Procurement: Ukraine Buys Local


February 9, 2015:   In great need of modern military equipment to fight the Russian invasion the Ukrainian government turning to its neighbors, especially those who fear they may be next on Russia’s list for reincorporation into the rebuilt Russian Empire. Poland is the best source because it has the most varied and robust defense manufacturing industry. Western countries refuse to supply Ukraine with weapons because most Western leaders believe it would make no difference against the Russian invasion and would make the Russians angry and even more dangerous. Ukraine’s immediate neighbors, who have also experienced long periods of Russian rule disagree with the Western attitude and are now offering to supply Ukraine.

Many are surprised that Ukraine is in desperate need of new weapons and other military equipment. That’s because as recently as 2012 Ukraine was the 4th largest arms exporter in the world. But these exports are either Cold War surplus or Cold War era military equipment still made in Cold War era Ukrainian factories. All this was possible because Ukraine was the place where the Soviet Union concentrated most of its reserves of weapons and equipment for the possible campaign against the NATO alliance, which never happened. Ukraine also contained a large proportion of the Soviet factories building military goods and these as well as all those stored weapons became Ukrainian when the Soviet Union came apart in 1991 and Ukraine became independent. The corruption in Ukraine did not help either because some of the best weapons were sold off (and much of the money stolen by government officials) rather than used for the defense of Ukraine.

To deal with the Russian aggression carried out by Russians, mercenaries and some local rebels armed with more modern Russian weapons, Ukraine seeks items it does not have or does not make. Russia is aware of this and in 2014, in response to Western criticism of Russian efforts to reclaim parts of Ukraine (Crimea in the south and Donbas in the east) threatened to use its nuclear weapons to defend itself from any “foreign interference” like providing Ukraine with modern weapons. This led the West (including, at first, East European nations now part of NATO) to put sanctions on Russia and forbid weapons exports to Russia and Ukraine. Giving or selling weapons to Ukraine was seen as needlessly provoking Russia. Meanwhile the West has been supporting Ukraine diplomatically and economically. 

Until recently Poland, like other western countries, refused to allow sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine. This was justified as a move to avoid needlessly irking Russia. After a year of Russian aggression in Ukraine Poland has changed its attitude. In January 2015 Poland announced that it was ready to sell weapons to Ukraine on commercial terms. While Poland is willing to sell weapons and equipment to Ukraine it is not ready to provide credit. Ukraine has suffered financial trouble for years even before the 2014 revolution, and the current military conflict has only made the economic problems worse.

This is not the first Ukrainian purchase of Polish military equipment since the Russian invasion. In mid-2014 Ukraine bought 6,000 Polish Wz.2005 helmets and 2,000 KWM-2 bulletproof vests for its army reserve forces. This is the “National Guard” and in peacetime is controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and not the Ministry of Defense. Russia apparently let this slide because it was for paramilitary troops (who, in fact, are fighting Russian troops in Donbas).

The 2014 shipment cost $5.75 million. Each helmet and vest set cost $1,363. The PALS/MOLLE compatible vests, weighting from 4.5 to 13 kg (9.9 to 28.6 pounds) depending on additional protection features, contain 4 hard plates capable of resisting even armor piercing bullets fired from AK and SVD rifles, which are the commonly used small arms of the Russian troops and Donbas rebels. 

Meanwhile more countries are considering selling, or donating, weapons to Ukraine, in part because Russia appears to have become quite deranged on this matter and many now believe that stopping Russian in Ukraine might be worth the risk compared to what Russia might become if they took Ukraine (which Russian leaders speak quite openly about). The lessons of the 1930s (when communist Russia and Nazi Germany were using the same tactics in East Europe and the West was making the same excuses they are now) seem to be having an impact--Adam Szczepanik




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