Warsaw, Poland – While Western support to provide military aid to Ukraine has been steadfast over the last nineteen months, a number of European states appear to be having a change of heart, opting to now prioritize domestic issues. Is European support for Ukraine doomed?
Since the war’s outbreak in February 2022, Poland has established itself as one of Ukraine’s firmest allies, supplying tanks, armored vehicles, howitzers, fighter jets, short-range man-portable air defense, or MANPAD, systems, and munitions, among others, to its neighbor.
Some of these donated weapons are outdated Soviet-designed gear that Warsaw has long been planning to replace with new equipment. This includes the supplied T-72 tanks for which the U.K. has deployed a number of Challenger 2 tanks to Poland in an effort to partly bridge the capacity gap.
However, in other cases, deliveries to Ukraine created temporary gaps in the Polish military’s capacities. Among others, last spring, Warsaw donated Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine’s Air Force before it received the first deliveries of South Korean FA-50 aircraft the country’s Ministry of National Defence ordered in 2022.
As Poland is heading towards a general election on Oct. 15, the issue of Warsaw’s relations with Kyiv has found itself at the center of the ongoing campaign. Over the past weeks, these relations have become increasingly stringent, as the two countries’ governments have clashed over an extended ban on Ukrainian grain imports. With rural voters likely to decide on the forthcoming vote’s outcome, the issue rapidly escalated into a diplomatic spat.
In a Sept. 20 interview with local broadcaster Polsat News, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared that, while maintaining support for Kyiv’s fight against Moscow’s invasion, his government has halted weapon supplies to Ukraine to focus on arming Poland’s armed forces.
“Ukraine is defending itself against a savage Russian attack, and we understand that this attack creates an extraordinary situation,” Morawiecki said during the interview. “We don’t donate any arms to Ukraine anymore, because we are now arming ourselves with the most modern weapons.”
Slovakia: ‘Not a single round’ to Ukraine
Another important Eastern European partner Ukraine has been able to count on previously has been Slovakia. Over the last nineteen months, the country has donated and pledged a variety of military equipment to Kyiv directly as well as via the German Ringtausch program. This has included a dozen MiG-29As fighter jets from its inventories, mine clearance systems, air to air missiles, ammunition, self-propelled artillery and more.
Yet, similar to what has taken place in Poland, the country appears to be changing its stance on arming Ukrainian troops. This change of heart has been driven by the newly elected pro-Russian Prime Minister in Slovakia, Robert Fico. One of the politician’s electoral slogans was “Not a single round,” for Ukraine, where he vowed to end military support to the war torn country.
During a press conference, following his victory on Oct. 2, Fico re-affirmed that this promise would be kept.
“We are not changing that we are prepared to help Ukraine in a humanitarian way… We are prepared to help the reconstruction of the state but you know our opinion on arming Ukraine,” he told reporters.
The official has argued that Slovakia currently has larger issues beyond the war to tend to, such as the spike in energy prices and living costs.
When asked about the delicate political context surrounding military aid to Ukraine, including the possibility that Donald Trump could be in office in 2024, Olga Stefanishyna, Ukrainian deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration appeared confident.
“Look, there are 17 different types of elections taking place around Europe, including within European institutions. It is certainly not the first or the last election of a U.S. President, but we are ready and prepared for that. We see a huge potential in strengthening bipartisan support for Ukraine,” she told the audience on Oct. 3 at the Warsaw Security Forum taking place here.
“Let’s not forget that yes it was leaders, but also people backing up the support for Ukraine [that made a difference]… One thing I am sure on earth, is that Europe will not let us down,” the official added.
Earlier this week, dozens of European Union ministers gathered in Kyiv to show continuing support after the pro-Russian candidate won the election.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.
Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.