Espreso. Global

20th Ramstein and European countries’ positive decisions in support of Ukraine. Serhiy Zgurets’ column

20 March, 2024 Wednesday

On March 19, the 20th meeting of the Contact Group on Defense and Assistance to Ukraine took place in Ramstein, Germany, with the direct participation of defense ministers and military leaders from 50 countries

20th meeting in the Ramstein format

On March 19, the 20th meeting of the Contact Group on Defense and Assistance to Ukraine took place in Ramstein, Germany, with the direct participation of defense ministers and military leaders from 50 countries. The Ukrainian delegation was headed by Defense Minister Rustem Umerov. The meeting was held in a tough reality for Ukraine, when the situation on the battlefield is partly held hostage by the US election clashes.

As we are aware, Ukraine anticipates the unlocking of substantial military and military-technical assistance from the United States. It is encouraging that amidst this, there have been numerous positive decisions from European countries in our support. At the outset, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin delivered an opening speech, affirming that the United States, along with the coalition and the free world, will not allow Ukraine to fail. However, in my view, it is time to shift the rhetoric towards a formula “to help Ukraine win.” Nonetheless, much hinges on our own efforts, if we get weaponry. 

The meeting in Ramstein was primarily about air defense, artillery, and ammunition. Austin also spoke about drones, military training, and the process of organizing defense industry cooperation. I would like to remind you that there are parallel processes in Europe, because this Monday, March 18, EU foreign ministers decided to allocate an additional EUR 5 billion for the European Peace Facility (EPF). These funds are needed to purchase weapons outside the EU as well.

Coming back to the meeting, Lloyd Austin, when announcing certain packages, mentioned that the United States had previously allocated USD 300 million and named other countries that had announced military assistance. Among them, he mentioned the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Denmark, and Sweden, which promised to provide important and necessary military aid packages. According to Austin, first of all, the Czech Republic promised to provide 600,000 artillery rounds, but we know that in total the Czech Republic has found 1.5 million rounds of ammunition of various calibers and is now contracting them in different countries to supply them to Ukraine, using funds from the European Peace Facility, which I mentioned earlier.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced a package of assistance to Ukraine amounting to EUR 500 million. The aid package is quite complicated because it will include 10,000 pieces of ammunition to be delivered from Germany, 100 armored vehicles and 100 vehicles, though we do not know what types of vehicles they will be. Another 100,000 155-mm shells will be purchased from domestic manufacturers. In addition, Germany has additionally contracted 180,000 artillery shells under the Czech initiative. That is, the package of both short-term and long-term assistance from Germany is extremely powerful and large.

TAURUS missiles are not included, because Pistorius said earlier that Ukraine needs sufficient artillery ammunition, artillery itself, and air defense equipment, and this is a basic priority for Ukraine to be able to carry out effective defensive and offensive actions.

Another large package was announced by Belgium, for which this is the largest package in the chain of assistance to Ukraine. It amounts to as much as EUR 412 million, of which more than EUR 373 million is again for the supply of artillery ammunition to Ukraine. This ammunition will come from the Belgian Ministry of Defense's stockpile, and the funds will also be partially used to purchase it in other countries for delivery to Ukraine. Belgium, together with the Netherlands, is also planning to provide three minesweepers, which will be transferred to Ukraine. In addition, Belgium is now organizing training for Ukrainian personnel on its territory. 

Belgium has also announced the transfer of 280 light armored combat vehicles of a fairly high class, IVECO Lynx.  They are used by a significant number of armies, and therefore have combat experience in various hot spots. However, the manufacturers of the Italian company IVECO have not had any experience of intensive use in the fighting that is currently taking place in Ukraine, so this will be the first combat experience of this very effective light vehicle.

I would also like to mention that this time at Ramstein there was less talk about armored vehicles, because the main emphasis is really on ammunition, which is essential for the stability of our defense line. Let me remind you that, in addition to the announcement of EUR 5 billion allocation from the European Union's European Peace Facility for Ukraine, last week European countries made another decision to speed up the production of ammunition and eliminate the bottlenecks that exist in the production of ammunition in European countries. The EU has decided to finance a fund amounting to EUR 500 million, which will be used to expand production in three areas: the manufacture of shell casings, expansion of TNT and powder production. That is, everything that is currently slowing down the pace of ammunition production in European countries.

About tanks and armored vehicles

Mykola Salamakha, military expert, armored weapons specialist, commented on the news of a significant delivery of light armored vehicles from IVECO. He noted that this equipment is essential to protect personnel from small arms and artillery shell fragments. These vehicles will be used as command posts, mobile communication facilities, as base vehicles for various anti-tank guided missile systems and for air defense units. In other words, they will be used for tasks where we currently use pickup trucks, because this is an all-terrain vehicle with a good suspension and engine. Such equipment will increase the survivability of the units that will use it.

An armor specialist said that the most protected artillery system is the tank. On the other hand, the use of new types of weapons entails the use of new ways of countering, including electronic warfare, nets against various FPV drones, and, for example, pump-action rifles or even hunting weapons to fight FPV drones. This period when FPV drones are very seriously dominating the battlefield will pass in the near future anyway, because ways and means will be found to fight these drones. And the further it goes, the harder it will be for FPV drones to terrorize everything that is currently on the battlefield.

Regarding the repair of Western equipment, the expert noted that there are several stages that we need to go through. The first is to receive repair documentation from our Western partners. In addition, Ukraine’s partners have now clearly realized that the standard stocks of repair parts and kits they had were completely inadequate for modern warfare. And they will need to launch the production of spare parts, components and assemblies not only for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but also for their own needs.

Salamaha said that today there are not enough companies that produce simulators for various purposes. There are simulators that provide some knowledge about a certain type of weapon, but which cannot be used to practice skills. There are also simulators related to virtual reality, but they do not take into account such phenomena as weapon recoil, ballistics, or the movement of a soldier on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the number of companies that produce fully functional simulators can be counted on one hand. The training centers that have been deployed over the past two years lack such simulators. Fully functional simulators are quite expensive, and the process of manufacturing them, starting with the purchase of components, takes a serious period of time - six months or more. The cycle of manufacturing a simulator from scratch takes about two years.

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