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Breakthrough at Ramstein: NATO unites to help Ukraine defeat Russia

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov gives opening remarks at the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, 26 April 2022. Photo by US Air Force Staff Sgt. Megan Beatty
Breakthrough at Ramstein: NATO unites to help Ukraine defeat Russia
Article by: Orysia Hrudka

The meeting at the US Air Force base Ramstein has already been called historic for Ukraine. It consolidated the international conviction that Russia’s aggression can be stopped only by arming Ukraine, not by appeasing Russia. It also developed a monthly mechanism to ensure Ukraine’s near-term and strategic security needs.

On April 26, defense ministers and senior generals of over 40 countries gathered at the US Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Not only EU and NATO countries took part, but also representatives of 14 countries from the Middle East, Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the Asia-Pacific region.

The US announced the meeting just days before. On April 23, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the US is inviting Allies among NATO and non-NATO members to discuss Ukraine’s longer-term security needs as well as to coordinate the partner countries’ efforts in the near-term armament of Ukraine amid ongoing Russian aggression.

The meeting has already been called historic – by Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov and the US Secretary of State Lloyd Austin. Ukrainian political scientist Dmytro Sherenhovskyy wrote the meeting marked significant changes in the architecture of international security.

Monthly meetings and coordinated arms supplies to Ukraine

The most urgent task of the meeting was to coordinate and synchronize arms supplies to Ukraine from its international partners. The result was the establishment of the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group which will operate on a monthly basis.

This permanent mechanism will allow to optimize and accelerate processes required to send weapons to Ukraine. It will ensure that coordination among Ukraine’s partners is viable.

“For example, when a decision is made to provide Ukraine with a certain type of weapon, this cooperation will ensure that weapons of the same type can come from different countries. As a result of several countries each providing 3-4 artillery pieces, in total Ukraine will receive an entire artillery division,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Reznikov explains.

 Delegates sit in the plenum of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group meeting at Ramstein air base, Germany. Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
Delegates sit in the plenum of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group meeting at Ramstein air base, Germany. Photograph: Thomas Lohnes

As Sherenhovskyi stressed, the meeting was not for the purpose of political statements, but for an “actual practical help that Ukraine can expect in the near future.”

The biggest surprise was the change in Germany’s heavy weapons policy after the meeting. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht declared that Germany would supply Ukraine with 50 Gepard anti-aircraft self-propelled guns. Reznikov stressed that this decision was made “thanks in part to the position of the Minister herself.”

Other countries have also increased their arms supplies to Ukraine, and on 28 April the US House of Representatives unanimously voted for the lend-lease, which invokes the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, a law created to battle Hitler and to help arm British forces that changed the course of WWII.

Gepard German anti air vehicle

The Gepard is a German-made, self-propelled, direct fire anti-aircraft canon mounted on the chassis of a Leopard tank. Source: Hans-Hermann Bühling/Creative Commons

The meeting and further decisions mark an important step in connection with the difficult current situation in the east of Ukraine. As Reznikov stressed,

“some extremely difficult weeks are ahead. Practical implementation of agreements, training, and logistics take time. And Russia has already consolidated its forces for a large-scale offensive in the east of Ukraine…in the coming days we will need to demonstrate our resilience and extraordinary unity.”

That is, the monthly meetings, as well as coordination work and arms supplies between them, are important as ever.

A radical change in the approach and “philosophy” to global security

“Tectonic philosophical shifts have occurred,” Reznikov wrote in his assessment on the aftermath of the Ramstein meeting.

The long-standing prejudice that any strengthening of Ukraine will inevitably provoke Russia to escalate aggression has been abandoned, political scientist and Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University Dmytro Sherenhovskyy writes.

The meeting has consolidated the understanding that the aggression can be stopped only by arming Ukraine, not by appeasing Russia.

In his speech at the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group US Secretary Austin drew attention to Russia’s war crimes and “atrocities” in Ukraine, calling Russia’s war unjust, baseless, reckless, lawless, and even imperial.

Moreover, Austin called Russia’s war to be dangerous not only for Ukraine but for the global security as a whole:

“Russia’s invasion…is an affront to the rules-based international order. It is a challenge to free people everywhere. As we see this morning, nations of goodwill from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s imperial aggression.”

