The Italian government is running out of military equipment to send to Ukraine, just as domestic public opinion loses interest in supporting Kyiv, Italy’s defense minister said Wednesday.
Claiming Italy does not have “unlimited resources”, Guido Crosetto said Italy has “done almost all that it could do,” when it comes to sending weapons to Ukraine. ”There is not much more room,” for freeing up military supplies.
Crosetto’s claim follows growing doubts over the supply of U.S. arms to Ukraine due to Republican party opposition, just as Ukraine struggles to maintain the momentum of its counteroffensive against Russian forces.
Italy has firmly backed the defense of Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022, and has dispatched seven packages of military kit, with Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani discussing an eighth package during a visit to Kyiv this month.
In a tweet Wednesday, Ukrainian defense minister Rustem Umerov said he had discussed with Crosetto Ukraine’s “urgent” need for long-range rockets and electronic warfare systems. In January, Italy said it was ready to supply Ukraine with its Samp-T air defense system — a truck-based tactical anti-missile system designed to tackle cruise missiles, manned and unmanned aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles.
Italy has not revealed what other kit has been sent, although Stinger surface-to-air missiles, mortars and Milan or Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons as well as Multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), Pzh2000 howitzers and vehicles were reportedly planned for consignment.
Tajani has said the first five packages of military aid were worth €1 billion ($1.05 billion). Now that Rome must replace Samp-T batteries and other equipment sent to Ukraine, it is also planning the purchase of 133 new Leopard 2 A8 combat version tanks from German firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, as well as spending nearly €900 million to upgrade its ageing Ariete tanks.
Both initiatives have been spurred by a new focus on land warfare and a need to keep up with NATO requirements since the invasion of Ukraine. Additionally, Italy must keep up the pace on spending on the new GCAP fighter it is developing with partners Japan and the United Kingdom.
Last month, reports that Japan and the UK would dominate design and manufacturing on the project drew a testy response from Rome, which said it would remain an equal partner.
An annual, multi-year spending document covering 2023-2025, which was due out before the summer and which gives a breakdown on which programs get what cash, has yet to be issued.
”This is evidence that spending priorities are still adjusting, in part due to the Ukraine war,” said one Italian analyst who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
A further problem facing defense officials is Italy’s struggling economy, which is putting pressure on the government to trim spending as it prepares its 2024 budget.
Defense minister Crosetto also warned about creeping war fatigue in Italy and throughout the West.
”Public opinion has veered away from the war with the passing of time because it has coincided with the increase of inflation and an industrial and production crisis which has worsened living conditions in Western democratic countries,” he said. ”Yesterday, we had a conference call with our allies in which I raised this problem: inflation, prices, energy, migration — they are all consequences of the conflict. They have an impact on citizens, which generates a resistance, or risks creating fatigue in public opinion.”
“If we want to defend Ukraine robustly, we also need to pay attention to these consequences,” he added.