukrainian forces to fight at the same time. Western support short of taking part in the war might be too little too late to change the front lines substantially from where they are now. Effectively resulting in a stalemate with slowly dying activity.

10
  • 9
    About concessions "they don't seem to be willing to do that currently." - they were willing to consider some of them during the peace talks a couple months ago, but then they stopped doing the peace talks due to the help and promises given. Likely, if they had received no help whatsoever, they would have needed to concede right at the beginning. Whether the lives lost were worth to preserve the claim to territories they lost in 2014 they won't likely be able to reconquer (and their best hope is to just not lose even more territories), is subjective, and left for the exercise of the reader.
    – vsz
    Jun 26 at 10:50
  • 3
    War IS difficult enough to predict, and then there's Putin. We still don't even know why he did this to begin with, and we really have no idea what he's going to do. This is probably the worst conflict involving a nuclear capable nation since WW2...
    – Nelson
    Jun 27 at 1:44
  • @Nelson Russia is grinding on so far. It seems to be all about grabbing land but if the costs for that are worth it is another question.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 27 at 5:03
  • 1
    @Nelson We do know why he invaded Ukraine.... Even evil people have their reasons. youtube.com/watch?v=If61baWF4GE
    – Gantendo
    Jun 27 at 20:03
  • 1
    @vsz ... transfer of large quantities of wheat to Russia, and theft of Ukranian farm equipment into Russia (tracked by internal GPS) and .... gives some idea of what Ukrained could vae expected if they had just "rolled over" and allowed Russia to walk in. || An interesting perhaps somewhat parallel is what happened when Iraq invaded Kuwait. There was no good (or acceptable) reason for them to act as they did against the civilian population. "Good and reasonable" are frequently not the intentions of those whow are or think they are the overwhelming conquerors. Jun 29 at 2:17
30

This question supposes that "the West" could send considerably more military aid if they wanted to. While "the West" does have more weapons to send, they say most of those are needed for the defense of their treaty allies.

  • According to Wikipedia, the UK has 42 MLRS in their active forces. It will send "initially three" to Ukraine. Three could be called "almost nothing", or a whopping 7% of their inventory (Ukraine asked for 300). Three more from Germany, which will take a similar bite out of their inventory.
  • According to Wikipedia, Germany has 108 PzH-2000 in their active forces. It will send 7 to Ukraine, a similar percentage of their inventory. The Netherlands are adding 5, an even greater percentage of their howitzers.

I realize that there are some stocks in mothballs, but refurbishing them takes time.

14
  • Thanks for the answers - all three that have arrived so far are very good IMO, so I have picked one as accepted and upvoted the other two, thereby somewhat equalizing the rep. Jun 26 at 9:39
  • Numbers are a bit hard to confirm, but IIRC France sent 18 Ceasars; a similar number of Palladins from Norwegians stocks (these had been "mothballed") and likewise Polish Krabs (these are new-ish,as builds, but their tech is not--some combo of a retired UK turret and Korean chassis.) Overall these deliveries are more substantial that one would surmise from your answer, but still we're talking about a 1000km front. I'd be curious how the arty density per km (or mile) of front compares to WWI and WWII by the way.
    – Fizz
    Jun 26 at 11:18
  • 2
    @Fizz, but then they don't have to pay for the M777. I was aware of the Caesars, very modern but not tracked or armored, but not of the M109s from Norway. Regarding density, division by division it is much lower but the actual combat strength of those nominal divisions can be hard to find.
    – o.m.
    Jun 26 at 13:23
  • 7
    No idea about the UK situation, but here in Germany the number "on file" and the number "ready for battle" is vastly different for military equipment. Sometimes, things emerge into public, like the fact that while having a much larger number, only three(!!) helicopters were found during an inspection to be actually combat-ready. So sending 7 PzH-2000 might well be half of the working inventory.
    – Tom
    Jun 27 at 6:04
  • 1
    @Mołot, 2 % is what NATO countries are supposed to spend. A number of countries didn't meet that either, yes. (Even the US didn't meet that 4 % you mentioned)
    – ilkkachu
    Jun 29 at 7:56
21

I read the idea behind kandi's quote as:

  • If the West wanted Ukraine to win, they would provide very powerful weapons such that Ukraine kicks Russia's butt pronto.
  • Since they didn't, then presumably they want Ukraine to win, but win slowly; the goal is for a long war to weaken Russia as much as possible.

There's no indication the hypothesis is true. The reasons given by the West to not provide these very powerful weapons are because of the possibility Ukraine uses those weapons to attack Russia on Russian soil, which might prompt Russia to be even more destructive than they already are. See this related question.

Could the hypothesis be right anyway? Yes, but it'd be impossible to prove, since only the actual leaders of the respective countries would know if that were the real reason, and it would be classified for a very long time because of its sensitivity.

