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BRUSSELS — Time is running out for supporters of Ukraine’s military to gather vast amounts of new equipment and haul it along supply lines, which are quickly overwhelmed with supplies Kiev awaits as planned to launch a spring counteroffensive against entrenched Russian forces, senior US officials said on Tuesday.
From European depots and ports to central collection points and across the border onto Ukraine’s roads and rails, the increasing flow is challenging the ability to transport it in real time, officials said.
There was a palpable sense of urgency as senior military and defense officials gathered here for the recent meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the coalition of more than 50 nations providing security assistance.
“What Ukraine wants to do as soon as possible is … create momentum and create conditions on the battlefield that remain in its favour,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at a news conference.
“We believe there will be an opportunity” for Kiev’s armed forces to break through an essentially static front line, Austin said. But efforts to bring needed ammunition and new and additional air defense and armor systems to the battlefield, even while training Ukrainians on them, are “a monumental task,” he said.
A senior Biden administration official said there had been “a development in the nature of the support” from the relief coalition. “I remember the days when we thought Patriots would never happen,” the official said, referring to advanced Patriot air defense systems that the United States, Germany and the Netherlands have now agreed to supply. “I think everyone is looking around the table and saying what more” can be provided.
But “the other thing that I don’t think gets appreciated is how bloody hard it is to get all these things into Ukraine as a cohesive package,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized was to speak on record .
Currently, three main transport hubs are used to collect equipment for Ukraine – in Poland, Slovakia and Romania. Without major efforts to get supplies off bases and to the border quickly, there are concerns that the arteries will be secured and The guns will get stuck.
“We’re focused on giving them gear, but we want to give them full power” to start the counteroffensive. “If people want to wait until the end of March to send this stuff to Ukraine, the three transport nodes we are currently using will be at full capacity and [it] don’t arrive on time. … That makes this short window even shorter,” the official said.
Once the donated military hardware Having reached the border through the junctions, the Ukrainians pick up equipment for distribution in the country. The more that’s moving at once, the greater the potential for congestion, officials said.
Inside Ukraine, convoys are “under Russian attack,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the press conference with Austin. “They ensure good operational reliability, vary the times, do not set any patterns, take different routes. … I’d say it’s not without risk, but it’s moderate and a success so far.”
The senior official said that “we are one step ahead of the complications for now”. “We’re not in a situation where everything is going to fall apart, but we do need to fix the issues that we know have been stress points so far.”
Much of the coordination is taking place at US European Command in Germany, where planners are struggling to get newly deployed armored vehicles from ports and other parts of Europe to areas where US and other forces are training Ukrainian troops for their deployment.
Donor countries are also encouraged to take the initiative to coordinate a smooth flow of arms. Germany, which for months refused to send its Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine, is now leading a collection of at least half a dozen countries that are also donating the Leopards from their own arsenals – dubbed the “Panzergruppe” – to ensure , that a steady stream of tanks and armored personnel carriers does not clog the transit routes.
Ammunition shortages have also become an issue as mostly NATO countries scramble to ramp up production to meet Ukraine’s needs and replenish their own stocks.
“Ukraine is using a lot of ammunition that we…may not have thought possible,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said. “Nobody knew on February 24 last year what kind of war this was going to be, how long it would take, that it would be an artillery and ground war,” she said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was studying how to strengthen defense industries in allies. “In the short term, the industry can increase production by having more shifts and making more use of existing production facilities,” he said on Monday.
“But to really get a significant increase, they need to invest and build new facilities.”
As some countries have donated their entire stocks of a particular weapon or type of ammunition, “this may be beginning to affect the defenses of the alliance,” the government official said. “We’re not there yet, but you’ll see in five or ten years.”
For now, however, donor attention is focused on the here and now. “Spring is only a few weeks away,” Austin said, “we still have a lot to do.”