Ukraine on Tuesday renewed its appeal to Western countries for fighter jets to help frustrate Moscow's invasion, but the United States and its NATO allies and partners are more concerned about Kyiv's needs for large amounts of ammunition as the war with Russia is set to enter its second year.
Ahead of the meeting of the Ukraine contact group at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Ukraine made its requirements clear. Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, when asked what military aid his country is seeking now, showed reporters an image of a fighter jet.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pushed hard for combat planes last week when he visited London, Paris and Brussels on just his second foreign trip since Russia invaded on February 24, 2022. His plea came days after Western allies pledged to provide Kyiv with tanks.
The United States has said no to fighter jets for Ukraine. The United Kingdom is assessing the possibility. On Tuesday, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said providing jets “has to be part of the consideration.”
What NATO allies have on their mind, though, is how to keep up a steady supply of ammunition to Ukraine without depleting their own stockpiles.
According to some estimates, Ukraine is firing up to 6,000-7,000 artillery shells each day, around a third of the daily amount that Russia is using.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Monday that Ukraine is using up ammunition much faster than its allies can supply it.
Moscow's forces have been pressing in the east of Ukraine while bolstering their defensive lines in the south. The war has been largely static during the winter months, though both sides are expected to launch offensives when the weather improves.
Mr. Putin was hoping Western support for Kyiv would fizzle out, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the meeting.
But he said the contact group would “help Ukraine hold an advance during the spring counteroffensive” and would keep planning for Kyiv’s long-term needs.
“Today’s meeting comes at a critical time,” Mr. Austin said. “The Kremlin is still betting that it can wait us out.”
The Russians appear short on resources for any major offensive at the moment, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said Tuesday. "Overall, the current operational picture suggests that Russian forces are being given orders to advance in most sectors, but that they have not massed sufficient offensive combat power on any one axis to achieve a decisive effect," it tweeted.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that finding ammunition and air defences is “much more important at the moment than the discussion about fighter jets.”
Mr. Pistorius told reporters that getting pilots up to speed on new aircraft and “training just to fly them takes several months, never mind teaching the abilities needed to deploy the weapons systems.”
He said Ukraine’s partners “should focus on what is now at centre stage, particularly in view of a Russian offensive that is apparently taking place.”
He said Germany has signed a deal to produce ammunition for self-propelled, anti-aircraft guns it provided to Ukraine, after Kyiv ran into problems finding munitions elsewhere.
That ammunition is crucial for Kyiv to counter Russian attacks, especially on Ukraine’s power infrastructure aimed at disrupting heating and drinking water supply.
Mr. Stoltenberg on Monday urged Ukraine’s Western allies to step up their military support.
Asked when he expects Russia’s so-called spring offensive to begin, Mr. Stoltenberg said that “the reality is that we have seen the start already.”
“For me, this just highlights the importance of timing. It’s urgent to provide Ukraine with more weapons,” he told reporters in Brussels.
Mr. Stoltenberg said that NATO sees “no sign whatsoever that President Putin is preparing for peace” and that arming Ukraine more quickly could save lives by bringing a quicker end to the conflict.
In Ukraine, the country’s presidential office said Tuesday Russian shelling killed at least three civilians and wounded another eight over the previous 24 hours as fighting continued in the south and east.
Russian forces shelled 17 towns and villages in the Donetsk region. Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said. “The Russians are destroying everything in their path,” he said.
Ukraine officials also reported intense shelling and air strikes in Luhansk province, while in the south Russian forces shelled the city of Kherson 13 times over 24 hours, destroying a railway and residential buildings.