Text resize: A A
Change contrast

Brothers in arms: the Czech Republic’s latest initiative to bolster Ukrainian defences

Kyiv’s recent performances on the battlefield have been hampered by unreliable supplies of aid from its allies. In response, Prague has tasked itself with purchasing large amounts of ammunition in an effort that will hopefully encourage similar action from other western states.

March 21, 2024 - Emily Rowland - Articles and Commentary

The Ukrainian 55th "Zaporozhian Sich" Artillery Brigade firing CAESARs. Photo:

For many months now, Ukraine has been warning the world of its dwindling ammunition supplies and the effect that this could have on battlefield outcomes. Analysis suggests that Ukraine is currently being outgunned by Russia at a rate of five or six to one due to an acute lack of artillery shells while defending its 1000-kilometre front line. Enter the Czech Republic, a long-term ally of Ukraine. In recent weeks, Prague has pioneered a new initiative to send ammunition to Ukraine to plug the shortfall caused by unfulfilled ammunition pledges from allies and partners.

Last year was a tough one for Ukraine. The country’s long-anticipated summer counteroffensive against Russia is now largely regarded as a failure by military analysts. The year was also overshadowed by a pronounced lack of quick wins that were seen in 2022, when Ukrainian forces were able to retake large swathes of territory at pace. As a consequence of this, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been a consistent presence at international conferences and foreign governments as of late, with the leader making a determined push to garner increased pledges of support for his nation. Of course, he is eager to ensure that the issue of Ukraine’s security remains at the front of western leaders’ minds. This issue will be of particular concern to Kyiv in 2024, as this year marks the highest number of elections ever to be held in a single year globally, and changes in leadership always carry the potential for instability, something that could prove damaging for Ukraine.

Decision makers in Kyiv will be keeping a particularly watchful eye on the US elections, with the potential for another Trump presidency looming large. The unwelcome changes that a Trump administration could bring are already being felt, as a support package for Ukraine worth 60 billion US dollars has been held up in the United States Congress due to internal squabbling among politicians. Donald Trump’s Republican Party, seen by many as sympathetic to Russia, has successfully managed to get the bill intertwined with a separate policy aimed at strengthening security on America’s own borders. Similarly, a promised EU delivery of one million artillery shells over a 12-month period has so far failed to deliver even half of the promised amount, which was originally scheduled to arrive by the end of March 2024. The very real effects of this delayed international support have been seen in recent weeks on Ukraine’s battlefields. For example, Ukrainian troops were forced to pull out of the strategic town of Avdiivka in February, following a sustained Russian offensive that the Ukrainian side was unable to repel due to insufficient ammunition. Widespread reports of low morale and exhausted troops have been flowing out of Ukraine, painting a picture of a tired nation ground down by constant fighting and without the strength that the previously impressive support from their allies had given them earlier in the war.

Leading from the front

In an effort to support their battle-weary ally, Czech President Petr Pavel laid out his country’s plan to supply Ukraine with ammunition at the 60th Munich Security Conference in February. The aim of the plan, according to Pavel, is to enable the Ukrainians to spare their troops as much as possible while causing the greatest amount of attrition to the Russian side. The initiative relies on the purchase of artillery shells for Ukraine from third-party, non-western countries, where the Czech Republic has identified sufficient stocks for sale. In total, this consignment would cover 800,000 artillery shells, of which 500,000 would be 155mm, NATO-standard shells, and the remaining 300,000 would be composed of 122mm, Soviet-standard shells. This reflects Ukraine’s arsenal of weapons and military vehicles, which is a mixture of older Soviet equipment, a remnant of their history as part of the Soviet Union, and newer models from NATO countries which Alliance members have trained Ukrainian troops to use. According to Pavel, a retired army general and former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, these third-party suppliers do not want to ship their artillery shells directly to Ukraine for political reasons, which necessitates Prague acting as a middleman. The countries involved have not been named, although it is believed that South Korea could be among them. While South Korea has officially refrained from supplying lethal aid to Ukraine, it has provided support in the form of kit, military rations, tents and mine-clearing vehicles, which it has labelled as “humanitarian” as opposed to “defence” aid.

In total, 18 countries have committed funds to the Czech initiative, including the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada. The funds needed to purchase the first consignment of 300,000 shells were secured in full on March 7th, when Norway committed the remaining 140 million euros. The hope is that the ammunition will now be delivered to Ukraine within weeks. It is an impressive strategic move from the Czech Republic, a country that, due to its size and relative resources, has been hitherto unable to commit the large amounts of funding to Ukraine that other allies like Germany, the UK and the US have provided. However, the Czech Republic has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies since the war began, and opinion polls suggest that the Czech public overwhelmingly supports continuing assistance to Ukraine. The Central European nation has accepted millions of Ukrainian refugees that have been displaced by the conflict, in addition to the defence support it has been providing on the ground. The Czech response to the war has been punctuated by decisive and practical action. Within days of Russia’s invasion, the Czechs had already sent their first shipment of military aid to Ukraine, and later led the way for other nations by becoming the first country to deliver tanks and combat aircraft to its war-torn ally. Now, as the war has entered its third year, the Czech government has been able to unite nations to enact a swift solution to an ongoing problem through its spearheading of this project.

