Written by Helen Kurvits, edited by Apoorva Iyer

The West has provided considerable support to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022. According to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker, the United States has provided €73.2 billion in aid to Ukraine, followed by the EU member states and institutions’ contribution of  €54.9 billion in assistance (Trebesch et al., 2023). The Western unity in responding to Russia’s war is remarkable. It might have surprised some at the onset of the war, given the varying degrees to which Western countries have cultivated connections with Russia over the past 30 years. Despite the united front, certain splits are evident, particularly in the Eastern states of Europe, where people have developed different threat perceptions towards Russia due to their spatial proximity and their history as part of the Soviet Union. 

This article will look at the support that European countries have provided to Ukraine and the historic reasons that have shaped these decisions, particularly concentrating on Germany and the countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Subsequently, the article will analyse the role of the US and the support to Ukraine amongst the Republican and Democrat voters in the US, and offer a brief consideration of the perceptions of the war worldwide, showing why Europe should take action and further increase its support to Ukraine. 


When combining military, humanitarian, and financial aid, Germany, Poland, France, and the Netherlands are among the top four EU countries when it comes to donations to Ukraine (Trebesch et al., 2023). Germany’s role, particularly in supporting Ukraine, and the ongoing changes in its foreign policy toward Russia, have drawn the attention of the international community. This is because Germany has had a long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to conflict zones, including to its allies. In January 2022, before the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Germany announced that it would send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine, while blocking its allies from sending their German-origin weapons to Ukraine (Schuetze, 2022). However, the Russia-Ukraine war resulted in Germany witnessing debates concerning the supply of weapons. 

Since the start of the invasion, Germany has gradually ramped up its support to Ukraine and a year later, it sent Leopard tanks to Ukraine (Debusmann et al., 2023). This change in the scale of support within a year demonstrates a shift in German foreign policy. Germany’s decision has significant clout in Europe. Besides sending the German-manufactured Leopard 2 battle tanks that provide Ukraine an advantage compared to Russia, Germany is the licence holder of the tanks, meaning other countries cannot send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine without Germany’s permission (Randerson, 2023). 

The change in Germany’s foreign and security policy that now also allows sending tanks to Ukraine was announced only a few days after the beginning of the war when Olaf Scholz gave his famous Zeitenwende, or turning point, address to the German Bundestag. In his speech, Scholz condemned Russia’s invasion, reaffirmed NATO’s collective defence obligations and announced large defence investments (Scholz, 2022). Another pillar of German foreign policy had been that European security can only be achieved by cooperating with Russia and not by confronting it, which is particularly relevant in the context of military assistance to Ukraine (Bunde, 2022, pp. 518-22). 

Despite this, Germany is offering more assistance to Ukraine than any other EU country. However, the pace of decision-making regarding this issue has irked Germany’s allies that have deemed it too slow. Moreover, the perspective is that the German Zeitenwende speech only reflected the necessary and long overdue changes as Russia had started its war in Ukraine already in 2014. The decisions on German energy policy in the past decade seemed incomprehensible to Central and Eastern European countries. After brokering the Minsk II agreement with France that was supposed to end the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2015, the German government agreed on Nord Stream 2 to import energy from Russia. Several countries, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe, warned Germany that Russia might use gas as a weapon. For its allies in Central and Eastern Europe, the German Zeitenwende has simply confirmed what they were warning Germany against (Bunde, 2022, p. 522).

The unnoticed Baltics and Poland

The Central and Eastern European countries have been more careful in their approach to cooperation with Russia and have, in stark contrast to Germany, long perceived it as a security threat. While Germany and France have made the largest contributions to Ukraine’s aid, Central and Eastern European countries have taken the lead in many respects, including militarily, as well as supporting Ukraine through civil society initiatives. Notably, other countries lead the ranks of the Ukraine Support Tracker when the support countries give to Ukraine is matched to the size of their GDP. Thus, we can find Estonia (1.1%), Latvia (1%), Lithuania (0.7%), and Poland (0.6%) among the countries that have provided the most military, humanitarian, and financial support. All of these countries share a border with Russia and had warned their European allies for years that the threat posed by Moscow has not disappeared. The USSR occupied the Baltics after WWII for half a century and Poland was under the Soviet sphere of influence. The Baltics and Poland consider Ukraine’s resistance even more important than many others in the West and defending Ukraine becomes synonymous with defending themselves (Golubeva and Harris, 2023). In an essay published in Foreign Affairs journal, the Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, made clear that the need to stop Russia in Ukraine is a question of existential importance. From the perspective of Poland and the Baltics, there is no space for a frozen conflict or negotiations that would allow Putin to regroup its forces and attack again (Kallas, 2022). 

