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Hello, and welcome to this podcast from the BBC World Service. Please let us know what you think and tell other people about us on social media. Podcasts from the BBC World Service are supported by advertising. When Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in February last year in a full-scale invasion, the chorus of support from Western allies was overwhelming. Nato allies and the European Union have already introduced significant sanctions.


The American.


People have.


Been with you every step of the way.




European Union.


Stands by Ukraine.


And we will stay with you for as long as it takes.


We are in this for a long haul. But now the conflict is dragging into its 21st month. Ukraine's progress in pushing back Russia is slow, uncertain, and really expensive. In the US, that's Ukraine's biggest military backer by far, shifting political winds are carrying uncertain messages for Kiv.






Not another penny will go.


To Ukraine. This is the global story with a smart take and fresh perspectives on one big story every weekday. Today, if decisive US military support to Kiev is under threat, would Europe be willing or, frankly, able to go it alone to defend Ukraine by itself?


I'm Katja Adler, and this is the global story from the BBC World Service. Our focus today gets to the heart of what fascinates me about international stories, where a trend, a shift, or political twitch on one side of the world then has a big impact thousands of miles away. Comments made in Washington, Brussels, or Berlin, never mind upcoming elections in the US and Europe, can end up deciding the future of millions of people in Ukraine. First off, let's look at the nuts and bolts here. When we discuss aid to Ukraine, what exactly are we talking about to date and what's endangered if Western backers pull away? No one better to help me here than our defense correspondent, Jonathan Beale. Hi, Jonathan. Hello there, Katja. You've spent a lot of time and effort researching the funding of the war in Ukraine. As far as Western backers are concerned, we're talking huge sums, aren't we, of cash and huge amounts of weapons.


Yeah. Let's be honest, Ukraine wouldn't have been able to sustain this war without that support, both from European countries and the United States. I think you've got to look at two different figures, really, one for economic support, which has been still essential for Ukraine, and the military support. What you see is that not just European countries, but the European Union and its institutions have really stepped up to Ukraine's economic support. They're on course to spend about €100 billion. You look at the US, that figure is smaller. It was significant to start with, but now the European Union is overtaking the US in terms of economic support. When you come to military support, though, it is the US that has been key to supplying Ukraine with the weapons and the ammunition it needs. The US, around $45 billion it's provided already to Ukraine. Now, if you look at European countries, some of whom are members of the EU, some who are not, Germany now is the second largest contributor of military support, €17 billion. Then it's the UK, which is 6.5 billion. Then you're going into some smaller countries like Norway, for example. Some of these countries like Norway, Germany have set up multi-year deals to continue supplying Ukraine with weapons.


Could you just paint a picture of what Ukraine has received in terms of military hardware?


Yeah. At the start of the war, I remember traveling with then-UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace around Europe because he believed that Russia would invade the UK had already started supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons. The US soon supplied their javelin anti-tank weapons. But I remember a trip going to Germany where Ben Wallace was trying to persuade the Germans to send weapons and they were just, at the time sending blankets and helmets. He said he was going to put some lead in their pencil. There were a lot of European countries that were reluctant to supply heavy weaponry to Ukraine. Now, the key moment was when Ukraine resisted that invasion and were able to turn back Russian forces from Kyiv. At that moment, there was a significant change in attitude in the West and in particular, European countries in what they were willing to give Ukraine. We've seen the arrival of armed vehicles, tanks. There was a debate about whether you could send tanks and the Germans initially reluctant, waiting for the Americans to do the same, and eventually they did it. Those long-range weapons. Now we have, for the first time, Ukrainian pilots being trained on F-16 jets in Romania.


But as I said, there are still caveats and there are still countries worried about provoking Russia to do more than it's doing inside Ukraine and widening the war further.


There was quite a lot of excitement amongst the Western backers of Ukraine after Ukraine repelled the Russians from the capital, Kyiv. But since then, in recent months, we've seen Ukraine getting bogged down. Where would you say the war is right now in Ukraine?