20
  • Thanks for the answers - all three that have arrived so far are very good IMO, so I have picked one as accepted and upvoted the other two, thereby somewhat equalizing the rep. Jun 26 at 9:39
  • 7
    There is a problem with this answer, as it verges close to the false dichotomy fallacy. There aren't just these two cases of wanting Ukraine to win quickly or slowly. A third option is the realization that Ukraine might likely lose, so the choices are between letting them lose quickly with less bloodshed, or lose more slowly with a lot of bloodshed, with the added advantage (for the West) to weaken Russia in the process. I don't claim that I'm sure that this is what is happening, I just wanted to show that the two cases listed in the answer are not the only two possibilities.
    – vsz
    Jun 26 at 11:00
  • 4
    @vsz: the thing is that such outcomes are truly difficult to predict. I recall in Feb some western analysts were saying Ukraine's capital could fall within days. The US offered Zelensky to relocate him etc. So "the West" is probably planning for a range of possible outcomes rather than just one thing.
    – Fizz
    Jun 26 at 12:14
  • 2
    @Trilarion: But this answer doesn't say it's either this or that! It attributes that belief to kandi's quote.
    – ruakh
    Jun 27 at 6:58
  • 1
    @convert I'm not in the "West". Thanks for sources. They don't seem confirmed and/or very major - the quoted sources aren't top government officials. I imagine the "possibility Ukraine uses those weapons to attack Russia on Russian soil" quote remains; the West say they are not providing such weapons because of the risk of the war widening.
    – Allure
    Jun 27 at 14:46
15

What is Possible?

The conspiracy theory presupposes that the West could be giving much more effective weapons, but isn't. So what could they give? Kandi doesn't give us an answer, which is quite telling. Let's explore the possibilities:

Air Power

Since the beginning of the war, UA has asked for more jets. Specifically, MiG-29s, which their pilots already know how to fly, but also American jets such as the F-15 and F-16. While it is theoretically possible to train UA pilots on these types, the training would certainly take weeks to months. On top of that, Western air power has a very long tail of maintenance and supply that is not easy for UA to replicate. An F-16 all by itself is not a terribly threatening weapon. An F-16 backed by AWACS, KC-135s, and a hangar full of spare parts and technicians is how the West projects air power and wins contests. Sending Ukrainian pilots up in Western jets without all the associated infrastructure would provide limited returns and put a lot of Western technology at risk.

On top of that, Eastern Ukraine is very hazardous for air power on both sides, given the extensive deployment of AA batteries. Both sides have lost numerous jets and pilots to MANPADS and the full range of Russian AA, from Tor to the S-400. Of course, Western air power could help reduce that threat through the use of anti-radiation missiles, but it will be nearly impossible to eliminate MANPADS risk (e.g., Igla).

Tanks

UA has asked for more tanks, but it seems unlikely that tanks will ultimately decide the war, for either side. Czech Republic and the Baltic states have donated some Soviet-made tanks from their stocks, but this is not even the most urgent ask. The US could donate numerous M1s from its sizable reserves, but again, the logistics and maintenance chain makes this a poor solution for UA. The Abrams is a notoriously fuel-hungry beast, and UA is already struggling to move enough fuel to the front to support the equipment it has. M-1A2s in Donbas would create a giant vacuum of fuel consumption that would bleed UA dry. On top of that, it requires a large team of mechanics and spare parts to keep it running. Training a crew to operate it takes far less time than training a crew to maintain and repair it. The US is not going to donate its MBTs as single-use weapons.

Artillery

The largest NATO powers have already donated close to 10% of their existing active-duty artillery stocks. Given that artillery is one of the most effective weapons for UA, and one of their biggest asks, it is hard to argue that the West is holding back. It is hard to imagine that NATO leaders will decide that it's safe to donate 20-50% of their artillery to UA. For instance, the US maintains about 1,000 M777 howitzers, and donated about 100 of them to UA.

UA also asked for rocket artillery, specifically the M270 and HIMARS. While the US has currently only committed 4 units (plus 4 more, recently), again, the bottleneck is...logistics. Rocket artillery requires a pretty significant logistics train to feed. There's no point in firing off a salvo and then waiting a week for a reload to make it to the front lines. A single pod of MLRS takes up as much truck space as hundreds of artillery shells. UA will likely get more MLRS from the US and others over time, but the slow start serves to give time to set up logistics and also let the Ukrainians prove that they can adequately protect these news toys. After all, the fire control computers and other sensitive electronics would be a nice prize for Russian intelligence.

UA has asked for hundreds of tanks, thousands of artillery pieces, and numerous jets and helicopters. When you're fighting a war for your very existence, there is no downside to asking for everything under the sun. The reality is that NATO simply doesn't have the number of usable tanks and artillery guns that UA wants, and their ask cannot really be fulfilled.

NATO

The problem is that NATO relies on air power to do the jobs that RU and UA use artillery for. Until UA is ready to operate and maintain modern NATO jets, the most effective portion of NATO firepower simply won't be available to them. Saying that NATO is holding back to play a geopolitical game is just ignoring the basic facts on the ground. When Kandi gives us examples of other states that have switched from Soviet fighters to NATO fighters in a matter of weeks, complete with maintenance and logistics trains, then we can have a serious discussion.

