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Ukraine's Zelenskyy in Germany to talk security

February 15, 2024

The visit by Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy comes as Russian forces step up pressure on eastern Ukraine. Western companies are boosting weapons production, but it will take time.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy (l) and Olaf Scholz address a media conference at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, May 14, 2023
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Chancellor Olaf Scholz have met regularlyImage: Markus Schreiber/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is traveling to Berlin for a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Zelenskyy is also expected to take part in the Munich Security Conference starting on Friday, which will be attended by some 40 heads of state and government as well as numerous military experts.

It is a challenging moment for Ukraine's armed forces in their defensive struggle against Russia: Ammunition is in short supply, and Russia is exerting increasing pressure, particularly along the eastern front.

Ukrainian soldiers are now having to ration artillery shells. The shortage of supplies coming from the approximately 50 supporting nations that are — for the time being — still led by the United States will also be a topic in Munich, where US Vice President Kamala Harris is also expected to attend.

Ukraine aid: Deadlock in Washington

Meanwhile, the US Senate, where President Joe Biden's Democrats have a narrow majority, has approved new military aid for Ukraine to the tune of $60 billion (€56 billion). But it is uncertain whether the package will also get a majority in the second chamber, the House of Representatives. Republicans remain in the majority there, and supporters of Donald Trump are particularly keen to block the aid package.

Scholz, Biden discuss Ukraine war aid deadlock in Washington

It is mainly the lack of ammunition coming from the US that is being felt on the front lines in Ukraine. According to reports from war analysts, the ratio of artillery ammunition in eastern and southern Ukraine is five Russian shells to one Ukrainian shell.

Ammunition shortages are increasingly dire

"The situation on the front is precarious," said military analyst Markus Reisner in an interview with DW. The senior colonel in the Austrian army has been observing the war in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.

Reisner says he has identified "at least 15 places" where the Russian army is currently gaining ground. "In the last few weeks, this has been up to six kilometers (3.7 miles) of terrain in some cases but only half a kilometer in others," says Reisner.

He explains that this is mainly because Ukraine has a dwindling amount of ammunition and artillery ammunition while Russia is taking advantage of its greater artillery power.

'Support from the US is indispensable'

Reisner says he expects Russia's war against Ukraine to "reach a critical point this year." Europe and the nations supporting Ukraine may find themselves in a situation in which they might have to stand by as Ukraine falls.

Next to financial aid, US military hardware vital for Kyiv

During a visit to US President Joe Biden in Washington in February, German chancellor Olaf Scholz warned, "We cannot beat around the bush. On the question of whether Ukraine will be able to defend itself, assistance from the United States is indispensable."

Security expert Gustav Gressel from the European Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank, also recently made it clear just how difficult the situation is for Ukraine after the failed 2023 counteroffensive. Gressel even predicted that 2024 will be the "most challenging time for Ukraine" since the initial months of the invasion.

Joint ventures for arms production in Ukraine

For the past months, Ukraine has been trying to significantly increase the local production of arms. There is an "ambitious program not only to resurrect Ukraine's pre-war arms industry but even to surpass it with the assistance of Western companies," writes Gressel.

In January, the Ukrainian president traveled to the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which, relative to their population and gross national product, provide Ukraine with the most military equipment.

Following Zelenskyy's meeting with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, both announced that Lithuania would continue to support Ukraine militarily. This includes the "cooperation of defense industries, including joint ventures, localizing production in Ukraine, and promoting information exchange on defense-related research and development efforts."

Ukraine: The one-man show strategy is no longer working

'Enormous fighting spirit'

The Polish government also plans to support arms production in Ukraine. The German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has also previously announced such cooperation. But this, too, will take time to set up.

Shortly before Zelenskyy set off for Germany, the head of the intelligence service in Norway, the northernmost member of NATO, presented the country's annual security report.

In it, Vice-Admiral Nils Andreas Stensones wrote that Russia is gaining ground in Ukraine. Although "Ukraine continues to show enormous fighting spirit, the country is dependent on the support of the West to defend itself and regain the initiative."

This article was originally written in German.

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