There were the expectations of what was going to be a spring offensive by Ukraine, which had been heightened by those battlefield successes, and then that sudden flood of ammunition, heavy weaponry, tanks, etc, to Ukraine for what became a summer offensive. Now, the Russians had time to build their defense lines, and it's been slow progress, very slow progress. In the words of one Western defense official I was speaking to the other day, there is no evidence that either side will have a decisive breakthrough, certainly in the imminent future. If the US, and it is an if, but the if is getting bigger, did not continue funding Ukraine, it is difficult to see how Ukraine could survive the Russian onslaught. It would be catastrophic, and Ukraine knows that too.


Ukraine's military strategists are grappling with all these uncertain messages we've covered from the biggest military back of the United States. So do they have any faith in Europe to defend Ukraine on its own if it needs to? Stay with I'm Katya Adler, and this is the global story from the BBC World Service. We're here to look beyond the headlines, peel back lazy assumptions, and give you a fresh global perspective on the stories that matter. Please follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. It helps others find us and make sure you don't miss tomorrow's episode. So could Europe defend Ukraine by itself? If it had to. To answer that, we need to look at whether there's the political will and also the military capacity. Jonathan, I'll pick up with you on the capacity bit in a moment, but with me to talk about the politics is our Berlin correspondent, Jessica Parker.


Hi, Jess. Hi.


So one of my biggest bugbears as BBC Europe editor is when there's sweeping statements about Europe. Can Europe defend Ukraine? Of course, it sounds like one big beast that works as one. But of course, that's far from the case, isn't it?


Yeah, and it's never been the case since the war in Ukraine began or the full-scale Russian invasion, that Europe felt wholly one way or the other or had a completely shared attitude. It's always been a complicated picture. Although I think we both remember because we were both in Brussels at that time. There was that immediate, remarkable wave, at least within the EU, of a speed of action, a certainty, a moral clarity about what they wanted to do in reaction to that invasion. I think even though that was remarkable at the time, there was probably always an expectation that it couldn't last. It hasn't lasted in a sense. Although speaking to diplomats, they do feel that actually, unity within the EU at least, has born up relatively well given the inevitable passage of time, changes in leaders that you see in democratic states. But since the day the war began, there's always been this question about, is Europe tiring in terms of its support for Ukraine? It's clearly something that the Ukrainians worry about a lot, and President Zelensky gives voice to that and has done so recently.




Can see in your eyes now we think the same.


Way as.


You do.


We know freedom.


Will win.


I mean, he's been quite tireless, as hasn't he? He's toured obviously the United States as well, but in Europe, visiting different countries, parliaments, making his speeches very nation-particular wherever he goes. He's just on that campaign trail trying to drum up that support. But as you and I, as EU watchers, it was striking. There was this massive political impact. It is massive conventional warfare at home in Europe, and a sense amongst many EU member states that are also NATO members, of course. If this doesn't stop in Ukraine, this could be us next. I'm thinking of the Baltic states, for example.


Exactly. I mean, it was from the beginning, the Baltics, so Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, were by far among the staunch of supporters of Ukraine. The Baltics would almost turn up to summits and say, Look, it is only money, this is existential. I think when we talk about whether the West is now a little bit distracted from Ukraine by what's happening in Israel and Gaza, that is definitely happening. Again, that is being almost openly acknowledged. But actually, the war in Ukraine, an invasion by Russia on European soil, that does still remain a much more existential crisis for the EU and particularly for those states that are close to the border of Ukraine or even on the border. There may be a layer of countries that are seen as a little bit more ambiguous, like France or Germany, and then countries maybe more in the south of Europe that have been perceived as a little bit weaker in their support. That pattern has held to some extent, so it's always been a bit of a textured picture.


For those tiny Baltic states, when they give massive parts of GDP, it's meaningful for them, but it's meaningless on paper. We're looking at those big countries. Let's look at some of the figures, Jess, because Hungary is blocking this €500 million new commitment to a weapons fund. Then German budgetary complications look like they're going to hold up a signing off of financial support to Ukraine to 2027 that Ukraine was really hoping for, to the tune of €50 billion. Also, and I think that's another point, isn't it, that there are some European countries that have some sympathies towards Russia, or at least they see a value in keeping good relations with Russia and they're not willing to forego that. That breaks this idea of European unity against the Russian invasion.


