(Brussels) NATO members embarked on a logistical race on Tuesday to speed up their deliveries of arms and ammunition to Ukraine, while tackling the sensitive issue of supplying fighter jets to enable it to resist Russia.
“The priority, the urgency, is to provide the Ukrainians with the armaments that have been promised to them to maintain their ability to defend themselves,” insisted Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of the Alliance, before a meeting of the “Ramstein group “.
All decisions on arms shipments to Ukraine are taken in this body constituted and chaired by the United States, in which some fifty countries participate. Most of its meetings take place at the American base at Ramstein in Germany.
“We will provide the Ukrainians with the means to hold out and advance during the spring counter-offensive,” assured US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He insisted on artillery, anti-aircraft defense and armour, but did not mention combat aircraft in the planned arms deliveries.
“Combat planes are not the most urgent issue, but a discussion is underway,” assured Jens Stoltenberg.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile insisted in the evening on the need for rapid arms deliveries to his country, as Russian military pressure is growing in the East.
“Ukraine and its partners are doing everything together so that the terrorist state loses. And for that to happen as soon as possible,” he said, referring to agreements for “more air defense systems, more tanks, more artillery and shells.”
Fights ‘for every meter
These Ukrainian demands, regularly repeated, are becoming more insistent at a time when Russian troops are advancing little by little in the east and in particular north of Bakhmout, the epicenter of the clashes for several months.
Fierce fighting continues around this fortress city, an AFP team noted on Tuesday.
“Bahmut will not be taken tomorrow, because there is a strong resistance, a shelling, the meat grinder is in action”, admitted the head of the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner, Evguéni Prigojine, whose men are in front line in this battle.
Mr Zelensky spoke on Tuesday of an “extremely difficult” situation in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where soldiers are fighting “for every meter of Ukrainian land”.
Present at the meeting with Westerners on Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov, for his part, insisted in his own way on the request for fighter planes for Kyiv by smoothing out in front of the cameras a scarf worn in a pocket on which was drawn a of these devices.
“He is in his role, but the Ukrainians know very well that it will take at least a year to get them,” confided one of the participants.
“Everyone understands that the issue of air defense and the issue of ammunition resupply is much more important at the moment than the discussion about combat aircraft,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said.
Several announcements were made after the meeting, including that of the supply of a Mamba air defense system (SAM-T), the equivalent of the Patriot, by France and Italy. A weapon worth 500 million euros. France will also produce 155 mm shells with Australia and the AMX-10 armored vehicles promised to Ukraine will be delivered in the coming days.
Germany, for its part, reported the relaunch of an ammunition production line for the Gepard anti-aircraft defense tanks. According to the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, the first contract is for 300,000 munitions to be delivered to Kyiv from July.
“A War of Attrition”
Ammunition for the armaments supplied to Ukraine has become the priority and the problem of the allies.
“This is a war of attrition and a logistical battle,” Stoltenberg insisted. Russian President “Vladimir Putin is not preparing for peace. He is preparing for a new offensive, new attacks”.
The United States announced on Tuesday that it had awarded an arms contract for more than half a billion dollars to produce 155mm shells for delivery to Ukraine.
The orders, placed at the end of January by the Pentagon for the benefit of Northrop Grumman and Global military products, total 552 million dollars. The first deliveries are expected in March.
Washington’s announcement comes at a time when fears are growing about a depletion of arms stocks in Western countries and particularly the United States, which for the past year has been increasing withdrawals from the existing stocks of its army to help that of Kyiv to fight the Russian invasion.
This order is based on a different approach: the armaments delivered to Ukraine are produced directly for them, on an American budget.
In eastern Ukraine, the Russian and Ukrainian armies can fire thousands of shells a day, up to 20,000 daily for the Russians, an American official estimated in November.
The NATO chief had warned on Monday that Ukraine was using more ammunition than the Alliance could produce. “It’s depleting our stocks and putting our defense industries under pressure,” Stoltenberg said.
The schedule for the supply of armaments and the training of Ukrainian units in Europe has become a major issue in this conflict launched in February 2022.
“The Russians have no inhibitions about their losses. The offensive is launched with a mass of fighters and this causes tensions and difficulties on the ground,” said one of the participants.
The pace of Ukrainian military training in Poland has accelerated with the aim of having three battalions for the summer, he said.