Aside from the high level of military support, several civil society initiatives from Central and Eastern Europe stand out, such as the large campaign in Lithuania raising around €6 million for buying Bayraktar TB2 combat drone for Ukraine (Sytas, 2022). Another large campaign in Lithuania, Radarom!, took place before the first war anniversary to purchase multi-purpose tactical surveillance radars to monitor Ukraine’s airspace (LRT, 2023). Poland has become the hub for Ukraine’s military support and as a border country to Ukraine, it has welcomed millions of refugees and donated around 300 tanks from its stocks (Buras, 2023). Poland also played a role in pressuring Germany to send tanks to Ukraine and allowing others to send tanks to Ukraine (Rankin and Oltermann, 2023). Another action pushing their allies to increase support to Ukraine took place ahead of the Ramstein Summit, when an international meeting was convened at the initiative of Estonia and the UK where 11 European states called to deliver more arms to Ukraine in its war with Russia (Euractiv, 2023). Undoubtedly, countries in CEE have taken the lead and are rallying their allies to assist Ukraine. Nevertheless, according to the Ukraine Support Tracker, the most aid to Ukraine in absolute terms has not come from Europe but from the US. 

Transatlantic rift?

The US has doubtlessly been the most ardent supporter of Ukraine over the past year. However, experts have raised concerns over a “transatlantic rift” between the US and Europe since the former seeks a more equitable burden-sharing regarding assistance to Ukraine (Shaprio, 2022). The debate over the support has become more intense among the Republicans calling for larger European contributions and against European free-riding. Republicans are looking to decrease the economic assistance currently critical for Ukraine and, instead, increase the military component (Fix, 2022).

A survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on the US divide regarding the support of Ukraine shows that the support to give Ukraine military aid stood at 55% at the end of last year, coming down from 68% last July and 80% last year March. Similarly, the support for economic assistance has dropped to 50% from 64% in July 2022 and 74% in March 2022. Interestingly, the polls indicate a strong variation of attitudes towards supporting Ukraine along the party lines. At the end of 2022, 61% of Democrats continued to favour supporting Ukraine even if American households have to pay higher gas and food prices as a consequence, down from 69% compared to last July. Whereas the Democrats’ support has only slightly decreased, Republican opinion has shifted more dramatically. Only 33% say the US should back Ukraine for as long as it takes whereas a majority of Republicans (63%) favour pushing Ukraine to settle for peace to reduce costs to American households, up from 46% in July 2022 (Kafura et al., 2022).

The US National Security Strategy clarifies that while Russia is seen as an immediate threat, it is deemed local in nature, whereas China is a global challenge. The strategy prioritises the Indo-Pacific region (The White House, 2022). The war in Ukraine has not changed the focus of the US. This growing focus on China and Asia requires Europe to take care of its region and assume responsibility for the security and defence of the continent. 

And besides the West?

The West has been united despite its divisions compared to the general public opinion worldwide. Whilst the US and Europe share the purpose of helping Ukraine, the study from the European Council of Foreign Relations exposes variations in the desired outcomes of the war and interpretations of what motivates Western support for Ukraine. China, India, and Turkey support a quicker end even at the expense of territorial concessions that Ukraine would have to make. Russia’s war has not changed the public opinion in non-Western countries about Russia. Namely, Russia is considered an “ally” or a “partner” by 79% of the people in China and 69% in Turkey (Ash et al., 2023). As the public opinion of the EU remains coherently on the side of Ukraine, the EU should step up its support to Ukraine and keep its focus on its security once the war ends. 

Strengthen the European Peace Facility

The US’ push for Europe to take care of its security affairs and the varying attitudes towards the war in Ukraine strongly confirm that Europe needs to take the lead in supporting Ukraine in its defence against Russia. The European Peace Facility, which gained a renewed purpose over the past year, must be strengthened. It has the potential to allow the EU to act as a whole by agreeing on jointly purchasing ammunition which can be used for supply to Ukraine and fill the member states’ stocks (Brzozowski, 2022). With the US attention shifting to the Indo-Pacific, the EU needs to keep the focus on its security in the future and the European Peace Facility provides a useful instrument for this. 

In sum, over the course of the past year, Europe has shown remarkable unity and strongly supported Ukraine. Germany’s changes to its foreign and security policy have gained considerable attention in Europe. Quickly after the start of the full-scale Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany abandoned its long-term policy of not providing military assistance and has gradually increased its support to Ukraine. However, less attention has been dedicated to the countries in Central and Eastern Europe that have for years pursued a cautious foreign policy towards Russia which they have always considered a security threat. Whilst these countries have provided the most support to Ukraine compared to their GDPs, the most ardent supporter of Ukraine in absolute terms is the US, not Europe. Combining military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, the US leads the ranks but the Republicans have been calling out for larger European contributions. Nevertheless, compared to the contrasting views of Russia’s war in Ukraine by Turkey, China, and India on one hand and Western states on the other hand, the differences among the Western allies are less significant. Yet, how the war will influence the international system will be decided based on its outcome and how united the West remains in supporting Ukraine until the end of the war. As the war is still ongoing, it is too soon to assess the support from the US and Europe. 


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