KYIV, Ukraine — The United States on Wednesday promised to “fully and quickly” give Ukraine the weapons required for a spring counteroffensive against Russia, addressing one of the most critical needs amid a global shortage of ammunition caused in part by the yearlong conflict.
The intensity of the battles in Ukraine has strained the production capacities of the West and Moscow. Both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have complained that they do not have enough ammunition to keep up with the pace of fighting.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, speaking during a virtual meeting with defense officials from more than 50 countries supporting Kyiv, said the allies “must provide Ukraine with the full capabilities for the fight ahead.”
“I’m confident that we will continue to step up to meet Ukraine’s needs into the spring and well beyond,” he said.
Given the vast expenditure of ammunition by both armies on a daily basis, military analysts have said that the side that wins the race to rearm in the coming months will have an advantage on the battlefield in the next phases of the war.
Russia, for its part, has stepped up efforts to put its economy on a wartime footing, even as President Vladimir V. Putin insists his country is engaged only in a “special military operation.”
This week, Mr. Putin visited an aviation production plant and announced that the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade had prepared a list of unspecified specialist workers who can defer military service.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, right, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a virtual meeting on Wednesday with defense officials from more than 50 countries supporting Ukraine.Credit…Pool photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research body, said this step “may suggest that the Kremlin is prioritizing using skilled workers in the production of Russian weapons over having skilled soldiers fight in Russia’s military.”
It added that Mr. Putin had announced “a series of reforms to attract more specialists to work at military production plants, including the reallocation of federal assets to housing and increasing pay.”
The State of the War
On the Front Lines: From Kupiansk to Bakhmut, Russian forces are attacking along a 160-mile arc in eastern Ukraine in an intensifying struggle for tactical advantage before possible spring offensives.U.S. Drone: A Russian warplane struck a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, in the first known physical contact between the Russian and American militaries since the war started.Kherson: Three months after Ukrainians celebrated the expulsion of Russian forces from it, the city remains very much a war zone.Plotting a Political Advance: Recent statements by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, suggest he wants to move past his standing as a military leader and play a larger role in Russian society.
The continuing carnage in the battle for Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, is the most vivid illustration of the toll the war has taken on resources and fighters. Both sides have suffered heavy casualties in the monthslong fight for control of the city, and Ukrainian medics say they are struggling to treat the dozens of soldiers wounded there every day.
There were early reports on Wednesday that Russian shelling had hit several residential buildings and killed two people in Marhanets, across the Dnipro River from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power plant in southern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s most pressing needs are ammunition for artillery and air defenses. It has also said it needs fighter jets and faster delivery of the arms promised by the United States and other allies. Mr. Austin, speaking to reporters after the five-hour virtual meeting, said that Sweden had pledged 10 Leopard battle tanks, and that Norway and the United States were donating two NASAMS, or National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems.
In addition to their efforts to secure more ammunition and weapons, Ukraine and Russia are seeking to increase the ranks of their fighters. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are training abroad in NATO-style military tactics and on how to use newly arriving Western equipment. They are expected to enter the fight in the coming months.
Ukrainian soldiers firing a mortar at a Russian target on Wednesday in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
The Ukrainian interior minister, Ihor Klymenko, said Kyiv had also accepted 28,000 applications for new volunteer “assault units” that would bolster the National Guard. “We have already started training almost all units,” he told reporters last week.
Moscow, which has resisted announcing a second wave of mobilization, plans to start a spring recruitment drive in April, according to Russian news reports.
The Kremlin, which counts China among its steadfast allies and has moved to bolster ties with other countries, received renewed support from President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has made his first trip to Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
In a meeting with Mr. Putin on Wednesday, Mr. al-Assad said that Moscow and Damascus were “in constant contact,” and he noted the role Russian troops had been playing in Syria since the Kremlin intervened in 2015 to prop up the Syrian government.
“Significant results in countering international terrorism were achieved in Syria thanks to our joint efforts and the decisive contribution of the Russian Armed Forces,” Mr. Putin said at the meeting.
In a sign of how Russia’s invasion is also changing world alliances, Finland may be closer to becoming a member of NATO. Turkey appeared poised to declare its support for Finland’s bid to join the group, the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, said on Wednesday, ahead of a meeting on Friday with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
While Turkey has indicated it approved of Finland’s application, it has argued that its Nordic partner, Sweden, has to do more to satisfy the Ankara government’s demands for a tougher stance against terrorism and Kurdish separatists.
In a further sign that the war was taking a toll outside of Europe, Amitabh Kant, India’s chief coordinator for the Group of 20 nations that represent the world’s largest economies, called on European leaders to “find a solution” because the fighting was affecting the world’s poor in a particularly difficult post-Covid period.
“The world needs to move on,” he said.
Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine; Eric Schmitt from Washington; Valerie Hopkins from Berlin; and Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia. Mujib Mashal contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Anushka Patil from New York.