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Russia’s war in Ukraine has turned into “a battle of ammunition”, Nato’s head has warned, as supply shortages have forced Kyiv’s military to ration artillery rounds.
“Increased production of ammunition is an absolute necessity to enable us to continue to provide support to Ukraine,” Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday, as the alliance signed a €1.1bn deal to procure more ammunition its members can use to arm Ukrainian forces or to replenish their own stocks.
“With the consumption of ammunition we see in Ukraine, with the needs we see . . . we need to ramp up production,” Stoltenberg added.
His comments came hours after Ukraine was hit by another Russian barrage, with officials in Kyiv growing increasingly concerned their forces could run out of munitions by the time allies in the US and EU finally agree on further military assistance for this year.
Faced with dwindling supplies, Ukrainian soldiers on the front line have told the Financial Times in recent days that they are forced to ration munitions while Russian troops step up their attacks.
“Indeed there is really not enough ammunition,” said a senior Ukrainian artillery brigade officer.
Ukraine went from firing 8,000 shells per day during its counteroffensive in the summer to just 2,000 in recent weeks, according to a platoon commander.
Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Ukraine’s commander of operations in the south-east, told reporters in December that his forces faced a shortage of artillery shells due to the lack of western military assistance, forcing troops to scale back some operations along the 1,000km front line.
EU partners last spring vowed to send Ukraine 1mn artillery rounds, which are crucial to the country’s frontline defence. But as of late December, Ukrainian officials said that only about 300,000 shells had been provided.
Nato on Tuesday signed a contract for “hundreds of thousands of rounds” of 155mm artillery ammunition, which allies will be able to send on to Ukraine or replenish their own inventories.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has repeatedly urged western allies whose support has been critical to repelling Russia’s invasion to step up supplies of air defence systems as well as offensive capabilities.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday that the next few months would be “critical for Ukraine”, whose commanders are faced with “difficult decisions” about what weaponry to deploy “because they don’t know when the next shipment is going to come”.
“That’s a horrible place to put the Ukrainian military in,” Kirby warned, “as the Russians certainly aren’t suffering under that same uncertainty, as they reach out to North Korea for ballistic missiles . . . and drones from Iran and [continue] producing on their own.”
Posting a video on X of residential buildings in the northeastern city of Kharkiv that were bombed by Russia’s overnight missile attacks, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, stressed the urgency for Kyiv’s backers to swiftly approve more military assistance.
“The world must understand that this terror can only be stopped by force,” Yermak wrote.
Zelenskyy said that at least six people were killed and more than 70 injured in the attacks, with rescuers still searching for people trapped under the rubble of their homes. Only half of Russia’s 41 missiles fired overnight were intercepted, according to Ukrainian army officials.
Vitaly Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, said a residential building was being evacuated after an undetonated warhead was found in one of the apartments.
Russia’s defence ministry confirmed the attacks on Tuesday but denied targeting civilians.