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Ukraine allies launch 'artillery coalition' to boost depleted supplies

PARIS, France, January 19 ------ Ukraine warned that its army faces a "very real and pressing" ammunition shortage in its war against Russia, as Western allies agreed new artillery supplies. 


A new 23-nation effort was agreed at a meeting in Paris as Russia claimed its forces had taken a village near the hard-fought city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. AFP was unable to verify the claim. It also came as NATO announced it would start its biggest military exercise for more than three decades next week, with 90,000 troops testing the alliance's ability to take on an adversary like Russia in a prolonged conflict. "A shortage of ammunition is a very real and pressing problem that our armed forces are facing," Ukraine's Defense Minister Rustem Umerov posted on X, the former Twitter, after speaking by video link to the Paris gathering led by France and the United States.   The Paris meeting set up an "artillery coalition" within the wider Ramstein contact group, which gathers more than 50 countries supporting Ukraine. 


President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked French President Emmanuel Macron "for launching the artillery coalition" and for its manufacture of guns and ammunition, in a statement on X. Macron stressed France's "unwavering support" for Ukraine and "condemned Russia's intensification of strikes against Ukrainian cities," a presidential statement said. Paris on Thursday denied a Russian claim that a strike on the eastern city of Kharkiv on Tuesday had killed "French mercenaries". 


New guns, more shells 

Umerov said there had to be increased production of munitions to keep pace with demand. Supply of the 155-millimetre shells used in Western guns has become a critical issue. The European Union had promised to deliver one million shells by early 2024, but European Parliament lawmakers say only 300,000 have been delivered so far. A French Senate  foreign affairs committee chief Cedric Perrin said Wednesday that Ukraine was using 5,000-8,000 shells per day, compared with up to 15,000 by Russia. France's defense ministry said Wednesday that its artillery ammunition output since Russia's invasion of Ukraine was expected to triple to a monthly rate of 3,000 this year. France has also promised it can produce 78 new Caesar truck-mounted guns for Ukraine by early 2025, with six paid for by Kyiv to be delivered in "weeks", the defense ministry said. France will pay for 12 more of the cannons at a cost of 50 million euros ($54 million), while the remaining 60 guns will be financed by other allies, Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said France has already sold or donated 30 truck-mounted Caesar guns to Ukraine, with a further 19 from Denmark. 


More missiles and bombs 

Macron on Tuesday announced further deliveries of "around 40" long-range SCALP missiles and "several hundred bombs". France has provided other military equipment and also said it could help Ukraine boost its own production. Almost two years into the war, the front line has been largely fixed for months after a Ukrainian counteroffensive failed to make expected gains last year. 


Russia's Defense Ministry said Thursday said its forces had forced Ukrainian rivals out of the small village of Vesele, northeast of the bitterly disputed city of Bakhmut. Ukrainian in turn attacked an oil depot in northern Russia, a security source in Kyiv told AFP, after Moscow earlier said it had shot down attack drones in the Leningrad region. Amidst the stalemate, European leaders have increasingly called for greater action in support of Ukraine and NATO's Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise comes as the alliance overhauls its defenses in response to the Russia-Ukraine war. "There is no scenario in this that if Ukraine doesn't win, that could end well for Europe," Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told AFP on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "There's a chance that Russia might not be contained in Ukraine," he warned. The NATO exercise will be the biggest since the 1988 Reforger drill during the Cold War. It will run until late May with all 31 member countries and candidate Sweden taking part, US General Christopher Cavoli, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told reporters. It will involve 50 naval vessels, 80 aircraft and over 1,100 combat vehicles. The alliance has already dispatched thousands of troops to its eastern flank and drawn up its most extensive plans since the collapse of the Soviet Union to guard against any Russian attack. 




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