BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – The amounts and types of weapons the United States and other NATO members are sending to Ukraine are not enough to eject Russian armed forces and win the war, Ukraine’s defense minister said.
“We need more,” Oleksii Reznikov said Friday, to mount a “sufficient counterattack and kick them outside of our country to liberate all occupied territory.”
Reznikov’s grim assessment comes just three days after President Joe Biden announced a new $700 million arms package for Ukraine that includes long-requested High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, although with only limited-range rockets and a promise from Kyiv to not strike targets inside of Russia.
His call for more advanced Western arms was echoed this week at a key international security conference by several Central and Eastern European leaders who rejected hopes for a near-term end to the war.
Reznikov said recent donations of artillery, radar, and electronic warfare gear are helping Ukraine to defend its territory west of the Donbas region, slowing Russia’s advances. But they are not enough to expel Russian forces or to deter future strikes on Europe.
“We need to liberate our land as soon as possible. To do that, we need heavy weapons, primarily MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket Systems]. We also need artillery tanks, aviation, anti-ship complexes, new UAVs, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems. We need them fast. We need them in the numbers matching the scope of the challenge we face,” said Reznikov, appearing via video link from Ukraine at the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum.
American HIMARS have not yet reached Ukraine, Reznikov said. “At this moment, we are starting training courses in Europe,” he said; the Ukrainian artillery teams are expected to return home with those systems. The UK and other countries have pledged to send MLRS, also requiring training outside of Ukraine before bringing them into the fight. “It’s a first step,” he said.
Reznikov said that Ukraine has been inadequately armed or supported since the beginning of the war; Western donations have come too “slowly.” He asked Western ministers of donor states to speed their intergovernmental efforts.
“Deliberations take days and weeks, literally measured in Ukrainian lives…we need simplified and expedited procedures” to forward new and different weapons for the evolving battlefield,” he said. “We need more heavy weapons. The stocks of Soviet-era weapons and ammo are almost depleted. Thus we need weapons and munitions and military equipment of the NATO standard to replace the Soviet ones.”
He said the Ukrainian military also needs training, spare parts, and maintenance capabilities or agreements.
For weeks, U.S. and other Western arms packages have introduced increasingly more advanced weapons into Ukraine, each one carefully selected as much for Ukraine’s defensive needs as to avoid provoking Russian attacks on NATO members. At the same time, U.S., British, French, and other Western leaders have said that these weapons are meant to give Ukraine the best possible defense and negotiating position–not for expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.
Derek Chollet, State Department counselor, in an interview for the Defense One Radio podcast last week in Washington, said, “The Ukrainians have been very clear to us. They’re seeking to defend their country, defend their territory, defend their sovereignty. They’re not seeking offensive capability to go after Russia.”
But the Central and Eastern Europe prime ministers gathered here, much closer to the fight, spoke with starkly different tones about how the war should end.
“I am convinced of one thing: that if we want long-term peace and security in Europe, there is only one way to attain that, and that is through a Russian loss in this war and Ukrainian victory,” Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said on Thursday. “Anything other than a clear loss for Russia…would simply mean Russia licking its war wounds, retooling and building its army, and sooner or later—in one year, in two years, who knows—advancing once again in Ukraine or elsewhere.”
“Putin is still thinking as an imperialistic power, that it’s important and necessary to eat up neighbors. He did it in Georgia in 2008, he did it in Ukraine in 2014, and we did not respond in kind,” Kariņš said. “If we want peace, Ukraine clearly has to win and Russia clearly has to lose. We have to break the cycle of imperialistic expansion. Otherwise, we all pay the price.”
“Of course I agree,” said Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger, also on Thursday. “It’s our duty to help Ukraine win.”
On the same panel, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said, “The reality is there is no other choice: clear win, full territorial integrity, there is no room for compromise.” Petkov said if Russia is allowed to occupy any Ukrainian territories it has taken that “this is not peace, this is a frozen conflict…the only way to have peace is to get Russia out of the country.”
Heger said it was their “duty” to provide Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy the weapons he needs to win.
Kariņš has been among the most vocal supporters of a total Ukrainian victory with no concessions to Moscow. Latvia has given 250 million euros (roughly $268 million) of military aid to date, he said. “That is one-third of our annual military budget; it’s almost one percent of GDP.” Latvia does not have many of the weapons Ukraine has requested, “but what I’m suggesting and saying to my NATO colleagues is if we all proportionately help as we have done, as the Estonians have done, then Ukraine would have the firepower to get the job done.”
Kariņš also rejected the idea that the West should withhold some weapons from Ukraine to avoid provoking Russia. “I think, provoke someone who is doing genocide?” he said. “The only provocation is to not arm Ukraine, to not arm ourselves in NATO, to not strengthen the Eastern flank, because Putin will perceive weakness, he will move forward and attack and kill people, and have his own army killed. So, the only way to provoke him is by not arming Ukraine and not arming ourselves.”
Looking ahead to the NATO summit scheduled for later this month in Madrid, Reznikov said that if alliance membership is in Ukraine’s future, then NATO leaders should start thinking of Ukraine as part of the alliance’s military force.
“I think that if we are talking about membership with Ukraine–de facto, not de jure–it would be a good idea of Ukraine is also part of this strategy, because we also are a part of the eastern flank of Europe, eastern flank of NATO countries, and eastern flank of [the] EU.”
Slovakian Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said on Friday that Ukrainians needed more mobile weapons with which they can counterattack Russia’s invading forces. “They need artillery, they need anti-tank, they need missiles for farther distances, and we are working on that.”
Nad said he initially was not optimistic about Ukraine’s chances, but the number and capabilities of weapons donated has increased to dozens of countries. “I am [optimistic] now, because I see that countries really help, and help intensively.”
“Obviously we are here, the whole western community, we are here to help Ukraine but it should be faster,” Nad said.
Not all countries in the region are donating arms. Bulgarians are more divided about Russia, and its ruling political coalition struggled to win support to contribute weapons to Ukraine directly. Bulgaria instead voted to allow Ukraine to use its ports and to help maintain Ukrainian weapons. Petkov said Bulgaria this month has begun work on 80 tanks.
“Bulgaria does not have 80 tanks to give, but repairing 80 tanks gives more military power than any other donations we would have given,” he said. “So, even in this complex political situation back home, we were able to deliver a striking power to the Ukrainian army, and we will be delivering more, that is beyond what a small gift would give.”
“The war in Ukraine now is actually a war of technology and a war of innovation,” said Bulgarian Defense Minister Dragomir Zakov on Friday’s panel. He said Bulgaria could help develop defense technology with other European partners.
As the war hits Day 100 and global headlines warning of Ukrainian war fatigue reach this region, the region’s defense ministers said they still need Western help.
“No fatigue possible. More help needed. Fast approach, very much appreciated. [The] sooner and with larger capabilities and amounts we help Ukraine, sooner we will bring peace to the Ukrainian people and to Easter Europe,” Nad said.
Reznikov said he saw that Ukraine was knocked off the top of global cable TV news by the Texas shooting, and understood that attention wanes. But Russia’s invasion has not.
“We need to stop them, to deter them, and to kick them out.”