With Russia bearing down on a strategically important city in eastern Ukraine, NATO defense ministers are set to meet on Tuesday as Ukraine’s allies attempt to meet Kyiv’s battlefield needs, APA reports citing the New York Times.
The ministers will discuss allied efforts to boost ammunition supplies to Ukrainian troops, both for artillery and tanks, as Russia continues to make grinding gains — particularly around the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian officials have said that they are in dire need of more Soviet-caliber ammunition for the T-72 tanks they already possess in large numbers, as well as NATO-caliber artillery shells to work with allied-supplied heavy guns.
“The war in Ukraine is consuming an enormous amount of munitions and depleting allied stockpiles,” Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said. “The current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production. This puts our defense industries under strain.”
Waiting times to secure new large-caliber ammunition have grown from 12 months to 28 months, even if contracts are signed immediately, he said, even as NATO countries try to ramp up production.
The two-day meeting, and a meeting Tuesday with the larger group of countries supporting Ukraine militarily and financially known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, are part of a series of diplomatic gatherings this week, nearly a year after Russia’s large-scale invasion began.
High on the list of Ukraine’s requests has been Western fighter jets — a topic that was certain to be discussed, Mr. Stoltenberg said Monday, even if approval to provide them, let alone deliver them, seems distant.
President Biden said last month that he was unwilling to provide American F-16s. And while Britain has said it is willing to begin training Ukrainian pilots, it would not be able to supply Typhoon or Tornado fighter jets on its own.
Both aircraft were joint projects with Italy, Spain, and Germany, and export to Ukraine would require other countries to sign off. Like Mr. Biden, Olaf Scholz, the chancellor of Germany, has said that he opposes supplying fighter jets to Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials increased their calls for military aircraft after securing promises of main battle tanks from their Western allies last month. Ukrainian troops are already in Britain, Germany and Poland to learn how to use the British Challenger and German Leopard tanks that NATO allies have agreed to begin supplying, but they are not likely to be able to reach the front lines until the end of March, German officials have said.
“It is clear that we are in a race of logistics,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “Key capabilities like ammunition, fuel, and spare parts must reach Ukraine before Russia can seize the initiative on the battlefield. Speed will save lives.”
Julianne Smith, the American ambassador to NATO, said the alliance was looking to work “hand in glove” with industry to ramp up output and cut production times. “This is absolutely essential to ensure that we can keep supporting Ukraine while also ensuring that we collectively can protect every inch of allied territory,” she said.
The NATO defense ministers will examine how to increase support for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Moldova, “three valued NATO partners who face Russian threats,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.
The ministers will also discuss preparations and goals for the alliance’s summit in July when the alliance will grapple with replacing Mr. Stoltenberg, whose extended term runs out at the end of September. Mr. Stoltenberg has made it clear through his spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, that after nearly nine years in the job, he would not seek another extension.
The NATO ministers will wrap their meetings on Wednesday, the day before the Munich Security Conference, a three-day gathering of leaders, diplomats and business leaders where the war in Ukraine will again be a major topic.