Belgium has decided on a new military aid package for Ukraine worth €12 million. It includes heavy machine guns[i] and ammunition as well as non-lethal equipment such as helmets, winter clothing and vision equipment. Ambulances and medical evacuation trucks are also expected to be delivered… in early 2023.
It is good news, but also not much. Not much when one considers the military aid provided by Belgium over the past seven months, and the extent of the Ukrainians’ needs. Indeed, it is completely insufficient in view of the major mobilisation – up to one million soldiers – that the Russian president has just decreed.
Moreover, the situation is incomprehensible when one considers, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg did, that “with more than 80% of Russian ground forces now engaged in the operation in Ukraine, [the Russian armed forces] have limited room for manoeuvre to go to another country”[ii] – in other words, to open a new front.
“Helping Ukraine now and replenishing stocks later”[iii]
Hence the invitation, indeed the exhortation, from the NATO secretary-general to the governments of NATO member countries “to draw further on the stocks, on the reserves, to continue to provide the supplies that Ukraine needs immediately.”[iv]
Oddly enough, however, the Belgian army’s stocks have been very little affected so far. This is all the more strange given that the Belgian army is in the process of renewing some of its equipment – for example, its troop-carrying trucks.
And, as footage of the recent Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region has shown, Kyiv’s army is still woefully short of personnel carriers. Many Ukrainian soldiers are reduced to moving around in old Ladas and other antiquated vans, or even on foot.
Belgium could – the conditional is appropriate – provide Ukraine with hundreds of trucks and infantry mobility vehicles. For, unless there are grandiose and secret plans to expand the Belgian armed forces, simple arithmetic dictates that the new trucks purchased could be placed in reserve and that an equivalent number of those currently in reserve could be available for sale or – in this case, provided free of charge and all at once – to Ukraine.
Yet nothing of the sort has happened. According to the defence department responsible for the resale of decommissioned armaments, only eighteen troop-transport trucks will soon be put up for public sale.[v] While some of these trucks require major repairs (classified as category 3), such jobs are certainly manageable by Ukrainian army mechanics, who are used to working miracles on a daily basis.
Eighteen trucks. The figure is clearly incomparable to the number of new trucks that have entered service this year, or the number that will be delivered to the Belgian army in the next few months. The 879 new DAF trucks will replace the current Unimog and Volvo trucks by 2025. This means that some 500 new trucks will be delivered by the end of 2023 and a similar number will be decommissioned and put up for sale.
These figures are not classified as defence secrets. They are open-source, as are the technical characteristics and delivery times of the new weapons that Belgium will acquire.
In theory, these public numbers should be matched by a detailed multi-year calendar by the Belgian Army for the sale of all decommissioned trucks, equipment and armaments. All evidence suggests that this is not the case. The Belgian Army, or more precisely its department for sales of decommissioned equipment, seems to be handling the matter confidentially without the government being fully informed.
Yet the Belgian government needs such a calendar in order to respond, in full knowledge of the facts, to the Ukrainian army’s requests.
This surreal situation is only the latest episode in the saga of Belgian arms deliveries to Ukraine. In May, it was only thanks to the direct intervention of the United Kingdom that the issue of Belgian M109 self-propelled guns[vi] was resolved. It is true that this was a difficult exercise for the Belgian authorities. They would have had to buy back, at market value, equipment that they had sold a few years earlier at scrap price to the private company OIP Land Systems. That is to say, ten times more expensive.
“The real weak point of the Ukrainians is us, the Westerners.”[vii]
Insofar as the Ukrainians are doing the work for us to drastically reduce the main threat to our security – that represented by Russia – it is hardly conceivable that, in addition to the 500 trucks that will be replaced in the next few months, Belgium could not also draw on its reserve of a few hundred other trucks. Similarly, Belgium could immediately provide some of its 430 infantry mobility vehicles (Iveco LMV) and some of its 280 Dingo IIs that will be replaced from 2023 onwards. As suggested by Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans[viii], it could also purchase from OIP Land Systems other light armoured vehicles and M113 armoured personnel carriers.
Unless we become euphoric over Ukraine’s recent military successes – which would be a serious mistake – Western support for Ukraine remains as crucial as ever.
[i] Probably M2HB-QCB heavy machine guns (12.7x99mm NATO) manufactured by FN.
[ii] NATO’s Stoltenberg: Ukraine’s Gains Are ‘Extremely Encouraging’, by Ravi Agrawal, Foreign Policy, 15 September 2022
[iii] Stoltenberg, op. cit.
[iv] “Stoltenberg: We are already talking to defense industry to ramp up production to further help Ukraine, replenish our own stocks”, Interfax Ukraine, 9 September 2022
[v] Sale of various Volvo vehicles in six lots in Heverlee, Belgian Armed Forces
[vi] “A Show of Shame – Belgian Weapons Deliveries To Ukraine”, Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans,
Oryx, 20 August 2022 https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/08/a-show-of-shame-belgian-
[vii] Michel Goya, military historian, Quotidien, 14 September 2022
[viii] “A Show of Shame – Belgian Weapons Deliveries To Ukraine”, op. cit.