Gressel on the US-Ukraine package: “A Trump tantrum on Putin and Ukraine can win”

It’s one thing to approve a large military package – but implementing the decisions often takes a lot of time. Security expert Gressel explains to why US aid can now happen very quickly and what the EU now urgently needs to do. After the US military aid package has been approved by the Senate, President Joe Biden still has to sign it before implementation can begin. In the arms industry it often takes a long time until a delivery is actually delivered, but in this case some of the weapons should already be in Europe, including Germany. Is that correct?

Gustav Gressel: Despite the quarrels in Congress, the White House has been telling the Ukrainians since November: It won’t take long, it’ll be done in two weeks and then we’ll deliver. That’s why the US Army naturally prepared these deliveries accordingly, even if the political go-ahead didn’t come for months. So the military thought along and parts of this delivery are actually already stationed in Germany and Poland. Let’s get started.

Do you have any more details? What will arrive at the front first?

Information about what exactly is where and in what quantities is classified, but I don’t have it. But above all, there are two items that are time-critical: artillery ammunition and Patriot Interceptors, i.e. the missiles that are fired with the anti-aircraft system. Ukraine gets this ammunition primarily from the USA and has been missing in recent weeks. This was the reason for the success of the Russian attacks. But she was already camped here because the US forces in Europe and The Bundeswehr also uses the Patriot system. The logistical infrastructure exists in Germany to store and maintain the ammunition. It will be loaded in the coming days and weeks and sent to Ukraine by truck and rail.

Gustav Gressel is a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).  He is an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe, military strategy and missile defense.

Gustav Gressel is a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). He is an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe, military strategy and missile defense.


A Patriot production line for ammunition is also being set up in Germany by the defense company MBDA. When can this help?

It is expected that the first rockets can be delivered in 2030.

2030 – that is very sobering.

I always say it will be a long war for Ukraine, but 2030 may be too late even for that war. First, the factory must be built, then the manufacturing process begins, and then anti-aircraft missiles have a production cycle of about two years per unit. Artillery shells – for comparison – have a cycle of only six to nine months. They are, so to speak, the dumbest class of ammunition and are correspondingly quicker to produce.

In recent months, Ukrainian commanders at the front have had to carefully manage their ammunition. Can they tap into reserves now in anticipation of the US package?

Yes, because they now have the necessary security that supplies will come. Until now, the Ukrainians never knew how long they would have to manage with the existing stocks – also because European deliveries were also delayed. The EU had promised 200,000 more artillery shells by March, i.e. last month. Only half of them arrived in Ukraine. Then in April another 50,000. That is clearly too little and far behind what we had planned in the delivery planning.

The Czechs’ ammunition initiative wanted to deliver 800,000 rounds and start in March. How about that?

We are now at 180,000 shots, starting in June. This has made the Ukrainian armed forces extremely insecure – the USA has completely stopped supporting it and the Europeans are months behind on what they promise. Dealing with this at the front is very difficult.

The Czech initiative is supported by many EU states. How can it be that progress is still so slow?

Governments conduct politics through announcements. Help is announced, which sounds good, but the actual production and delivery is usually much later. Many countries have expressed their interest in the Czech Republic initiative, but only Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic themselves have actually put money on the table and bought lots for ammunition. 20 other countries have expressed their intention to help, but in fact have contributed little or nothing. It This is either about ammunition lots for production by third-party providers outside the EU or it is about taking on contractual penalties.

What is it paid for?

The quickest way to obtain procurement is to buy companies that are currently in the process of producing ammunition for an export order out of their supply contract. The defense company should therefore let the respective export order be an export order and immediately deliver the manufactured grenades to Ukraine. However, a contractual penalty will then be due to the contractual partner. So you not only have to pay the price for the ammunition, but also the penalty to the original end customer. This of course increases the price per grenade significantly. But that’s just how it works when a product is time-critical. Like 2020 with masks.

No EU state wanted to pay this price?

No, only purchases from ammunition producers from non-EU countries were actually financed. The problem is: In the West, and I’m not excluding the USA, a lot is being done to report things. Everything should look good, we want to be leaders, we announce a lot, but there is a lot of poor planning in the implementation. The states do not inform each other about what they are planning to do. They don’t communicate what they deliver. The result: the same manufacturers compete for the same products abroad and drive up each other’s prices.

A remarkable chaos that the EU states have created in their aid to Ukraine, even though Washington was left out for so long and the situation on the front is dramatic. What does this teach us for the end of the year, when Donald Trump is threatened with a second term in office?

One lesson of this entire spring campaign is that we cannot replace the USA, we can only complement it. The outcome of the November elections will determine whether the war will be lost for Ukraine or not. At the moment, no one really knows what Trump is up to and what he would do if he won the election. If he throws a tantrum at Putin at the right moment, Ukraine can win too.

What do the Europeans need to do in the meantime to prepare the Ukrainians at least as well as possible for any scenario?

Patriot will remain the main anti-aircraft weapon that Ukraine has. The EU would have to try to buy more Patriot systems from Japan and sign contracts with American ammunition manufacturers. Trump will find it difficult to talk his way out of this, because these are orders for the US economy. The second important topic is armored personnel carriers. There is hardly anything available in Europe, so you should try to buy Bradleys from the Americans. When it comes to combat aircraft, the Europeans would probably have to agree on support with Eurofighters. With other types I wouldn’t know how to get the necessary quantities together. By the way: Ukrainian security circles are not at all on this “everything goes down with Trump” trip. Many people there view the US elections rather calmly.

What trip are they on?

You see how much the Biden administration has already delayed, prevented, screwed up and failed to deliver in this war. That’s why they say to themselves: Trump is completely unpredictable. But we won’t survive with Biden because he doesn’t act energetically enough, doesn’t have a plan and is only interested in de-escalation. Trump, on the other hand, can make any deals with Putin, but he can also be disappointed by Putin and then become completely angry. With Trump it would be a lottery – even if the probability is not high, you at least theoretically have a chance of winning.

Frauke Niemeyer spoke to Gustav Gressel

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