BERLIN — Facing war on two fronts — in Ukraine and in the Middle East — Kyiv is calling on Western democracies to ramp up investment in weapons, saying that arms factory output worldwide is falling miles short of what is needed.
In an interview, Ukraine’s Minister for Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshin told POLITICO Western countries needed to accelerate production of missiles, shells and military drones as close to frontlines as possible.
“The free world should be producing enough to protect itself,” Kamyshin said, on a mission to the German capital to persuade arms producers to invest in war-ravaged Ukraine. “That’s why we have to produce more and better weapons to stay safe.”
Current factory capacity was woeful, he argued. “If you get together all the worldwide capacities for weapons production, for ammunition production, that will be not enough for this war,” said Kamyshin of the state of play along Ukraine’s more than 1,000 kilometers of active frontline.
As the Israel Defense Forces continue to pummel Gaza and fighting gathers pace along the contact line in Ukraine, armies are burning through ammunition at a rate not seen in decades. Policymakers are asking whether Western allies can support both countries with air defense systems and artillery at once.
The answer, says Kamyshin, is to start building out production facilities now. “What happens in Israel now shows and proves that the defense industry globally is a destination for investments for decades,” he said.
Since Russia’s war on Ukraine started in February 2022, Western governments have been funneling arms to Kyiv. That includes hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds, armored vehicles and other equipment.
But as the grind of war continues, Kyiv has changed tack — appointing Kamyshin, the former boss of Ukraine’s state railway — to the post of minister for strategic industries. Ukraine, formerly a major military hub in the Soviet Union, is now trying to increase output of armored vehicles, ammunition and air defense systems, he said, and wants Western partners to invest.
A key step is expected on Tuesday, when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal will announce a new joint venture between Rheinmetall and Ukroboronprom, a Ukrainian defense company, Kamyshin said.
In late September, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office gave the green light to the cooperation agreement after a review that found the proposed venture “does not result in any overlaps in terms of competition in Germany.”
Last March, EU countries pledged to send a million artillery rounds to Ukraine over the following year as part of a program to lift production. Ukraine may need as much as 1.5 million shells annually to sustain its war effort, a daunting task that Kamyshin hopes he can help, at least partially, with domestic output.
In total, Ukraine has received over 350 self-propelled and towed artillery systems from NATO countries and Australia. Combined with Soviet-era pieces in Ukrainian stocks prior to the Russian invasion, Kyiv has approximately 1,600 pieces of artillery in service — but must cover a massive front.
And although the deepening of the German-Ukrainian defense relationship is a boon for Kyiv’s war effort, the enemy on the battlefield — Russia — can also leverage its own international relationships for war materiel, and has been quick to agree military hardware deals with the likes of Iran and North Korea.
Earlier this month, reports pointed out Pyongyang likely transferred a sizable shipment of artillery ammunition to Russia. The details of the deal are secret, but the shipment came on the heels of a visit to Pyongyang by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in turn made a trip to Russia by rail and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia previously struck a deal with Tehran for Iranian loitering munitions that hammered cities across Ukraine last winter in an intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure.
The increasingly international scope of sourcing for the war in Ukraine is not limited to non-NATO countries. Poland recently started taking delivery of tanks, howitzers, rocket launchers and light attack aircraft from South Korea, a nod to how quickly Seoul can ramp up production affordably.
For Kamyshin, the key was to make plans for the long term.
“This war can be for decades,” he said. “[The] Russians can come back always.”