Ukraine has appealed to the EU to send Kyiv 250,000 artillery shells a month to ease a critical shortage that it warns is limiting its progress on the battlefield.
In a letter to his counterparts in the 27 member states on Friday, obtained by the Financial Times, Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov writes that his country’s forces are only firing a fifth of the rounds they could because of lack of supplies.
The request far exceeds the help the EU is discussing sending, underlining the size of the task facing Kyiv as its war with Russia enters a second year.
Ukrainian forces were on Friday reported to be withdrawing from the city of Bakhmut, which has become the focal point of both Kyiv’s resistance and Moscow’s drive to regain momentum — marking Russia’s first big success in its fresh offensive.
Reznikov writes that artillery plays a “crucial role in eliminating the enemy’s military power”. On average Ukraine was firing 110,000 155mm-calibre shells a month, he says — a quarter of the amount used by Russia.
“If we were not limited by the amount of available artillery shells, we could use the full ammunition set, which is 594,000 shells per month,” he said, referring to the capacity of the artillery systems available to Ukraine. “According to our estimates, for the successful execution of battlefield tasks, the minimum need is at least 60 per cent of the full ammunition set, or 356,400 shells per month.”
Defence analysts say Kyiv has more than 300 artillery systems, mostly donated by allies.
Reznikov, who also sent the letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, says he supports a recent initiative to increase European ammunition production to support Ukraine. Estonia last month proposed that the EU should spend €4bn to buy 1mn shells for use by Kyiv.
Borrell has drawn up a less ambitious plan, for the EU to spend €1bn in the next few months to partly reimburse member countries for the cost of donated ammunition. Groups of the bloc’s states would then place fresh joint orders with arms manufacturers to boost supply and replenish their stocks.
All member states plus Norway are likely to agree with deliveries starting within weeks, officials say.
However, some EU diplomats say the move falls short. “The strategy is not ambitious enough,” said one. “Every day Russia is shooting as many shells as Europe can make in a month. Ukraine needs more ammunition.”
They said the push also needed more funding. The €1bn would come from €2bn already pledged by governments to top up the European Peace Facility (EPF), which finances arms purchases. “We are rebranding what we have already given,” said one.
The third, longer-term part of Borrell’s plan is aimed at boosting the size of the EU arms industry.
Officials say only 12 EU companies make 155mm shells, with Norway and the UK also home to factories. South Korea has large stocks but Brussels is reluctant to fund purchases from there.
Borrell is working with Thierry Breton, the EU’s industry commissioner, on a plan to use €500mn of EU money to expand arms production by financing factory expansion, eliminating supply bottlenecks and placing big orders to stimulate investment.
Breton is also pressing banks and other financial institutions, some of which boycott arms companies, to increase their lending.
He told the FT the EU had to shift to a wartime footing. “I believe it is time that the European defence industry moves to a wartime economy model to cater for our defence production needs.
“Together with Josep Borrell, I am fully determined to support the production ramp-up of the European defence industry to face the realities of a high-intensity conflict — starting with the question of ammunition,” he said.
Several member states remain sceptical of the plans, according to diplomats. “The biggest question mark is: ‘How are we going to pay for this?’” one said. “The only viable option, and the elephant in the room, is another increase in the ceiling of the EPF.”
EU leaders will probably be faced with that decision at a summit in Brussels on March 23-24.