Saturday, 21 May 2022

Guns N’ Greece: Hellenic Support To Ukraine’s Army Of Resistance

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
By now, nearly all EU and NATO member countries have provided varying degrees of military support to aid Ukraine in its fight against the Russian Army. While the transfer of a S-300PMU SAM battery by Slovakia and the supply of Javelin and NLAW ATGMs by the U.S. and UK have garnered much public attention, many more countries have contributed in their own respective ways. One of these countries is Greece, which pledged to provide military aid to Ukraine as early as February 27. [1] This consisted of 20.000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 815 RPG-18 disposable rocket launchers and an undisclosed number of 122mm unguided rockets. [1] At least two plane loads worth of armament and munitions were dispatched to Ukraine shortly thereafter, where this armament is currently used in action against Russian forces. [2]

Since then, Greece has been mentioned as a possible source for additional weapons systems on numerous occasions. Most notably, Greece operates a vast arsenal of Soviet-made weaponry, with which Ukrainian forces are already familiar (contrary to most Western types of armament currently being delivered). This includes S-300PMU-1, Tor-M1 and 9K33 Osa SAM systems in addition to multiple rocket launchers (MRLs), armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) and other equipment. It is certain that the U.S. for this reason looked at Greece as a potential source for Soviet-made armament that could directly enter service, with similar efforts undertaken with Cyprus for the supply of Buk-M1 and Tor-M1 SAM systems. [3] Nonetheless, in early April the Greek government formally rejected the supply of such equipment on the grounds that it would not compromise its own defence capabilities, later confirming that it had no plans of sending additional military equipment to Ukraine. [4] [5]

Although the Greek government's statements are sure to have been disappointing for Ukraine, which has little other opportunities to acquire longer-ranged SAM systems like the Tor and Buk, the supply of advanced armament like Osa and Tor-M1 could seriously weaken Greece's posture against Türkiye. While the U.S. has promised to compensate countries if they decide on supplying high-grade equipment to Ukraine, or temporarily deploy U.S. systems to that country, few Western systems exist that could suitably replace the ones currently in use with Greece. The Hellenic Armed Forces would likely otherwise be unable to procure replacement systems due to its limited funding, and the delivery of replacement systems by the U.S. can be expected to trigger fierce objection from Türkiye.

While Greece is the only NATO country to operate the Tor, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania all operate significant numbers of 9K33 Osa systems, and therefore represent more sensible sources of such armament, with the S-300PMU-1 in particular constituting one of Greece's most prized assets (at least on paper). Greece's S-300PMU-1s, which it took over from Cyprus as a result of the Cypriot Missile Crisis in the late-1990s, are towed by KrAZ-260B semi-trailer trucks as opposed to the heavier tracked vehicles or MAZ-543M trucks often associated with the S-300. For the PMU-1's radar systems alone, deployment can therefore take up to two hours, significantly reducing its tactical mobility and exposing the systems to Russian UAVs that can direct ground-based munitions at their deployment location. Ukraine already found this out the hard way, losing 12 5P851A semi-trailer launchers (used with the S-300PT SAM system) during the first days of the war. [6]

Greece's S-300PMU-1 battery that is currently stationed on the island of Crete.

While the supply of up to 20.000 AK-pattern Kalashnikov assault rifles, 815 RPG-18s and 122mm unguided rockets (for BM-21 or RM-70 MRLs) falls quite short of such deliveries of heavier weaponry, that is not to say that there is little of interest to note about this armament. For instance, how Greece came in the possession of 20.000 AK-pattern assault rifles is an intriguing story to say the least, with not a small element of irony involved. Under Yanukovych's pre-revolution government, Ukraine was eager to generate income from shady arms deals, and made little distinction in the parties involved. So when Greek authorities got a tip that the ship Nur-M sailing under the Sierra Leonean flag to a destination in Türkiye was in fact carrying armament destined for Syria or Libya, there's no telling what the intended recipients in these countries would have been. Perhaps this is part of the reason why an unnamed Ukrainian official is alleged to have stated that it was in fact Russia that spilled the beans about the deal. [7] The shipment of some 56 armament-laden containers, including indeed 20.000 AK-pattern assault rifles, remained in Greek custody until the recent past. By denying Ukraine the export of these weapons, they have thus found their way back to Ukraine, to be used against the Russian army instead of MENA's enduring civil wars – an outcome that must have seemed impossible just a decade ago.

A Greek RM-70 MRL. Greece received 158 RM-70s along with 205,000 122mm rockets from former East German Army stocks in the mid-1990s. [9]

The decision by the Greek government not to supply additional armament including SAM systems will undoubtedly be a disappointment to Ukraine, but is at the same time not entirely surprising when considering the full context of the situation. Through its supply of assault rifles, RPGs, unguided rockets and 40 BMP-1A1s (the latter under the German 'Ringtausch' programme that sees Greece receiving 40 German Marder IFVs in return), Greece has already entered into the long list of countries that have provided military support to Ukraine that although unlikely to grab headlines, will together make a significant contribution to Ukraine's cause.

[3] The US asks Cyprus to transfer its Russian made weapons to Ukraine
[4] Greece formally rejects US proposal to supply Ukraine with additional Russian-made weapon systems
[6] Attack On Europe: Documenting Ukrainian Equipment Losses During The 2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine
[7] What weapons did Greece send to Ukraine, and where did it come from 
[8] Answering The Call: Heavy Weaponry Supplied To Ukraine
[9] BMP-1A1 Ost in Greek Service