Last week, in a conference room at a hotel in Kyiv, Ukrainian leaders met with numerous defense industry officials and policymakers from allied nations. Their main point was evident: Ukraine is willing to engage in business.
Although there is a threat of Russian missile attacks in the capital of Ukraine, the International Industries Defense Forum resembled the panel-filled conferences that occur frequently in Washington and London. However, the importance was heightened as Ukraine’s allies are facing a shortage of weapons to provide while others are hesitant to invest more funds into the ongoing conflict.
The country is actively attempting to handle the issue on its own by appealing to weapons manufacturers globally.
Pavel Verkhniatskyi, the managing partner at COSA Intelligence Solutions in Kyiv, stated that this is a matter of survival. He expressed concern that Ukraine cannot rely on donations from partners indefinitely, as their support can be abruptly withdrawn with a change in leadership.
Starting off the event, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy informed the audience that discussions for co-production agreements are currently underway with our partners. He also mentioned that he has allocated funds in the national budget to support these partnerships. The event also featured speeches from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Ukraine has a history of being a major player in the industrial sector, specifically in the production of heavy machinery and engines for Russian naval vessels and military helicopters. They also manufacture armored vehicles, aircraft, and small arms. Unfortunately, many of these factories have been affected by the ongoing conflict. However, Ukrainian leaders are seeking partnerships with Western defense companies to show their willingness to invest and establish production facilities in Ukraine, even amidst the ongoing war.
Two defense companies from Europe have confirmed their involvement. Rheinmetall, a major German arms manufacturer, has expressed its willingness to collaborate with Ukroboronprom, the state-owned arms company of Ukraine, to produce tanks and armored vehicles. BAE, a British company, has also declared its plans to establish an office in Kyiv and explore the production of 105mm guns in Ukraine.
France is actively embracing the concept of co-production. About 20 French business leaders joined Sébastien Lecornu, the minister of the armed forces, in Kyiv, along with representatives from more than 250 companies from the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
Czechia, also known as the Czech Republic, sent a significant delegation to the event as a demonstration of their complete dedication to supporting Kyiv in defending against the Russian invasion. The country’s top defense companies have been employing Ukrainian workers for several months in their factories, producing night vision devices, ammunition, and other weapons through partnerships with Ukrainian companies. A Czech official who was present at the event stated that the ultimate aim is to transfer this production to Ukraine as quickly as possible.
Ukrainian officials are increasingly echoing the sentiment that they must strive to emulate Israel’s self-sufficiency within Europe, while also seeking assistance from other nations. According to Daniel Vajdich, president of Yorktown Solutions, an organization that promotes Ukraine’s interests in Washington, this goal will involve forming co-production agreements to build capabilities within the region and eventually within Ukraine itself.
Officials in Kyiv are eager for the day to arrive sooner rather than later, a sense of urgency that has been reinforced by remarks from multiple Western leaders in recent weeks. These comments have highlighted the concern that weapons are depleting and that allies have not sufficiently increased their manufacturing capacity to meet the demand.
An unnamed European official, along with others quoted in this article, expressed the need to refrain from continuously providing resources from our own reserves due to the political sensitivity of the matter.
The official stated that there is still strong backing from the public and government for Ukraine’s efforts, but “we have only provided resources that will not put our own safety at risk.”
After a year and a half of fierce and large-scale fighting, the supply of European stockpiles is depleting. However, there is optimism that nations can collaborate to discover additional solutions, according to a member of the Biden administration.
“The decrease in stockpiles is not surprising, given the amount of aid provided to Ukraine,” stated the source. “Our main concern would be if our allies were not taking action to address this issue. Fortunately, there is a strong desire around the world to collaborate and strengthen our industrial capabilities.”
This enthusiasm is being met with the practical reality of the time it takes for companies and countries to invest money into current production lines and establish new ones.
The aggressive actions of Russia and the rapid modernization of China’s military have caused major donor nations to reassess their own defense capabilities. While these nations are willing to support Ukraine in countering Russia’s military, they are also concerned about their own ability to defend against potential threats to their sovereignty.
“After a period of two years, it is necessary for us to have a new conversation because continuously giving without seeing improvements in our systems is not sustainable for Ukraine,” said General Stéphane Mille, the head of the French Air and Space Force, during a press briefing in Washington. “One possible solution is for Ukraine to engage in discussions with companies, and France could potentially provide financial aid to assist with production.”
Compounding the difficulties was Poland’s recent announcement that it would temporarily suspend its contributions to Ukraine in order to strengthen its own abilities.
Kyiv faced yet another challenge this weekend as Congress reached a temporary agreement to fund the U.S. government, but removed billions of dollars in aid originally designated for Ukraine to assist with its passage.
According to two officials from the United States, the budget for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which funds contracts for American weapons systems, has been depleted. Despite having $5.4 billion worth of weapons ready to be sent to Ukraine, the Department of Defense is quickly running out of funds to restock their own supplies.
There is still uncertainty regarding the extent to which Ukraine can produce defense materials while facing Russian missile and Iranian drone attacks on crucial infrastructure. Despite concerns from allied countries about their remaining resources, the war shows no signs of abating.
The prevailing sentiment in Kyiv is that they must seek assistance from external companies in order to accomplish their tasks.
Verkhniatskyi from COSA Intelligence Solutions stated that the top priority is for Ukraine to become self-sufficient. This is crucial because even if the war ends immediately, Ukraine will continue to serve as a protective barrier for Europe against potential territorial grabs or attempts to destabilize the region by Russia. According to Verkhniatskyi, this is an inevitable reality given the nature of the Russian government.
This report was contributed to by Nahal Toosi in Washington and Laura Kayali in Paris.