01.03 Review

Slow Aid: Europe can significantly increase support for Ukraine without taking on new commitments, simply by accelerating the implementation of existing ones

In terms of the actual assistance provided, rather than simply promised aid, Europe surpasses the United States, according to experts from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, after information about received aid became more transparent. Many programmes are designed for several years or lack clear timing. The US has provided slightly more military aid, but even in this aspect, the gap with Europe has been narrowing since the allocation of a new package was frozen by Trumpists in Congress. At the same time, the commitments made by Europe are almost twice the actual allocations: out of the promised €144 billion in aid, only €77 billion has been allocated. Thus, to close the gap arising due to the US pre-election campaign, Europe does not necessarily need to adopt new programmes; it will be sufficient to accelerate the implementation of previous ones. However, this will not be easy: Europe has overestimated the capabilities of its industry. The current ammunition shortage is not only due to the blocking of American aid but also because Europe has been unable to produce the promised one million 155-millimeter shells. Overall, assistance to Ukraine is largely a matter of political will. This becomes evident from analysis of the amounts of aid provided by various countries as a percentage of their GDP. The Baltic countries, which perceive the conflict much more sensitively, have spent an average of 2.3% of their GDP on assistance to Ukraine. The Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and Finland have spent around 1.5%; Germany and the Czech Republic, 1%; Austria, Italy, France, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, only 0.5–0.7%.

Europe has been spending more on supporting Ukraine than the United States since the early months of the war. This sensational conclusion comes from a new study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which conducts the most reliable and detailed monitoring of all foreign aid to Ukraine. Previously, experts from the institute believed that the US outpaced Europe because when compiling their Ukraine Support Tracker, they considered the volumes of promised aid, including within the framework of long-term programmes spanning several years. Assessing the actual amounts of allocated funds had been difficult due to insufficient data transparency. Recently, most donors have started disclosing information more promptly and extensively, allowing experts to correlate commitments and actual allocations (however, they note that information from some countries – particularly France and Italy – remains insufficient).

As of January 15, 2024, all European countries (not just EU members) and European organizations provided Ukraine with economic, humanitarian, and military aid totalling €88.7 billion, while the United States provided €66.6 billion, almost a quarter less. The United States still leads Europe in terms of the volume of military aid provided (€43.2 billion), but only by €2 billion, and the gap is gradually narrowing since Ukraine has received almost no new American military aid since August 2023.

Another discovery by Kiel Institute experts is that European allies are not very active in distributing agreed aid packages. As of January 15, 2024, EU countries approved a total of €144 billion in aid to Ukraine. However, according to official data, only €77 billion was allocated. Thus, the EU has the opportunity to significantly increase support for Ukraine without adopting new programmes, just by accelerating the pace of implementing existing ones, the institute’s experts conclude. Thus, there is a significant gap between verbal interventions and actual assistance. However, in the eyes of European voters, the amount of aid provided appears much larger than what Ukraine has actually received.

However, this gap is due not only to the reluctance of European governments to fulfill their commitments but also, in many cases, to their inability to do so. Europe's perceptions of its capabilities in this area were initially overstated not in terms of funds but in terms of technical resources. Today, it has become evident that for Europe to provide assistance in the necessary volumes and make it effective, it must revise its industrial policy, according to Michael John Williams, an expert at the Atlantic Council. For instance, the EU could only supply Ukraine with about 300,000 of the promised one million 155mm shells because European enterprises were unable to produce such a quantity. Therefore, the current ammunition shortage in Ukraine is not solely due to the Trumpists blocking new aid packages in the United States.

Assessing the dynamics of military aid, experts from the Kiel Institute note that, in recent months, only Germany and Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway) have continued to increase their aid. By mid-January, the former had allocated €9.4 billion, and the latter €9.1 billion. France and Italy, the two largest economies in the EU after Germany, have spent less than €1 billion each on aid throughout the war, according to available data. By mid-2023, the United Kingdom had spent about €5 billion, but after that, no new aid was allocated. Apparently, this dynamic reflects uncertainty and fluctuations regarding the overall strategy to support Ukraine at the end of 2023.

Thus, Europe has the opportunity to temporarily replace the aid deficit caused by pre-election struggles in the United States. Data on the distribution of aid among European economies show that this is primarily a matter of political will and conviction. The most consistent supporter of Ukraine is the Baltic bloc, whose countries have provided Ukraine with aid averaging 2.3% of their GDP (from 4.1% of GDP in Estonia to 1.7% in Norway and Latvia). They are followed by the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and Finland (1.3–1.5% of GDP). Germany, Greece, and the Czech Republic have spent 1% of GDP on Ukraine. Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, France, Portugal, and the United Kingdom have allocated only 0.5–0.7%. As we can see, among European countries, several groups are forming: countries supporting Ukraine strongly both politically and practically (Baltic bloc), countries with strong political but weak practical support (France, the UK, Italy, Portugal), and countries with weak political and practical support (Austria, Hungary).

Leaders of European support for Ukraine, 2022–2024, % of country's GDP