Ukraine wants to be the largest arms producer in the West. Its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, stated this this Saturday at a congress in kyiv before an audience made up of more than 250 companies in the arms industry, national and foreign. The Russian invasion has left the country dependent on supplies from its NATO allies, but it has also caused rapid technological evolution in the private sector to provide new weapons to its troops, especially drones. The kyiv authorities want to take advantage of this experience to lay the foundations for a future military superpower.
Zelensky greeted the representatives of the main companies of the military industry with these words: “I am pleased to welcome those who are ready to build the arsenal of the free world, with Ukraine and in Ukraine. A powerful and modern arsenal that leaves no aggressor a chance.” Zelensky has announced the founding of an alliance of international companies to open arms factories in Ukraine. According to his Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 38 companies from 19 countries have joined. The ministry has also detailed the signing of 20 agreements with international suppliers of components for Ukrainian manufacturers of drones, ammunition and armor repair.
So far in the war, Ukraine’s allies have committed military aid valued at 93 billion euros, according to data from the Institute for the World Economy in Kiel. The Ukrainian demand to stop the invader exceeds the production capacity of its NATO partners. Zelensky assured on September 18 in an interview on American television CBS that each side fires an average of 40,000 artillery shells a day. To give an example, the United States produced 14,000 a month before the war in Ukraine. During this conflict, the American industry has raised the number to 20,000 a month, as The Washington Post reported in August.
There are already precedents for joint arms production line agreements between Ukraine and allied countries. The state company Ukroboronprom announced in November 2022 a pact with six countries – among others, Poland, France, the Czech Republic and Denmark – to develop new weapons, manufacture armored vehicles, mines and 152-millimeter ammunition for Soviet howitzers. These agreements focused primarily on production outside Ukraine, due to the risk of Russian attack. For this reason, several of the most relevant Ukrainian drone companies have opened production centers in Poland. French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu confirmed on Thursday in kyiv that they want to analyze what weapons they can jointly produce.
More weapons, less grain
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The future of Ukraine lies in the arms industry, beyond the needs of the current war. This was made clear by the Minister of Strategic Industries, Oleksandr Kamishin, on September 9 during the annual conference of the Yalta European Strategy group. Kamishin said that if Ukraine has been known until now as one of the world’s largest grain producers, it will now be known for its arms industry: “When the war is over, it will be smarter to export weapons than agriculture. One kilo of defense industry exports is equivalent to 20 agricultural tons. Being the arsenal of the free world is a good alternative to being the bread basket of Europe.” “Betting on the arms industry is the best thing we can do in the long term,” the minister stressed, “in agriculture we have shown that we are the cheapest in production and the cheapest in logistics. “The defense industry will be Ukraine’s new agriculture.”
This strategy matches the international reference that Zelensky most cites to which the Ukraine of the future should aspire: Israel. “It is exactly what we need, a model that includes weapons, technology, training, financing,” the president said in an interview on Ukrainian television. Zelensky believes that his country will live in permanent threat and that he must protect the activity of its cities with a strong anti-aircraft defense system, like Israel. Strengthening its own arms industry is essential, the president said, “because at some point we have to accept that they can leave us alone.”
Zelensky himself admitted on September 19 before the United Nations General Assembly that there were international attempts to agree with Russia to end the war, regardless of the Ukrainian opinion. Another alarm signal came last week, when Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reported that his priority is to renew its arsenal and not deliver new packages of weapons to its neighboring country. Poland has been one of Ukraine’s strongest allies, but the two governments have been locked in a bilateral conflict over Poland’s veto on Ukrainian grain exports. Morawiecki’s veiled threat is understood in this context, but it also shows Ukraine’s fragile position: its existence depends on international aid.
Ukraine’s advantage on its path to being a military superpower is that “from drone production to demining, it is progressing at the speed of light,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday in Kiev. Ukraine is not starting from scratch, because it inherited a powerful defense industrial network from the Soviet Union. But in the field of defense it has been an international actor below its capabilities. Until 2014, successive governments prioritized stopping promoting the sector. The war in Donbas against the region’s separatists supported by Russia highlighted Ukraine’s many military deficits, which caused a progressive modernization of its Armed Forces that accelerated with Zelensky’s arrival to power in 2019.
In his speech this Saturday, Zelensky gave as an example of this progress the fact that his Naval Forces have formed the first fleet of marine drones. The Ministry of Defense has developed several types of bomb drones capable of hitting the Russian Black Sea Fleet hundreds of kilometers off the coast of free Ukraine, in Russian ports, on the high seas or even being used as a projectile against the bridge of Kerch, the only infrastructure connecting Russia with the Crimean peninsula.
Another paradigm of Ukrainian weapons development are the Neptun marine missiles, which have been transformed to the point of being able to also hit land targets 300 kilometers away. Kirilo Budanov, head of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence services, explained on September 23 in an interview with The War Zone that the drawback of the Neptun is that Ukraine still does not have enough industrial capacity to produce a large number of units.
The same happens with the Bohdana self-propelled howitzers, developed in Ukraine, or the 155 millimeter caliber ammunition, the main one used by NATO artillery, which is manufactured to a limited extent in Ukrainian territory: the invaded country has its industry constantly threatened. by Russian bombings. Another setback is that a good part of its metallurgical sector is located in territories occupied by Russia.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmitro Kuleba, assured this Saturday at the Kiev defense forum that the demand to buy Ukrainian weapons is resurfacing again. Kuleba has confirmed that his government cannot now export weapons because it needs everything it produces to defend itself from Russia, but he added that there is interest in some African countries, which he did not want to name, to establish Ukrainian defense factories there. The words of the head of Ukrainian diplomacy are also a warning to Moscow that the Kremlin is not the only one capable of achieving strategic influence in Africa.
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