Yeah, obviously, one of Russia's key playing cards all along has been energy. You've seen countries like Hungary keen to actually keep up energy partnerships with Russia, much to the extreme annoyance, even anger of other European states. But that has been, I think, ongoing. The immediate crisis, as you say, facing the EU in terms of military aid or other forms of aid to Ukraine, is this threat by Victor Orban to potentially block that. It sounds like it's all going to come to a head in this big December summit that they always have in Brussels, but it does lead to headlines about EU splits and that they can't agree. Undoubtably, that plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin. If he can say, Look at this divided West and support for Ukraine is wavering. But I think people I speak to within the European quarter and EU circles feel relatively confident that they can keep pushing through support. Of course, the other big thing on the table for Ukraine is its hopes of joining the EU, which this EU summit will also discuss in December.


But I wanted to ask you, because we've looked at US public opinion, how is it looking continent-wide in Europe? Because again, I think things that often people outside Europe don't think about is there is latent anti-Americanism that comes into play here, particularly in countries like Italy. 50 % of Italians in opinion polls are suggesting they don't want to send any more weapons to Ukraine at all. They suspect America a power play through NATO over Russia's invasion. I mean, that's not what everybody thinks in Italy by any means, but you do hear that there.


I know. I mean, Italy obviously has had really strong business links in the past with Russia, and that I think plays into it as well. As you say, it's not a unified Western NATO view throughout Europe. You see that with the coming and going as well of different political leaders. There's been the recent election in Slovakia with the new leader there saying that they're actually going to stop military aid to Ukraine under that administration. But then in Bulgaria, the leader of the largest party actually backs Ukraine after recent elections. A huge fear last year was the energy crisis and they were desperately trying to stock up on gas storage. Actually, by and large, Europe did get through that winter and storage levels are pretty good this year. I think people in the EU are relatively pleased about the position that they've got themselves into there as they go towards December in the winter. I think Western will is certainly to try and see Ukraine win this war. But the big question is, is it going to keep supplying enough weapons and aid to Ukraine that will actually keep the war in a frozen position? Or will it be able, in the end, to supply enough to help Ukraine actually win?


That's a big, ongoing question.


So just that thing about win, I mean, what is winning? I think what I've noticed in Europe over these months since Russia's full-scale invasion is that different countries' idea of what a win for Ukraine would look like has definitely changed. Part of this wariness or fear of public opinion changing, the worry about having to keep funding this for years and years to come potentially, is making me, when I'm chatting to diplomats, hear more and more about negotiations. And always that's qualified by, Of course, Ukraine has got to decide when it's in the right strong position in order to sit down with negotiations. But it is a word that I hear pop up again and again. It doesn't seem, of course, talking to you that Europe is in a position politically to take over full military backing to fight Russia for Ukraine, as well as financial backing that the country needs to keep functioning. Thanks so much to you, Jessica Parker, our correspondent in Berlin.


Thank you so much for having me on.


Another question is that defense spending across Europe, it may have increased, it has. But what do its military capabilities look like? Can it even keep up its current commitments? Let's have a listen to Admiral Rob Bauer, Chairman of NATO's Military Committee.


In the seven years before the war, the budgets went up already, but the industry did not increase the production capacity. That actually has exacerbated by the fact that we now give away weapon systems to Ukraine, which is great and ammunition, but not from full warehouses. We started to give away from half-full or lower warehouses in Europe, and therefore the bottom of the barrel is now visible.


Jonathan, is what we hear there from Admiral Rob Bauer surprising? Because, I mean, warfare in Europe has changed massively over the last decades, and that goes then for weapons production as well, doesn't it?


It does. I think what you saw after the end of the Cold War is huge disinvestment, to be honest, by every country in weapons, factories, ammunition, stocks. Their own stocks have been diminishing. You've seen alarm bells ringing, for example, when NATO carried out that aerial bombardment campaign over Libya in 2011. There were warnings that they were running out of certain weapons at that stage, but they had never restocked and resupplied. Now, what's happened with the is that those limited stocks were then sent to Ukraine. They've exhausted those and they still don't have the industrial capacity to ramp up production rapidly. One of the big problems Europe has is that it does not have the industrial capacity to suddenly to make the flow much quicker. That's partly because governments have not been, who are under huge domestic pressures to deliver on other issues like health, education, tax cuts, those things, they have not invested. They have not been prepared to sign long-term contracts with the defense industry. The defense industry has been waiting for those contracts. Equally, they're not always prepared to invest the sums without a guarantee from government for being able to do this for many years.