It is not just Ukraine that has been relying on ammunition from allies to maintain its position in the war. While the Russian economy, which has been placed on a war footing following the invasion, has been able to ramp up production of ammunition, it has still sought external support as the war drags on. Russia struck a deal with North Korea in September 2023 and now receives artillery shells from Pyongyang, which has boosted the supply coming from its own domestic production.

Uncertain commitment

The Czech initiative has drawn attention to the internal disagreements within Europe regarding the ongoing war. The failure of the EU to provide the ammunition it had promised Kyiv within its own deadline has proven particularly embarrassing for the bloc, especially as the prevailing view within Ukraine is that it is fighting on behalf of the whole of Europe against an old enemy with hegemonic aspirations. This opinion is shared by other regional countries such as Poland, Finland and the Baltic states, whose proximity to Russia and the war feels too close for comfort. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has become a vocal advocate for increased support for Ukraine, arguing that NATO countries should not heed Russian warnings against their involvement, as “defence is not an escalation.” Kallas also recently expressed her disbelief that NATO countries on the whole are still not spending the expected minimum two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, despite the fact that a war is currently being waged on European soil. Estonia has set its defence spending at 3.2 per cent of its GDP, while the Czech Republic is spending around 1.5 per cent on its defence. This puts Estonia more in line with Poland, which made headlines last summer as it became the highest-spending country in the Alliance when it comes to its defence budget, at 3.9 per cent, with plans to increase this to over four per cent in 2024 according to former Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Beyond Central and Eastern Europe, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has also been critical of the commitment that other European countries have shown with regards to the conflict. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in February, she reiterated that Denmark has agreed to transfer its entire stock of artillery to Ukraine, and lashed out at countries that continue to hold on to their own stockpiles whilst seeking the production of new equipment for the Ukrainian armed forces.

Other concerns have also been rising as the war drags on and NATO countries find themselves increasingly involved in it. The Czech ammunition package is one way of enabling Ukraine to defend itself, but there have been murmurings about the possibility of sending EU troops to Ukraine as well. This is something Russian President Vladimir Putin expressly warned western nations against in his annual address to the nation at the end of February. The Russian president claimed that the consequences for any countries sending troops to Ukraine would be “tragic”, and reiterated that his country had nuclear weapons capable of hitting NATO territory. At a conference held in Paris to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that there was no current intention to send European troops to Ukraine, but added that “nothing should be excluded” in ensuring that Russia does not win the war. This echoed remarks made earlier in the year by the head of the British army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, who suggested in January that the UK should be training a citizens’ army to protect the nation from the potential threat of an attack by Russia. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico has also suggested that some western leaders are in discussions with Ukraine regarding the possibility of sending in their own troops, but did not name them. From the Czech side, this is not a prospect that is currently under official consideration, as the Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said in February that Czech soldiers will absolutely not be sent to Ukrainian territory.

Hope for the future

From the Ukrainians’ perspective, however, it is not enough for Ukraine to win the war, it must also follow that Russia is completely defeated to deter it from taking similar action again in the future. European nations are currently maintaining broad support for the Ukrainian cause amongst their populations, while the narrative is framed as protecting an innocent nation from an invading aggressor. However, as the war progresses to its later stages, European leaders may find it challenging to maintain support for the humiliating defeat of a long-feared adversary. That support would likely disappear almost completely if European troops were mobilized and sent to a foreign country to defend it from such an adversary. Not only would the individual loss of life of any European soldiers engaged in ground combat in Ukraine cause a domestic headache for the leaders of their home countries, but the idea of a war between NATO and Russia, both heavily armed and with nuclear weapons, is unpalatable to many on the continent. Continuing to arm Ukraine with ammunition and equipment may feel like a diplomatic tightrope for western leaders but it is much simpler than the alternative. If western nations are able to outsource the defence of Ukraine to keep the conflict away from their own populations, then the taboo of a war between Russia and NATO appears less of a threat.

Now that the funds have been secured, the Czech shipment of artillery shells will ultimately constitute a small victory for Ukraine and its allies, although it remains to be seen whether this package will be able to significantly move the needle on the battlefield as things stand. The shells being sent in the new consignment will not enable the Ukrainian side to outgun the Russians. Despite this, they will come as a welcome boost to exhausted supplies and should allow for more strategic decisions on the front lines. It will also send a strong signal to Russia of western nations’ continued support for the Ukrainian cause, and the impact that even relatively smaller countries like the Czech Republic can have in the worst conflict Europe has seen since the Second World War. For battle-weary Ukrainian soldiers whose survival relies upon the consistent support of allies, this package cannot come soon enough. 

Emily Rowland holds a BA in Modern Languages and an MSt in Slavonic Studies from the University of Oxford. Her research interests include social and geopolitical issues affecting the Central and Eastern European region.

Please support New Eastern Europe's crowdfunding campaign. Donate by clicking on the button below.


, , , , ,


Terms of Use | Cookie policy | Copyryight 2024 Kolegium Europy Wschodniej im. Jana Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego 31-153 Kraków
Agencja digital: hauerpower studio krakow.
We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active
Poniższa Polityka Prywatności – klauzule informacyjne dotyczące przetwarzania danych osobowych w związku z korzystaniem z serwisu internetowego https://neweasterneurope.eu/ lub usług dostępnych za jego pośrednictwem Polityka Prywatności zawiera informacje wymagane przez przepisy Rozporządzenia Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady 2016/679 w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (RODO). Całość do przeczytania pod tym linkiem
Save settings
Cookies settings