ARTICLE – One of Ukraine’s biggest problems in fighting the Russian invasion is a basic one: It is firing artillery rounds much faster than its Western backers are producing them.
As Ukraine urged its citizens to flee a hotly contested city in the east, the country’s allies worked on Tuesday to come up with ways to provide Kyiv with the basic supplies it will need for the larger battles looming ahead — especially artillery shells.
The allies, meeting in Brussels, discussed ways to ramp up production as stockpiles dwindle, but warned that it is a problem not easily solved.
“The current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production,” Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said in advance of the meeting. “This puts our defense industries under strain.”
The American defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, speaking to reporters in Brussels after a meeting of the 54-nation Ukraine Defense Contact Group, said it was also critical to train Ukrainian soldiers to use the equipment allies have already agreed to provide, as fighting intensifies. Russia is seen as ramping up a major new offensive in eastern Ukraine, and Mr. Austin said the United States expects Ukraine to conduct a new counteroffensive in the spring.
“That’s just weeks away — so we have a lot to get done,” Mr. Austin said.
He said the military officials meeting in Brussels had decided to focus on training the Ukrainians to fight a coordinated infantry campaign that used less artillery fire, easing the strain on supplies. As it stands now, Ukrainian and Russian troops are firing thousands of howitzer rounds at each other every day, along a front line more than 600 miles long, U.S. officials say.
Whatever plans Ukraine’s allies arrive at by the end of meetings that conclude on Wednesday, it appeared clear that they would be too late to help the city of Bakhmut, where Russian forces appeared close to their first significant victory in months after a drawn-out battle that has cost untold lives on both sides.
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian authorities stepped up efforts to persuade the few thousand remaining civilians to leave Bakhmut, adding to signs that Kyiv may be preparing to retreat from a city it has defended fiercely for months. The city, which had a prewar population of around 70,000, has steadily been emptying as the fighting has intensified. Fewer than 5,000 residents are still there, about 140 of them children, local officials estimate.
Now Ukraine wants them to leave, too.
A spokesman for the armed forces, Col. Serhiy Cherevaty, said on Ukrainian television that soldiers need to keep their focus on building defensive lines. But he also said that part of the reason for the order a day earlier barring civilians, including aid workers, from entering the city was to keep military operations secret.
As a prize, Bakhmut offers little in the way of strategic value for either Moscow or Kyiv. Its significance comes more from the amount of blood spilled to claim it.
“Even if Bakhmut were to fall, it would not have a strategic impact on the overall war,” said the National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby. “I would go so far as to say it won’t even have necessarily a strategic impact on the fighting in that part of the country.”
In Brussels, Western officials deflected questions about whether Ukraine would win its campaign to secure still more powerful weapons to use against its Russian enemy.
Read the entire article written by Steven Erlanger on The New York Times.