Ukraine backers in Prague: First shells to arrive in coming days

Leaders from five European NATO states said urgently-needed ammunition would reach Ukraine in the coming days, as they reaffirmed their support for the country attacked by Russia at a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Prague.

Their main focus at a joint working dinner on Tuesday was the Czech plan to procure up to 800,000 artillery shells from countries outside the EU.

Ukraine can expect a first delivery of tens of thousands of 155-millimetre shells in the next few days, said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

Fifteeen EU and NATO states have now pledged around €1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) for the project.

Polish President Andrzej Duda promised support for the transport of the artillery shells, and described the situation on the Ukrainian-Russian front as difficult.

Russia has the initiative and is preparing another major offensive, he said, adding that artillery plays a key role in the defence.

“For the Ukrainian people, weapons and armaments have become as crucial for survival as water, food and air,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The Prague meeting was also attended by Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Latvian Prime Minister Evika Silina.

Shmyhal said that Ukraine was preventing a repeat of 1939, when World War II broke out with Germany’s invasion of Poland. “Ukraine is and will continue to be a protective shield for Europe, he vowed.

Earlier, the Czech government reacted favourably to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s call for Ukraine to be allowed to use Western weapons to strike inside Russian territory.

“As a country under attack, Ukraine certainly has every right to use all means of defence,” Fiala said, describing the position as “simply logical.”

Attacks on military targets in Russia by Ukraine are covered by international law as part of its defence, experts on the laws of war generally agree.

But some Western countries that support Ukraine, like Germany, are reluctant. These capitals fear that allowing Kiev to use the advanced weapons supplied by them to attack Russian territory will be interpreted by Moscow as their becoming a direct party to the war.

Fiala said Ukraine was facing a perilous moment as Russian forces launch attacks across the Ukrainian border north of Kharkiv, potentially looking to open a new front in the war.

A Russian airstike on a home improvement store in the city of Kharkiv killed at least 14 people at the weekend.

Elsewhere there was discussion of the issue of a possible deployment of French military trainers to Ukraine, as Kiev seeks to fend off Russia’s attacks.

French President Emmanuel Macron aims to present a plan in the coming week when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky comes to Normandy to commemorate the Allied landings in World War II, he said Tuesday.

He will “speak very precisely at that time to announce what we are going to do,” Macron said during a visit to Germany, referring to “uncoordinated and unfortunate communication” on the issue beforehand.

Kiev earlier had to row back on the claim that French military instructors would soon arrive in the country.

Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said late Monday that negotiations with Paris on the issue were ongoing.

That came after the Ukrainian military’s Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said it was a done deal and France would begin training Ukrainian army personnel.

Kiev has been asking since February that Ukrainian soldiers no longer be sent abroad for training, but instead be trained in their own country, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence.

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