Zelenskiy urges Ukraine allies to plug weapons shortage

Andreas Rinke and Max Hunder |

Keeping Ukraine in an “artificial deficit of weapons” benefited Russia, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.
Keeping Ukraine in an “artificial deficit of weapons” benefited Russia, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged allies at a global security conference to plug an “artificial” shortage of weapons that is giving Russia’s forces the upper hand on the battlefield.

Addressing the gathering of politicians, diplomats and military officials from around the world, who gave him a standing ovation, Zelenskiy mixed gratitude for the support shown by Western countries with urging them for more.

He spoke at a critical juncture of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now nearly in its third year, with his troops forced to withdraw from the devastated eastern town of Avdiivka.

Ukraine faces acute shortages of ammunition, and US military aid has been delayed for months in Congress.

“Unfortunately keeping Ukraine in an artificial deficit of weapons, particularly in deficit of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks at the Munich Security Conference
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed back against Donald Trump’s comments on NATO. (AP PHOTO)

He said that sending additional packages of weapons and air defences to Ukraine was the most important thing its allies could do.

“If your artillery (range) is 20km but Russia’s is 40km, there is your answer,” Zelenskiy said.

Earlier on Saturday at the same conference, dubbed the “Davos of Defence”, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had side-stepped questions on whether to give long-range Taurus missiles to Kyiv.

Scholz did, however, urge other European capitals to match Germany’s decision to hike military assistance for Ukraine as well as to invest more to ensure it was capable of defending itself.

“We Europeans must take much more care of our own security, now and in the future,” Scholz said.

The Munich Security Conference comes as worries grow in Europe about US commitment to helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion and to defending its allies more broadly, with the prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House.

Trump has said if re-elected later this year he would not defend allies within the NATO Western defence alliance who fail to spend enough on defence.

But some leaders voiced impatience with the focus on Trump and the implications of what his future presidency could bring.

“We should stop moaning and whining and nagging about Trump,” outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

“We do not spend more on defence or ramp up ammunitions production because Trump might come back.

“It’s up to the Americans. I’m not an American, I cannot vote in the US We have to work with whoever is on the dance floor,” said Rutte, frontrunner to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as secretary-general of NATO.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris attends the Munich Security Conference
Vice-President Kamala Harris said her and President Joe Biden’s commitment to NATO was “ironclad”. (AP PHOTO)

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has hiked its spending on defence to two per cent of output and would continue to hit that target of the NATO western defence alliance, Scholz said.

The country was also discussing with allies France and Britain the development of distance-capable precision weapons in order to ensure its deterrence strategy remained cutting-edge, he said.

Still, Scholz pushed back against Trump’s comments, saying: “any relativisation of NATO’s defence clause only serves those who want to weaken us, like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin”.

The trans-Atlantic bond remained strong, he said.

Stoltenberg on Saturday reiterated the importance of not undermining the defence alliance with talk of European defence autonomy.

Talk in particular of a potential European nuclear deterrent that would not involve the United States was “not helpful”, he told delegates in Munich. And it “would only undermine NATO in a time when we really need credible deterrence”.

On the first day of the conference on Friday, which was rocked by the news of the death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny at an Arctic penal colony, US Vice-President Kamala Harris had sought to reassure Europe.

Harris said her and President Joe Biden’s “sacred commitment to NATO remains ironclad”, and their administration would keep pressing to help Ukraine secure the weapons and resources it needed.

“Our commitment to build and sustain alliances has helped America become the most powerful and prosperous country in the world,” she said.

“To put all of that at risk would be foolish.”

Also speaking in Munich, Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya called for Putin to be held accountable for her husband’s death and his other crimes.

Reuters