The Great Eastern European Fire Sale

As the Ukraine war drags on, western allies continue to bolster Ukrainian military capability and fighting capacity by tapping large reserves of soviet era fighting equipment leftover in former Soviet satellite states like Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, and Poland. Most of these states have been more than happy to oblige as western allies sweeten the deal by promising more modern western equipment to supplement any loss of military capacity. The re-armament of Ukraine has precipitated a fire-sale of old soviet equipment from eastern Europe, which will create a more capable and cooperative European security framework when the dust settles.

Eastern Europe Opens for Western Replacement

Western allies have focused on bolstering Ukrainian military capability by providing systems familiar to the Ukrainian military, thereby minimizing time lost to re-training efforts. US reluctance to give the Ukrainian military non-NATO standard equipment before the conflict has evaporated as battlefield pragmatism took precedent. To re-supply Ukrainian forces, the US and its allies looked to eastern European allies who still possess large stockpiles of ex-soviet equipment. 

Much of eastern Europe has quickly offered their old systems to augment Ukrainian battlefield losses, and their western allies have ensured that they would replace any loss of inventory. Polish provisions of 200 main battle tanks have been replenished with M1A2 Sepv3, the most modern variant of the U.S. Abrams main battle tank. The Czech Republic and Slovenia also joined Poland in transferring much of their ex-soviet armor inventory, and as a result, they have received German-manufactured Leopard 2A4 MBTs and Marders. Slovakia chooses to supplement Ukrainian air defense by transferring its S-300 systems in exchange for US-manufactured Patriot air defense systems. Of course, western reciprocity has not only been in kind. For its part in transferring an estimated 18 million dollars in military aid, Croatia received 2 UH-60M helicopters from the United States worth an estimated 115 million dollars.

Stronger Ukraine, Stronger NATO

At face value, these transfers represent a rapid response by western allies to bolster Ukrainian military capability. While antiquated, much of the ex-soviet equipment flowing from eastern Europe has allowed Ukraine to stay in the fight, and modern western anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry have equalized many of the shortcomings that may have resulted in fielding these less capable systems by themselves. However, the benefits of these transfers do not stop at augmenting and prolonging Ukrainian resistance.

For those eastern European nations opening their historical stockpiles, the Ukrainian conflict represents a unique opportunity to leverage their transfers to Ukraine to first replace older, less capable weaponry with more advanced western NATO-standard equipment. Unfortunately, it seems that western allies have been quick to oblige. However, the replenishment of eastern European stockpiles by Western allies is not sheerly out of goodwill but rather far-sighted political pragmatism.

For NATO, the trepidation around admitting eastern European states due to difficulties in integrating ex-soviet equipment into NATO standard command and control systems is slowly being solved with the infusion of modern western equipment. Moreover, replenishing eastern European stockpiles with NATO-compatible defense systems is an opportunity to further integrate eastern European states, which has been a considerable impediment with non-NATO compatible equipment.

After the Fire Goes Out

The first-order effect of this great eastern European fire sale is the major acquisition change for eastern European states to use NATO Standard equipment. With ex-soviet era equipment becoming derelict or spent during the Russian-Ukrainian war, the price associated with making the shift to NATO standard is a more palatable cost to absorb than it would be during peacetime. More importantly, this shift to NATO Standards creates a vastly more interoperable network of allies, creating a cohesive, competent, and capable European security apparatus readily available to counter any future Russian aggression.

The second and third-order effects lie in the prolonged nature of these systems and the work required to maintain them. As the western equipment becomes heavily integrated, so will the need for maintenance, repair, training, and other services to ensure equipment runs optimally. These contracts will result in a more robust western defense industrial landscape; the US and European defense firms will reap these rewards and responsibility for equipping the Europe of the future.