Ukraine forced to cut back military operations due to ammo shortages as Western aid delayed

By Isaac M December 18, 2023

One of Ukraine‘s top generals has warned that its military is already being forced to downsize some operations due to delays in Western support.

Oleksandr Tarnavskyi said troops faced ammunition shortages along the “entire frontline“, creating a “big problem” for Kyiv. Ukraine’s military has consistently asked for more weapons, including ammunition, to fight off Russia’s invasion, but political wrangling within both the US and EU has delayed tens of billions of pounds of military aid. That is now having an impact on the battlefield.

“There’s a problem with ammunition, especially post-Soviet (shells) – that’s 122mm, 152mm. And today these problems exist across the entire frontline,” he said in an interview. That frontline stretches hundreds of miles across Ukraine.

“The volumes that we have today are not sufficient for us today, given our needs,” General Tarnavskyi told the Reuters news agency.

“So, we’re redistributing it. We’re replanning tasks that we had set for ourselves and making them smaller because we need to provide for them,” he said, without providing details.

Ukraine relies heavily on Western support, with the US carrying a significant proportion of the load when it comes to military hardware. The tens of billions of dollars that the US has already provided in military aid has gone towards providing more than two million artillery rounds – Ukraine’s troops are using thousands of them a day on the front line – 60,000 rockets, 76 tanks, 35,000 grenade launchers and small arms and more than 400 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenades.

Republicans in the US Congress are holding up another $60bn (£47bn) in aid over a domestic political spat regarding the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the southern US border. They first blocked the aid last month, and Kyiv fears that Moscow will try to take advantage of such dithering, or that it leads to a broader loss of support. The prospect of the US funding making it through Congress before the end of the year looks slim, but the Senate did hold off its end-of-year break for more negotiations on Monday.

Near the end of last week, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban blocked a critical €50bn (£43bn) EU financial aid package for Ukraine, to try to leverage the release of EU funds for his nation that had been paused due to concerns over the authoritarian turn his leadership had taken. EU leaders talked up how optimistic they were of a deal being signed off at another summit in January. It is not what Kyiv wants to hear as it faces a difficult winter on the frontline as Russia steps up its attacks, both from the air and on the ground.

Weary Ukrainian troops on the southeastern front have gone on the defensive in some areas but are trying to attack in others, General Tarnavskyi said. Ukrainian forces still expect victories but would benefit from reserves to rotate and rest them.

“In some areas, we moved [to defence], and in some we continue our offensive actions – by manoeuvre, fire and by moving forward. And we are preparing our reserves for our further large-scale actions,” he added.

General Tarnavskyi, commander of the “Tavria” operational grouping, led a counteroffensive that forced Russian troops out of the southern city of Kherson and the western side of the Dnipro River in November 2022, Kyiv’s last major battlefield success. He also had a prominent role in a larger-scale push in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia this year that made little progress against vast Russian trenches and minefields.

Russia is on the offensive in the east and trying to encircle the strategic eastern town of Avdiivka – which would be used as a base to push further into eastern Ukraine – whose defence General Tarnavskyi oversees.

“Their [Russian forces’] intention remains [the same). The only thing is that their actions change, tactics change… attacks are carried out constantly,” he said.

Ukraine is looking to increase its own domestic production of weapons and particularly ammunition, but that will take months or years. Issues with Western nations supplying ammunition were present before the latest political wrangling, but the latest delays make them more acute. The EU pledged to send one million artillery shells by March 2024, but so far only 480,000 have been either delivered or are in the pipeline.

The US has provided Ukraine with more than two million 155mm shells for use in Western-made artillery systems, but its own supplies have started to be depleted. The US began ramping up ammunition production last year when it became clear that the war would drag on far longer than anticipated, now nearly two years. But the ammunition will still take “years” to mass produce to acceptable levels, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN earlier this year.

A report by the Estonian defence ministry said Kyiv needed a minimum of 200,000 artillery shells a month to keep up with Russia. “The bottom of the barrel is now visible,” Admiral Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, the chair of the Nato Military Committee, said of the West’s ammunition stockpile during a discussion at the Warsaw Security Forum in early October.

What Kyiv believes will really turn the tables are Western F-16 fighter jets, which Ukraine has called on to be delivered as quickly as possible, alongside training for Ukrainian pilots to fly them in addition to its air force’s current jets.

“With the presence of the F-16, it will be totally (different). In my opinion, as an infantry officer, the F-16 is like a Mercedes compared with a Zaporozhets [an old Soviet car],” General Tarnavskyi said. “Everyone is hoping.”

Reuters contributed to this report


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