The European Union said it would provide Ukraine with 1,000, 1.5—those are artillery shells this year. So far, they have did about 300,000, not even a third of the number they wanted to deliver. You can just see there the inability and the lack of capacity to provide Ukraine with the weapons. Then you have to contrast it with Russia. Russia is at a war economy. So factories have gone to three shifts. They are still struggling Russia to sustain the amount of weapons, ammunition it's using. But even the US, which is the big industrial powerhouse, can't match Russia.


There's also a real question of practicalities, isn't there, Jonathan? For example, because Ukraine is at war, none of this military equipment can be flown into Ukraine. It has to go through Poland, but it has to get to Poland. It's incredible. All of these permits and organizations about just moving heavy machinery even just across Europe.


Yeah, and that's been no easy task for Western militaries, but they have managed to keep aircraft coming in with supplies into Poland mainly to get that across the border. I was speaking to a colleague just today who said that if you get to Poland, this is partly because of disputes within Poland about the grain coming across from Ukraine into its country, which worries their farmers, but there are huge columns of lorries waiting to get into Ukraine. Remember, it's not just military support, it's economic support too. It is a massive logistical exercise. There is the political will clearly to still do that, but there is not probably the military capacity to keep that military aid flowing in the way it has been over the past year. Then you hear Zalensky saying the warehouses are getting empty and you've got to be worried.


You have to be worried, really, particularly if you're Vladimir Zalensky and you're looking to changes in the US that might put more of a burden of military support on Europe and you say that Europe isn't able to live up to its current commitments, never mind increased ones going forward.


Yeah, and I think President Zalensky has been very clear about what his goals are. He wants to retake every square inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine to restore Ukraine's boundaries, and that includes Crimea. Now, does every Western leader agree with that? I'd suggest not. They do not think that is going to be possible. But as long as President Zelensky is in charge, that is what he's got to deliver for his people.


Well, isn't there attention there, Jonathan, that on the one hand, what you hear, again, it's political words compared to deeds and actions, what you hear from Western backers is it's not up for us, the backers, to say when this war is over. On the other hand, as you've very clearly outlined for us, without the continued backing of the West, Ukraine cannot fight and win against Russia. Actually, the decision is in the back of hands rather than Ukraine's, isn't it?


But it would be very difficult for a backer who has already said, We are in it for the long haul, to suddenly then turn around and say, I think you've got to sit down. I mean, everybody thinks that at some stage there will have to be some negotiation to end this war. But Ukraine has limited manpower too. There may well be a point where Ukraine can't sustain not just the ammunition, but the troops it needs. The longer this goes on, those pressures will be greater on a Ukrainian President. But as I said, if you're President, Zelensky, you aren't suddenly going to change tack and say, Actually, we'll just give up crime here, or, We lost so many thousand troops here, but we'll let the Russians have it. It's very difficult for him, but he will undoubtedly face, I think, more pressure the longer this war goes on. We haven't reached a crunch point yet where peopleare saying, I think privately, people have been saying there will have to be at some point talks of a ceasefire and trying to work out how you can resolve this conflict, but we haven't reached that point yet.


That's what the global story is all about, is explaining and showing why there are no monolithic mindsets and actually the situation is a lot more complex than that. Thank you very much, Jonathan Beale, for helping us understand that.


I hope I did.


Wherever you're listening in the world, this has been The Global Story with me, Katja Adler. And we want to hear from you. Send us a message or a voice note on WhatsApp at plus four four-three-three-zero-one-two-three-nine-four-eight-o, or you can email us at theglobalStory@bc. Com. Do follow or subscribe to The Global Story wherever you get your podcasts. We give you smart takes and fresh, sometimes provocative perspectives, things to chew over long after the podcast has ended. Wherever you're listening in the world, this has been the global story. Goodbye.