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Ukraine updates: NATO warns of donor ammunition shortages

February 13, 2023

NATO's Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine was using ammunition faster than NATO members could produce it. Meanwhile, Moscow and Kyiv both report heavy fighting around Bakhmut. Follow DW for the latest.

Ukrainian servicemen of the artillery unit of the 80th Air Assault Brigade stand near Bakhmut on February 7, 2023.
Ukrainian commanders told DW they were having to make 'very tough choices' about ammunition usageImage: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday that the transatlantic military alliance would be increasing its targets for ammunition stockpiles, amid rapid depletion of its inventory in the war in Ukraine

"The war in Ukraine is consuming an enormous amount of ammunition," Stoltenberg said. "The current rate of Ukraine's ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current production rates. This puts our defense industries under strain. (...) So we need to ramp up new production and invest in our production capacities." 

Stoltenberg also said NATO members would "step up and sustain" support for Ukraine, saying: "NATO stands with Ukraine for as long as it takes." 

Ammunition resupply has been a concern for Ukrainian and Russian forces alike for months.

DW's correspondent in Kyiv, Nick Connolly, said he had spoken with Ukrainian commanders who said they were having to make "very tough choices" about ammunition usage.

"I've met commanders of howitzers, of artillery pieces, who've told me that they don't know how long they can keep on doing their job, if they will be forced to withdraw and move away from positions and wait for more artillery," Connolly said. "This is a very real problem." 

"Right now you're seeing Ukraine and its allies scrambling around the world — looking as far afield as Pakistan and South Korea for artillery munitions," Connolly said. "We've had reports of Pakistani-made Soviet-caliber munitions heading this way, [and] of US troops being asked to send munitions that they had stockpiled in South Korea to Europe for Ukraine." 

In Ukraine, both parties running out of bullets

Meanwhile, at NATO's Brussels headquarters, Stoltenberg also touched on several other topics related to the war. 

Among other things, he said he expected the possible supply of NATO aircraft to Ukraine to be a topic of discussion when the alliance's defense ministers assemble on Tuesday. Kyiv has been calling for western-built combat aircraft on and off since the conflict began, and with renewed intensity since the most recent agreement on sending battle tanks was approved just a few weeks ago.

The issue is also liable to be raised at this week's Munich Security Conference. The MSC's chairman Christoph Heusgen, formerly Chancellor Angela Merkel's foreign and security policy advisor, told DW ahead of the event that in his opinion it might be wise for politicians to ask for military advice on the matter.

"Instead of putting red lines, I think we have to see what is needed," Heusgen said. "When you talk to military experts, they say that when you fight a war like this, you need a combination of several weapons. (...) I think this should be a military decision." 

Asked about a possible Russian offensive in Ukraine, NATO's Stoltenberg said it had already begun. 

"We see no sign whatsoever that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin is preparing for peace," he said. "We see how they are sending more troops, more weapons, more capabilities." 

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Monday, February 13.

Ukraine calls for faster debate on fighter jets deliveries

Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, told German broadcaster ARD that Kyiv believes that a decision from its Western allies to deliver fighter jets "is only a matter of time." 

"We hope that the Germans, that the German government. does not draw red lines now (...), but responds to what is important for important for us," Melnyk stressed, adding, "The time factor is crucial."

"Unfortunately, time is playing against us," Melnyk said. The longer the fighter jet debate is delayed, the harder the fight is for Ukrainian forces on the front lines, he added.

"What is clear, and all the military experts are saying this, is that Ukraine cannot win this war without the air force and without the Navy," he said.

German tank training for Ukraine starts

The German military has begun training Ukrainian soldiers on the Leopard 2 battle tanks. The instruction is mainly to take place at the Bundeswehr's training grounds in the western city of Munster, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry in Berlin said.
The training is expected to last several weeks. There are already training programs for Ukrainian soldiers under way in Germany on the Marder infantry fighting vehicle. Ukrainians also train on Leopard tanks in Poland. The training comes as military experts expect the war to intensify. 

The German government has promised Ukraine 14 Leopard 2s. Last week, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin and its allies aim to deliver a first battalion of tanks by April, and others would follow later this year and next.

Baerbock says Germany not discussing fighter jets for Ukraine

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that the German government is not yet talking about sending fighter jets to Ukraine.

"This is not a debate we are having," she said in Helsinki after meeting with her Finnish counterpart on a state visit. 

Several NATO countries and NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg have been open to sending Ukraine the fighter planes

The question of sending fighter jets, however, could be a topic for Tuesday's meeting of defense ministers and military leaders of Western countries in Brussels. The officials are meeting in the so-called Ramstein format, which deals with Ukraine's defense.

