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Defence and security links between Ukraine, NATO members and other allies and partners started soon after Ukraine’s independence in 1991. They intensified when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, but primarily took the form of training and the bilateral provision of non-lethal military equipment.

Since Russia’s military operations against Ukraine began on 24 February 2022, bilateral military assistance has been stepped up, with many allies for the first time supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine. For some countries such as Germany, and historically neutral countries such as Sweden, this has represented a significant reversal of their previous defence policies which ruled out providing offensive weapons.

Who is providing military assistance?

The US is the largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine, having committed $27.4 billion since the start of the Biden administration. $26.7 billion of that assistance has been provided since February 2022.

As the second largest donor, the UK has committed £2.3 billion in military assistance to Ukraine so far and has pledged to match that assistance in 2023. The UK is also hosting a training programme (Operation Interflex), which is supported by several allies, with the aim of training 10,000 new and existing Ukrainian personnel within 120 days.

NATO, as an alliance, has been clear in its political support of Ukraine and fully supports the provision of bilateral military assistance by individual allies. NATO is helping to coordinate requests for assistance from the Ukrainian government and is supporting the delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid. Ukraine is not a NATO member, however, and therefore isn’t party to NATO’s mutual defence clause under Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. As such, NATO troops will not be deployed on the ground in Ukraine. Allies have also ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine because it would bring Russia into direct conflict with NATO forces. At the Heads of State and Government summit in Madrid at the end of June 2022 NATO allies agreed a new package of assistance for Ukraine that will provide long term, sustained, support.

The European Union is also providing non-lethal and lethal arms through its European Peace Facility (EPF). This is the first time the bloc has, in its history, approved the supply of lethal weapons to a third country. To date, the EU has committed €3.6 billion. In October 2022, the EU also approved a new training mission for the Ukrainian armed forces.

The debate over tanks 

As the conflict in Ukraine has evolved, the provision of weaponry has evolved also. Ahead of an expected spring offensive, by both sides, the focus is currently on providing Ukraine, in the short window available, with the capability to both defend their territory and to enable them to retake ground currently under Russian control. However, the provision of Western military assistance to Ukraine has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the ongoing debate over the provision of heavy weaponry to the country, including main battle tanks. While many consider the capability vital in helping Ukraine defend against any Russian spring offensive, there are also fears, notably from Germany, that the provision of such assistance could escalate the conflict.

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