Each week, economist Andre Frank and his team from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy sift through a mountain of publicly available information on Western aid to Ukraine. In their pioneering Ukraine Support Tracker project, they are attempting to independently calculate the actual value of military equipment, humanitarian contributions and financial aid sent to the country in response to the Russian invasion.
In November, they found that the European Union had surpassed the United States in total commitments for Ukraine, with Germany ranking in second place.
The biggest challenge facing the economists is separating out the financial value of the military aid from the €100 billion ($106 billion) total amount of Western aid which has been given or pledged to Ukraine so far.
It is no easy task, as the official statements are full of holes. That includes those provided by the German government, which regularly updates a list of the military gear being delivered.
"At first glance, it seems very transparent, because the quantities are included," Frank told DW. "But we want to assign a monetary value to the deliveries to Ukraine" to map the actual cost of the aid, he said.
That is especially difficult for Germany. During the past 10 months of the war, Berlin has contributed military equipment from Bundeswehr stocks which had long since been taken out of service or written off — and so it had no current valid monetary value. An example is the anti-aircraft Gepard tank, which dates back to the Cold War.
Creating a price list
So far, 30 of these tanks have been delivered from Germany and they are helping the Ukrainian army to defend itself against Russian missile attacks. According to Kyiv, this is of great military value.
The economists at the Kiel Institute are constantly developing and updating their own "price list" of military goods and other aid deliveries, to enable themselves to count the financial value of the support. After an in-depth consultation, they have valued a Gepard tank, for example, at $1.2 million. Polish T-72 tanks, which stem from the Soviet era, are valued at $1.6 million each.
It's even trickier to calculate the cost of smaller items. Another example is the delivery of sleeping bags, said Andre Frank. Some of them are used in humanitarian efforts, and others are intended exclusively for Ukrainian soldiers on the front line.
The Ukraine Support Tracker lists the value of past military aid and further pledges from Germany as more than €2.3 billion, while the German government's list from the beginning of December puts that figure at €1.9 billion. The real figure could actually be even higher, said Frank.
"We assume that the level of German military aid is even higher than what we are currently spending," said Frank, describing the conservative accounting of his working group. For example, the German government would not provide any data on the extent of ammunition deliveries for the state-of-the-art IRIS-T SLM air defense system.
The equipment seems to have served to protect the region around Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, from Russian missile attacks for months. This can be concluded from social media posts from Ukrainian government circles about Russian rockets that have been successfully shot down. Kyiv does not disclose operational details of the Ukrainian army.
The Russian army has been attacking the Ukrainian energy system with heavy shelling every week in the past few months. One IRIS-T missile costs $616,000 on the world market.
"Depending on how many rockets there are, this of course can add up to a lot," said Frank. "But again we have the situation where the official information we have from Germany gives us no chance to estimate an overall value." How many defensive missiles the Ukrainian air defense has fired with the IRIS-T system so far, and how many will still be delivered — it is all unclear. "There is no way for us to accurately figure this out by using the available official sources," he said.
The so-called "ring exchange" makes calculations difficult, too: Eastern NATO states such as Slovakia or Slovenia hand over their old Soviet tanks to Ukraine and receive military equipment from Germany in return. The economists in Kiel cannot track all the items that have arrived in Ukraine in a roundabout way.
Most military aid comes from US
Nonetheless, they are convinced their calculations are very close to the reality of the war. "Even if we overestimate the value of some individual weapons or other goods," said Frank, "it will be evened out elsewhere."
In terms of bilateral deliveries of military equipment, the US remains by far Ukraine's most important supporter, with €23 billion worth calculated, followed by the United Kingdom with €4.1 billion and Germany with €2.3 billion.
It's easier to get an overview of the total amount of help to Ukraine, incorporating all the contributions made by the Western states supporting the country — humanitarian aid, financial aid and military equipment combined. With their decision to help Ukraine with another €18 billion from January, the EU states and institutions are overtaking the US.
Europe will then be supporting Kyiv with a total of €52 billion, compared to €48 billion from the US for "military, financial and humanitarian aid," the Kiel economists wrote in their statement accompanying the current Ukraine Support Tracker, which lists aid given and pledged up until November 20, 2022.
This article was originally written in German.
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