And let us not forget that Western powers started out only giving light weapons (man-portable) and were reluctant to give any heavy weapons (self-propelled, armored). Note now that virtually every NATO member is now sending IFVs, APCs, towed and self-propelled artillery, including the very newest, top-of-the-line models (e.g., PzH 2000). This does not comport well with the "West is holding back" thesis. There was even talk of UA receiving Leopard 1 tanks, though the rocket artillery is likely more valuable to them. There was also talk of MQ-1 drones, but that is also on pause due to the sensitive electronics onboard.

But don't take my word for it. Just ask Putin whether the West is holding back. Given all the nuclear threats made so far, Putin is treating Western arms support like an existential crisis for Russia, not some geopolitical stalemate.

11
  • 1
    "The problem is that NATO relies on air power to do the jobs that RU and UA use artillery for.", that means donating more than 10% artillery should not be such issue. Jun 27 at 9:31
  • 6
    @akostadinov: Not really. It could also mean that NATO has only a few artillery pieces, for rare cases where air power is inadequate and only artillery will do. But if we follow that hypothesis. we'd expect that NATO artillery is already at minimal levels for that task.
    – MSalters
    Jun 27 at 10:36
  • 1
    @TadeuszKopec no disrespect to Poland, they have been hitting way above their weight as far as UA assistance goes. I just don't track what counts as "Baltic" vs "Central Europe" vs "Eastern Europe" because I live on the other side of the pond. ;) Jun 27 at 18:14
  • 4
    @Trilarion For reference, compare US M777@1000 pieces to just a single RU SPG, the 2S3: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2S3_Akatsiya#Operators, with 900+ active, 1600+ reserve. Now consider that they have 5 types of towed artillery and 9 types of SPG, and you begin to understand the scale of RU artillery inventories. NATO doesn't build more ground guns because it relies on flying guns. In NATO vs. RU, RU would be getting pounded by JDAM at 20,000', not M777 at 20 km. Jun 27 at 18:24
  • 6
    @Trilarion if the West sent maintenance crew along with weapons, that would make any such nation a de facto belligerent, and RU would use that as an excuse to fire Kalibr/Iskander into their territories. Poland/Czech have agreed to fix UA armor, but only inside their own territory. UA has to ship them out and back. Jun 27 at 18:26
3

While I disagree with the conclusion, of the quote posted, many players in "the West" have publicly stated that their interest is in weakening Russia. Such statements have come from US and European politicians. Some recent high-profile sources of such statements are The US defense secretary (quoted in many places, e.g. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/04/25/politics/biden-administration-russia-strategy/index.html) and an official press release by the EU "president" (unlike the US president, a figurehead and essentially the offical speaker of the EU) clearly stating "We will weaken Russia's economic base and its capacity to modernise.". This statement most of all supports the OP quote's final conclusion that there's a long-term plan to keep Russia down.

There are also a number of front-line sources saying clearly that they know they can't hold what they're defending, their goal is to eventually retreat, but make the conquest as costly for the Russians as possible. This might just be battlefield strategy, however, and not a long-term political plan.

On the number of weapons sent alone I would not draw a conclusion. My country (Germany), for example is famous for having a lot of its military equipment not ready for battle at any given time. It also takes time to train the Ukraine forces in using these weapons, most of which have official training times measured in weeks or months. This stuff isn't a revolver, it's complex high-tech equipment. Easy-to-use weapons such as shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets have been delivered in the ten-thousands (some US general said recently that Ukraine now has more anti-tank weapons than the world has tanks).

4
  • 2
    The sort of 'weakening' that those quotes discuss is not the sort that was alleged. Nowhere is it said that the West does not want to end the war as quickly as possible, but rather, "[W]e want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine." This is nothing remotely like the allegation that the West wants to prevent a democratic revolt in Russia that would ultimately improve its long-term economy. The West would generally love to see Russia become more democratic and a reliable, stable trading partner. Just not an aggressor.
    – reirab
    Jun 28 at 4:52
  • 1
    The reasons stated for any holding back that has been done in the provision of support for Ukraine have been either trying not to provoke further aggression from Russia or not having enough of the requested supplies, as Lawnmower Man's answer discusses at length. If the West could do something that would kick Russia out of Ukraine today without risking escalation by Russia, including the possibility of war between Russia and NATO, there is no evidence that it wouldn't do so.
    – reirab
    Jun 28 at 4:55
  • @reirab I said I disagree with the final sentence, yes. But weakening a country is not something that happens quickly, and a long war is much more likely to achieve it than a short one.
    – Tom
    Jun 28 at 7:27
  • 1
    Weakening Russia would be more surely assured by bloodying their nose now and sending them scuttling home asap. Rather than drawing it out and risking that Ukraine collapses and that Russia gets her way. Good point on weapon readiness tho, +1. Jun 29 at 2:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .