The decision of the NATO foreign ministers to provide Ukraine with real heavy weaponry marks something of a turning point in the war. The concurrent decision, in the words of the United Kingdom’s foreign minister, “to help Ukrainian forces move from their Soviet-era equipment to Nato standard equipment,” marks a turning point in the geopolitics of Europe. The Ukrainian defeat of the initial Russian invasion, culminating in the Russian retreat from its own northern front, has significantly altered the calculus of nearly all parties involved. The imperative now, whether one is NATO, Ukraine, Russia, or Russia’s foreign supporters, is simple: more.
For NATO, the signal communicated by events is twofold. First, Russia can be beaten, and investment in the force beating it is likely to pay dividends. Contrary to the arguments of some prewar — Germany foremost among them — that aid to Ukraine was throwing good money after bad, it has emerged that the Ukrainians are capable and deserving recipients. The arguments against it, however well founded — and there are some that still deserve a hearing — are fatally weakened among the decisionmakers. Second, the understanding that Ukrainian success means the war is likely to last for some time, in months and possibly years, means the nature of systems provided will change. The flow of ATGMs and small arms, allowing hasty training and easy use, will continue, but they will now be accompanied by weapons systems requiring significant training, maintenance, and teamwork. We are now talking about an array of items that the Ukrainians have been requesting since the war’s first day: air-defense batteries, armored vehicles, and aircraft.