Is Ukraine at risk of losing the battle of attrition? As the sad two-year anniversary of the start of the war approaches, Russia seems increasingly able to respond industrially to its need for weapons and ammunition. “It can now produce several million artillery shells per year and recruit hundreds of thousands of soldiers [...] Many people thought they could not go any further. Today, people tell us the opposite,” the Estonian army chief of staff recently declared in an interview with Bloomberg.
Ukraine, for its part, continues to alert Westerners whose effort and motivation are at the heart of an intense political battle in the United States and the fruit of a difficult compromise in Europe, while the leader Hungarian Orban fatally slows down the release of new aid of 50 billion euros. On the eve of an extraordinary European summit on the issue, the European Union therefore proposed to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban an annual debate on financial aid paid to Ukraine, in the hope of seeing him lift his veto .
Crucial for Ukraine, this financial aid has slowed down in recent months, against a backdrop of military disappointments following the failure of the Ukrainian summer counter-offensive. As the Kiel Insitute, a German think tank which lists and quantifies the military, financial and humanitarian aid promised to Kiev, showed in its latest publication in December, “the period between August and October 2023 was marked by a strong decrease in the amount of newly committed aid, with the value of the new programs amounting to only €2.11 billion, a drop of 87% compared to the same period of 2022.
“Our figures confirm the impression of a more hesitant attitude among donors in recent months. [...] Given the uncertainty surrounding new American aid, Ukraine can only hope for adoption by the EU of its long-announced 50 billion euro support plan. A further delay would clearly strengthen Putin’s position,” said Christophe Trebesch, researcher and head of the calculation tool.
Ukraine depends more today on a few donors like Germany, the United States and the Nordic countries and countries of Eastern Europe which are, unsurprisingly, making the most efforts, proportionally to their GDP. “Small countries, notably the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, play an increasing role in military aid,” notes the Kiel Institute, which also notes an evolution in the form of support provided to Ukraine.
In terms of military aid specifically, the European Union currently provides aid totaling 28 billion euros. But the ammunition sometimes does not arrive with the desired punctuality. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell acknowledged this Wednesday that the EU could not deliver a million shells to Ukraine by the end of March as promised, while ensuring that it could achieve this objective before the end of 2024.
“We have already delivered 330,000 shells,” he explained to the press after a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels. “I expect this figure to increase by 200,000 shells” by the end of March, or “a little more than 52% of the objective” set last year, he added. “Yes, okay, on March 31, we won’t have the million,” he said. But a “positive dynamic” has been created, and this figure will be exceeded by the end of the year, with 1.1 million shells for Ukraine, he assured.
By the end of 2024, the European Union will have an annual production capacity of some 1.4 million shells, he added. And this capacity will be increased to two million in 2025, said the European Commissioner in charge of the defense industry, Thierry Breton, on Wednesday. But a large part is exported to third countries, to the detriment of Ukraine at war, a senior European official admitted this week on condition of anonymity.
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On Wednesday, the leaders of Germany Olaf Scholz, Dutch Mark Rutte, Estonian Kaja Kallas, Czech Petr Fiala and Danish Mette Frederiksen called on Europeans to “redouble their efforts” to ensure that military support for Ukraine lasts “as long as necessary". “We must therefore find ways to accelerate the delivery of artillery ammunition promised to Ukraine,” they wrote in a joint letter published by the Financial Times daily. Several European countries, including France, Italy and Spain, are accused of not doing enough to help the Ukrainian army. Paris, which did not sign this letter, denies it, and announced in January a coalition on artillery to better help Ukraine.