Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has evolved into a war of attrition, with both sides taking heavy casualties in what is becoming a protracted conflict. Ukrainian forces find themselves out-gunned in a pitched artillery duel in the country’s east and south, which has allowed Russian forces to creep forward as they seek to conquer the rest of Ukraine’s Donbas region. To stem Russia’s advances and potentially enable a counteroffensive to retake Ukrainian territory in the coming months, Kyiv will need sustained military aid from the West, particularly artillery and other heavy weaponry.
While Western systems such as HIMARS rocket artillery are arriving on the battlefield, the Ukrainian military still predominantly operates Soviet-made artillery and armored vehicles and remains overwhelmingly dependent on Soviet-made manned aircraft and air defenses (beyond MANPADS). Kyiv is warning that its forces are now running out of Soviet-standard artillery munitions, which Ukrainian industry is currently unable to supply. At the same time, NATO members have reportedly almost exhausted their own expendable stocks of Soviet-standard ammunition used by the Ukrainian military. While Washington and its allies should continue working to transition Ukraine to NATO-standard equipment, this transition will take time given logistical and training hurdles and the large number of legacy systems that require replacement. Ukraine’s need to equip additional brigades of mobilized personnel compounds this challenge. Thus the Ukrainian military will likely remain at least partially dependent on Soviet-standard equipment for the foreseeable future.
The West, therefore, needs to find untapped sources of Soviet- and Russian-made materiel, particularly artillery, munitions, and armored vehicles, even as it ramps up deliveries of NATO-standard systems. Although Washington has scoured the stocks of NATO allies and the Pentagon has explored other potential options, an exhaustive search focusing on non-NATO countries reveals a robust supply of untapped Soviet- and Russian-made arms (and their attendant spare parts and ammunition) that Washington could help Kyiv expeditiously acquire.
Many of these countries may be willing to transfer weapons to Ukraine, especially if Washington, working with allies and partners, provides the donor country with appropriate inducements. This could include backfilling the donor countries through future arms sales, equipment swaps, or other means; offering various diplomatic, economic, or military incentives; or simply purchasing the weapons and sending them to Ukraine. These agreements do not necessarily have to be accompanied by public announcements. And indeed, some countries may prefer to keep their assistance out of the spotlight.
To aid in the effort, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has compiled a dataset identifying over 6,300 relevant systems held by select non-NATO countries, focusing on those nations most likely to agree to transfer arms to Ukraine. The dataset draws on The Military Balance 2021, an open-source database of worldwide military capabilities published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
While some of the countries included in this dataset may be unwilling to transfer their materiel for fear of Moscow’s ire or because of other security concerns, many may be convinced.