Moscow, Kyiv both report fighting around Bakhmut

Ukrainian and Russian authorities both reported heavy fighting in the region around Bakhmut in Donetsk on Monday, although precise details differ between the parties. 

The Ukrainian military reported heavy shelling all along the frontline and said that 16 settlements near Bakhmut had been bombarded. It also said it had repelled a number of attacks near Bakhmut. 

Russia's military said its troops had managed to advance 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to the west in four days, without saying exactly which part of the long front lines in Ukraine had moved. 

Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Wagner Group militia, Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose comments the Kremlin has been known to later contradict in the past, said that his mercenary force had taken the village of Krasna Hora on the northern edge of Bakhmut.

Donetsk is one of the regions partially occupied by Russia which Moscow has unilaterally declared part of its territory following referendums that were not recognized by the international community. Analysts believe Moscow is keen to claim control of the entire region, perhaps as a main goal for its expected offensive as the winter weather abates.

Meanwhile, the British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence report that there was evidence of Russia shoring up its southern front defensive fortifications, for instance around Zaporizhzhia, as another potential indication of plans for an offensive elsewhere on the front.

US embassy in Moscow warns Americans 'do not travel' to Russia

The US Embassy in Moscow issued a travel advisory on Monday advising potential visitors to steer clear and urging US citizens in Russia to leave. 

"Do not travel to Russia due to the unpredictable consequences of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harrassment and the singling out of US citizens for detention by Russian government security officials, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights in and out of Russia, the Embassy's limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia, and the possibility of terrorism," the notice said. 

"US citizens residing in Russia should depart immediately. Exercise increased caution due to the risk of wrongful detentions," it said. 

The notice also warned that already-scant "travel options may suddenly become even more limited" for those seeking a flight out.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Affairs Ministry reiterated that it "strongly" advised its citizens against going to Belarus given Russia's near year-long war in Ukraine, and again encouraged those in the country to leave.

Germany's Baerbock visiting NATO hopefuls Finland, Sweden

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is visiting Finland and Sweden on Monday and Tuesday, as the two Nordic countries seek to join NATO having remained neutral throughout the Cold War. 

"We are working towards this goal together," Baerbock said prior to departure on Monday. "That's what I will underline in Finland and particularly in Sweden." 

Joining NATO requires the approval of all exisitng members of the alliance. And ever since Finland and Sweden voiced an interest, Turkey has been calling their bids into question.

Ankara accuses the two countries of harboring people it considers terrorists, often either Kurds or supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the 2016 attempted coup.

However, Turkey's objections to Sweden's bid, in particular, has ratcheted up in recent weeks. This follows a pair of public protests, the first by Kurdish activists and the next by far-right groups, that involved the burning of an effigy of Erdogan and of copies of the Quran

Baerbock was set to meet her Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto in Helsinki on Monday. 

Hungarian foreign minister visits Minsk 

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was in Belarus on Monday. He said he used the visit to urge peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. 

"Hungary expects all members off the international community to act for the sake of peace as soon as possible, and to avoid actions that risk prolonging or escalating the war," Szijjarto wrote on Facebook. 

Hungary has trodden an ambiguous line since the war broke out

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has condemned Russian aggression but stopped short of calling out President Vladimir Putin by name. 

Orban, who nurtured close ties with Minsk and Moscow before the war broke out, has also refused to send weapons to Ukraine, calling instead for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks. 

"Obviously, many people will attack the visit, but our position is clear: communication channels must be kept open," Szijjarto said after a meeting with his counterpart, Sergei Aleinik. "Without communication channels there are no negotiations, without negotiations there is no peace." 

Russian troops used Belarussian territory as a launchpad for their invasion of Ukraine last February. Also on Monday, Belarussian state media reported that the country would host three sets of military drills by the Collective Security Treat Organization — a Russian-dominated alliance of former Soviet states — in the course of 2023.

Chechnya's Kadyrov claims Russian forces can take Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa

Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Russian region of Chechnya, told the state's flagship Rossiya-1 television channel in an interview aired on Monday that he believed Russia would achieve its goals in Ukraine by the end of the year. 

Kadyrov said Russia had the forces necessary to take the capital Kyiv — despite having been driven back from the outskirts of the city in the opening phase of the conflict — and that it also needed to capture Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv and its main port, Odesa. 

"I believe that, by the end of the year, we will 100% complete the task set for us today," Kadyrov said. 

The former Chechen separatist fighter, who Putin installed as the region's leader in 2007, also told the chat show that he opposed negotiations with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

Not unlike the Wagner Group's Prigozhin, Kadyrov has been known to make claims that contradict Moscow's in recent months. Both like to portray their forces as more effective on the battlefield and less soft, as they might characterize it, than Russia's regular military. 

msh/rs (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)