May 9, 2022:
NATO nations have been more willing to detail how much training they provide for Ukrainian troops and where the training takes place. In most cases the training takes place in Poland or other NATO nations that border Ukraine. In some cases, it’s easier to fly the Ukrainian troops or support personnel to West Europe NATO nations where the facilities (simulators and other training systems) are available, as well as a wider range of trainers. Some training takes place in Ukraine, usually close to the border of a NATO nation to lessen the risk of a Russian attack killing or wounding NATO troops. That could cause political problems in the nation the NATO casualty came from as well in Russia, where government propaganda strives to convince Russians that the war is really about Russia defending itself against a NATO attack. This excuse for the war and all its dead Russian soldiers, is difficult to sustain if NATO is not taking any casualties.
At first NATO planned to only send combat vehicles (tanks and aircraft) that were Russian designs both Ukraine and Russia were using. Ukrainian leaders convinced NATO that sending Western armored vehicles, including self-propelled artillery, was necessary because there were not enough Russian vehicles available in East European NATO nations and Ukrainian troops preferred the Western models. After all, since the 1990s, Ukraine had become a major provider of upgraded (with Western accessories) Cold War era Russian weapons.
Ukraine also builds local versions of Western designs. This includes MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) customized for peacekeepers or police forces. The U.S. bought some 20,000 MRAP vehicles for use in Afghanistan and Iraq. Once American troops were out of Iraq many of these vehicles were found unsuitable for Afghanistan, where there are fewer roads and a special MRAP design was found more suitable. Eventually, most of these armored trucks were out of work. Rather than pay to put them in storage, many were donated and Ukraine knows that the America still has some of these little-used MRAPs which would be lifesavers for Ukrainian troops moving through a combat zone. The danger the Ukrainian troops face is Russian artillery and machine-gun fire. MRAPs are designed to protect crew and passengers from that. Ukraine would like some Western tanks but so far no NATO nations, like the United States, Germany, France and Britain that manufacture tanks have been willing to send these vehicles. The U.S. has thousands of older model M1 tanks in storage, for emergencies. The Ukrainians insist that fighting Russian forces in Ukraine should qualify. Ukraine has sufficient troops and civilian specialists to handle maintaining Western armored vehicles. Many NATO military officials point out that Ukraine prefers the Western armored vehicles and the West has plenty of them in storage because of the massive reduction in military forces after the Cold War ended in 1991. Ukraine may still be undecided about joining NATO but they don’t mind, and often prefer, using a lot of NATO compatible weapons.
There are thousands of former NATO troops fighting for Ukraine, which has established separate combat battalions if they have enough volunteers from a single country. Otherwise, these veteran NATO troops are used as specialists or trainers, especially to demonstrate how to use and maintain NATO weapons. The NATO veterans share their experiences with family, friends and media back home and reinforce the Ukrainian case for more Western weapons and other support. Ideally Ukrainians would like to have Western air defense systems like Patriot or similar West European designs as well as Western combat aircraft. NATO leaders have been resisting this because those systems require too much sustained tech support from the Western manufacturers. Ukrainians make the case that these advanced Western systems would reduce the damage Russian weapons are inflicting and the growing number of civilian casualties. Less damage and civilian casualties mean fewer Ukrainians fleeing to the West. Existing refugees have demonstrated that they will quickly return once the fighting has stopped in areas they fled from. These arguments are persuasive and the Russians counter with threats to use nuclear weapons. This would be a major escalation and Russians point out that they have substantial tactical as well as strategic nuclear weapons. Is the West going to use strategic nuclear weapons if the Russians use some smaller tactical ones in Ukraine? Many Russian leaders are unwilling to test this hypothesis and the possibility of Russian leader Vladimir Putin using a few tactical nukes, which are easier to authorize than the strategic systems, is producing more opposition to Putin inside Russia. Putin is relying a lot on bluff, bullying and bluster, while the Ukrainians concentrating on killing the invaders rather than surrendering to them. The Russian threats have more impact that farther away from the fighting you are. Ukrainians try to counter that by allowing journalists much more freedom to move about the battlefields. That has an impact on Western leaders but has not improved the Western support for Ukraine as much as the Ukrainians ask for.