Sherenhovskyy writes that this and similar statements of the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group mark the recognition of the “long-held thesis” that

Ukrainians are fighting not only for their territorial integrity or freedom, but also for the principles and values of the international order that was built after the Second World War.

It must have no place for tolerating imperial ambitions, violating international law and crimes against humanity – all that Russia has demonstrated during the war.

And if international institutions cannot ensure this, the answer will be practical military assistance to those who are victims of such aggression.”

De facto integration with NATO

Russia’s 2022 full-scale aggression against Ukraine undermined two stereotypes:

  1. the omnipotence of the “second army of the world”
  2. Ukraine’s inability to defend itself.

“We’re all here because of Ukraine’s courage…But Ukraine has done a magnificent job defending its sovereignty against Russia’s unprovoked invasion. And Ukraine’s valor and skill will go down in military history,” Secretary Austin said at the Ramstein Air Base.

Meeting at the Ramstein base in Germany on 26 April. Source: PremiumTimesNG

This has contributed to a change in attitudes towards Ukraine’s role in international security and in NATO. In this regard, Reznikov writes that Ukraine became closer to its key security priority – de facto integration into NATO.

“For a long time, we have been working to convince our partners that it is appropriate to provide Ukraine with Western-compliant weapons that meet NATO standards.

The strategic decision to transition Ukraine to Western-caliber technology has finally been made. In particular, we are already receiving 155-mm artillery.

Gradually, this will ensure full interoperability of the Ukrainian military with the armed forces of NATO countries, which will result in a significant strengthening of the Alliance’s eastern flank.

I will admit – three months ago an achievement like this would have been considered almost impossible. But thanks to the courage and professionalism of Ukrainian defenders, and the resilience of the Ukrainian people, everything has changed,” Reznikov wrote, thanking the Ukrainian officials who made this possible, as well as his international counterparts.

Reznikov stressed that the ongoing transition began more than 30 years ago, and now approaches its final stage. Proof of this is the fact that Ukraine’s Armed Forces have been gaining expertise in the use of Western weapons and the training programs will be scaled up.

Reznikov said that the past training was not publicized in order to maintain the confidentiality of the partners. Yet he provided an example of “a recent and very relevant experience”:

“Our artillerymen, who were training on a 155-mm [CAESAR] ACS at a test site in one of our partner countries, hit their target with their first shot. And they then helped our foreign colleagues to improve the computer software that manages this ACS, which impressed them. Our soldiers have experienced war and real-life battles, where human life is the cost of any error.”

155-mm CAESAR - French howitzers to destroy the aggressor Ramstein meeting
155-mm CAESAR ACS, French howitzers

Reznikov also told that the discussions at Ramstein base did not center exclusively on the supply of weapons and ammunition. The matters of long-term cooperation, e.g. the production of weapons and military equipment, and Ukraine’s role in the defense industry were also discussed.

Still, Reznikov emphasized that Ukraine is still open to receiving Soviet-style equipment and weapons necessary for the immediate strengthening of the Ukrainian army.

“We will do so as long as there is such an opportunity. But material changes have already taken place,” he said.

The global leadership revived?

In his recent article “The Fear of Victory,” foreign policy expert James Sherr wrote that one reason for NATO’s indecisiveness is the lack of global leadership and “the paucity of strategic thinking and strategic thinkers in national capitals.”

“Where are today’s George Kennans and Dean Achesons?” Sherr asked.

In some sense, the Ramstein meeting demonstrates a gradual increase in the national leaders’ readiness to take responsibility in global leadership. The very act of inviting 40 countries to a common meeting and its quick organization demonstrates the readiness for global leadership and genuine international cooperation in the issues of global security.

Ministers of defense and military officials discuss Ukraine at Ramstein Air Base.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III with ministers of defense and senior military officials from more than 40 countries to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, 26 April 2022. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jared Lovett

As Sherenhovskyi writes,

“The fact that the meeting is held at the US Air Force Base in Germany, rather than at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, demonstrates that the US plans to intensify its leading role in both European and global security.

In essence, this is an attempt by the United States to form a broad anti-Russian coalition that extends beyond NATO.”

Yet Sherenhovskyi adds that, for this purpose, the existing NATO mechanisms will be applied. Collective monthly meetings at the Ramstein Air Base is also “a test of a wide format of collective security.”

Along with Ukraine, other non-NATO members who took part in the meeting included Finland, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan, and Israel.

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