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Ukraine ‘artillery coalition’ set for Paris kick-off

Ukraine’s Western allies will launch an “artillery coalition” at a Paris ceremony Thursday, aiming to strengthen Kyiv’s armed forces against Russia’s military. Led by France and the United States, the 23-nation effort is part of the so-called Ramstein contact group, which gathers more than 50 countries supporting Ukraine. French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu will lead Thursday’s ceremony. The artillery coalition “aims to combine efforts to help Ukraine have an artillery force that meets the needs of its counter-offensive and its army of the future, in the short and long term,” the French defence ministry said. Ukrainian defence chief Rustem Umerov had to cancel his long-planned attendance in Paris at the last minute “for security reasons”, the French government said. – New guns, more shells – “The big prize for Ukraine is completing its transition from Soviet to Western equipment,” said Stephane Audrand, a consultant in international risks. With modern Western guns using 155-millimetre shells, rather than the 122mm ammunition of Soviet artillery, supply has become a critical issue. The European Union had promised to deliver one million shells by spring this year, but European Parliament lawmakers say only 300,000 have been delivered so far. France’s defence ministry said Wednesday that artillery ammunition output since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine was expected to triple to a planned monthly rate of 3,000 this year. That is far short of the number being fired along the hundreds of kilometres (miles) of frontline, experts point out. France has also promised 78 new Caesar truck-mounted guns for Ukraine by early 2025, with six delivered “in the coming weeks”, the defence ministry said. Paris will pay for a further 12 of the cannons at a cost of 50 million euros ($54 million), Lecornu said Thursday. That leaves allies to come up with joint funding for the 60 remaining pieces. Kyiv’s defence ministry had said in December that it was “very important for Ukraine to step up its firepower, thanks to artillery systems provided by allies”, expressing special interest in acquiring more Caesars. France has already sold or donated 30 of the truck-mounted guns to Ukraine, with a further 19 from Denmark. The Caesar can fire a 155mm shell over a distance of 40 kilometres (25 miles) before quickly changing position to avoid return fire from enemy artillery. – More missiles and bombs – French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his support for Kyiv on Tuesday, after a Ukrainian counteroffensive failed to make hoped-for territorial gains last year. Almost two years into the war, the frontline has instead been largely fixed for many months. Macron said he will visit the country in February, the second time since Moscow invaded in 2022. France is “in the process of finalising an agreement” on security with Kyiv like the 10-year deal signed with Britain last week, he added. Macron’s new foreign minister Stephane Sejourne said in Ukraine Saturday that France could work with Kyiv to “strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to produce (arms) on its own soil”. Meanwhile the president announced Tuesday further deliveries of “around 40” long-range SCALP missiles and “several hundred bombs” — detailed by a source familiar with the plans as AASM smart bombs dropped from aircraft. Ukraine is also in need of support for its air defences, which are fending off almost nightly attacks by Russian drones and missiles.

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