NATO urged to ‘act now’ on Ukraine military aid, toughen Russia sanctions

25 May 2024

SOFIA – NATO Allies must urgently ramp up military, financial and diplomatic support for Ukraine and inflict higher costs on Russia with tough sanctions if they hope to turn the tide in the war, parliamentarians from NATO nations and experts warned on Saturday. 

In debate on a series of draft reports at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Spring Session in Sofia, legislators also weighed the influence of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and missiles on the battlefield and the lessons NATO must learn as it modernises its air defences. 

In the Defence and Security Committee (DSC), Acting Defence Minister of Bulgaria Atanas Zapryanov said the “first and best line of defence today is to make sure Ukraine receives all the needed weapons to defeat the Russian aggression, and it must be done now.” 

Presenting a draft report on the war and Allied support, U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen said Ukraine’s key challenges are manpower, fortifications and munitions, with Russia’s illegal war of aggression now into its third year. NATO must step up on the latter, he insisted. 

“The time to act is now. The consequences of failure are too great,” he said. “Ukrainian forces have already demonstrated they have the capabilities and determination to turn the tide of the war, but they need our help.” 

Larsen’s draft report highlighted Ukraine’s need for air defence and missile systems, precision long-range weapons, artillery batteries – and ammunition to use them – as well as infantry fighting vehicles, battle tanks, small arms bullets and demining equipment. 

Providing this materiel means boosting defence industrial production at home to ensure that Ukraine gets what it needs, and to replenish Allied military stocks. The draft report argued that NATO must also expand its training programs for the Ukrainian armed forces. 

Allies were also urged to step up bilateral financial support to help Ukraine’s government to breathe life into its economy and to fund the country’s fight against Russia. 

In the Science and Technology Committee, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute Justin Bronk said that funding delays from Western partners have been a source of some of Ukraine’s woes. 

“The problem really is that we starved them of ammunition for six months, so it is on us to fix,” Bronk said. But he added that if Ukraine can survive till year’s end “Russia’s position starts to get significantly worse again … they will start to run out of (weapon) stocks.” 

The state of Russia’s economy and whether international sanctions against the Kremlin are working were high on the agenda in the Economics and Security Committee, notably in debate on a draft report by Hungarian lawmaker Tamás Harangozó. 

According to the International Monetary Fund, economic growth in Russia could double this year. Still, the draft report notes serious challenges for Moscow, among them high war costs, poor governance, an over-reliance on energy money and systemic corruption. 

Sanctions are slowly working, but much hinges on the West’s determination to up the ante.  

“Our governments need to undertake more concerted efforts to tighten and enforce sanctions and consider secondary sanctions on countries directly violating these terms,” Harangozó said as he presented the draft text. 

He underlined the challenges posed by the fact that China, India, Brazil and South Africa are not taking part in sanctions. But he also noted that Russia is growing dependent on China, selling cheap energy in exchange for high-tech components and machine tools. 

“More intensive diplomatic efforts are needed to discourage third country trade with Russia, particularly in strategic sectors like militarily useful technologies. Incentives are needed to move countries in this direction,” Harangozó warned. 

Further discussion in the DSC drilled down on the ways that superiority on the battlefield in Ukraine often hinges on drones and missile systems and how Russia is using the conflict to hone its capabilities. 

“We are seeing an extensive use of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones, and in particular lately the very interesting use of glide bombs, which have been very destructive on Ukraine,” said Radoslava Stefanova, Head of NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence Section. 

“We’re also seeing these capabilities being used together to multiply the effect,” she said. 

A draft report by Turkish member of parliament Utku Cakirozer warned of the urgent need to strengthen NATO’s air and missile defences given that “significant challenges” lay ahead to create a modern, capable and integrated system across the Alliance. 

“For a credible, 360-degree defence, Allies need more air and missile defence systems of all kinds – from very-short range MANPADs to long-range Patriots,” he said. “Air defences from different national suppliers must fit seamlessly into a coherent NATO network.” 

This means spending at least 2% on defence, with 20% of that on new equipment – notably on drones, which act as battlefield managers, and on counter-UAV systems – as well as ensuring that vital funds flow through to the defence industrial base. 

“The task ahead of us is not easy,” Cakirozer said. “The post-Cold War era of relative stability and security is over, so we must prepare for a different and more challenging future.”