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Canada set to help bankroll massive ammunition shipments to Ukraine: sources

Canada has signalled it’s prepared to get behind a Czech Republic initiative to ship tens of thousands of artillery shells from different countries to Ukraine on an urgent basis.

Zelenskyy says Ukrainian troops pulled back from strategic city in part due to a lack of ammunition

The barrel of an artillery piece points toward the viewer.

Canada has signalled it's prepared to get behind a Czech Republic initiative to ship tens of thousands of artillery shells from different countries to Ukraine on an urgent basis.

Although the details are still being finalized, defence sources say the federal government could contribute as much as $30 million to the plan, which was proposed at the opening of the Munich Security conference by Czech Republic President Petr Pavel.

Pavel's government said it has been able to source up to 800,000 shells of NATO-standard calibre, along with shells of other calibres, from unidentified, non-NATO countries. It says it needs financial support to get the ammunition to Ukraine.

Defence Minister Bill Blair said Canada has been talking to the Czechs but wouldn't discuss specifics.

"I've entered into the memorandum of understanding with one of our European allies, the Czech Republic, with respect to perhaps acquiring munitions that they currently have in their possession that will enable us to … make them available more rapidly to Ukraine as we ramp up our own production," Blair said Monday after announcing that Canada will contribute hundreds of drones to the Ukrainian military.

Canada's allies, meanwhile, fear that Ottawa may choose to invest in munitions production through the Czech Republic while continuing to defer building up domestic weapons manufacturing capacity, said the defence sources, who are familiar with the file but are not authorized to speak publicly.

Blair, meanwhile, said he hopes to have "more to say in the not too distant future about how we're investing in increased Canadian production of munitions."

The Liberal government has for months been studying proposals from two of the country's ammunition makers — General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GDOT) in Valleyfield, Que. and IMT Defence in Ingersoll, Ont. — to ramp up production of the so-called "operational" or M795 variant of the NATO-standard 155 millimetre shell.

Canada currently produces each month about 5,000 of the M107 version of the shell, known as the "training round."

WATCH: Canada sending drones to Ukraine

Canada sending hundreds of military-grade drones to Ukraine

1 day ago

Duration 1:56

Defence Minister Bill Blair announces the government is sending more than 800 military-grade drones to Ukraine as concerns mount that Kyiv is faltering on the battlefield, and that it can no longer rely on the United States for support.

Defence sources say the federal government's hesitation about boosting munitions manufacturing relates in part to the projected $400 million investment needed to build additional production lines.

Deputy Defence Minister Bill Matthews said Canada and the U.S. have held bilateral talks on how to ramp up weapons supplies for Ukraine — but those discussions quickly led into a broader debate about how to refill domestic military inventories depleted by donations.

In his nightly address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a shortage of munitions was one of the reasons his country's troops had to withdraw from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka last weekend.

"They (the Russians) are taking advantage of delays in aid to Ukraine," Zelenskyy said, referring to the gridlock in the U.S. Congress, which has tied up $60 billion in military and economic aid.

A soldier fires a gun from atop a military vehicle.

He said Ukrainian troops keenly felt a shortage of artillery, air defence systems and long-range weapons in Avdiivka — where Ukrainians battled a fierce Russian assault for four months, despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned.

In Munich, Pavel said the Czech Republic had managed to locate about 800,000 artillery shells of NATO and Soviet-era calibres that could be shipped to Ukraine in a few weeks.

He said the country's representatives had managed to find about 500,000 155-mm artillery shells and 300,000 122-mm shells abroad.

A bearded man in a suit gets out of a car.

He wouldn't identify the countries supplying the munitions, citing confidentiality, but said the ammunition could be sent to Ukraine in a matter of weeks if funding is secured quickly through partner nations.

In a letter to the European Union, Ukraine's Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said his country needs about 200,000 155 millimetre shells per month. He also called on the EU to deliver the one million rounds it promised almost a year ago.

The Czech proposal — to acquire ammunition from countries outside of NATO — has been the subject of closed-doors discussions for weeks. According to Politico, Prague pitched a proposal similar to the one floated last weekend during an informal meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels on Jan. 31, 2024; that proposal called for the procurement of 450,000 artillery rounds.

At the time, the EU's foreign policy representative Josep Borrell specifically cited South Korea as one potential munitions source.

NATO defence ministers devoted a major portion of their meeting last week to addressing the slow pace of allied munitions production.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, greet each other after a joint press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on April 20, 2023.

"We see the impact already of the fact that the U.S. has not been able to make a decision, but I expect the U.S. to be able to make a decision, that the Congress and the House of Representatives will agree [to] a continued support to Ukraine," said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"Because if we allow [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to win, it will not only be bad for the Ukrainians, a tragedy for the Ukrainians, but it will also be dangerous for us,"

Christyn Cianfarani, president of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, said Canada's donations of equipment and supplies to Ukraine have been ad-hoc and random.

She said she also worries about politics hijacking the debate in this country, as it has in the United States.

"We're seeing these things become wedge issues … Ukraine becoming a wedge issue," Cianfarani said. "And it's very sad to see that.

"I've been talking to many Ukrainian officials, many people, and even my counterparts in the defence industry in Ukraine. And when you have to sit across the table from someone who's literally begging you for ammunition to do the right thing, it really does a number on your emotions."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

With files from Michelle Song

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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