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Ukraine rallies US support as Germany rules out ammunition goal

US State Department official Chris Smith (right) greets Ukraine's Head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak before an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the National Archives in Washington, DC, on Sept. 21, 2023.    (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Iain Marlow, Natalia Drozdiak and Katharina Rosskopf Bloomberg News

Ukraine is trying to win over doubters in the U.S. to back a fresh push against occupying Russian forces before the presidential election.

Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, met with national security advisers from key allies during a visit to Washington amid opposition among some Republicans to continued support. As Yermak said he was preparing to meet U.S. lawmakers Tuesday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that the European Union won’t meet a pledge to send Ukraine 1 million artillery shells by the end of March.

“The one million will not be reached, one must assume that,” Pistorius told reporters Tuesday ahead of talks with E.U. counterparts in Brussels. “It’s the right question if the one million was ever realistic.”

Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been seen as making limited progress since the summer with allies bracing for a long war, while Moscow has also received supplies from North Korea and continues to shop around for Soviet-era shells. The German minister’s comments come after Bloomberg reported that the E.U.’s foreign policy arm, the European External Action Service, briefed E.U. diplomats last week that the bloc would likely miss the March 2024 target.

The bloc is missing its ammunition goal for Ukraine just as the Israel-Hamas war raises questions about whether the U.S. and allies may be distracted from helping the government in Kyiv fend off Russia’s invasion. Despite vows to maintain support, the E.U. is struggling to agree to different pots of funding for Ukraine and plans for a 12th Russian sanctions package have also taken longer than planned.

Asked about the comments from Pistorius, Thierry Breton, the E.U. commissioner responsible for implementing the ammunition plan, said a goal to produce 1 million shells per year “will be met.”

While Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s army commander-in-chief, recently told the Economist that the war was a “stalemate,” Yermak struck a more defiant tone, saying Kyiv’s counteroffensive was progressing, with Ukraine’s armed forces taking a foothold on the left, or eastern, bank of the Dnipro River. He called for more sanctions and additional weapons systems to help strengthen his country’s air defenses before another expected Russian assault on civilian energy infrastructure with the approach of winter.

“A turning point in the war is approaching,” Yermak, head of the office of the president of Ukraine, said during an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington on Monday evening. “The next year will be decisive.”

The Pentagon this month urged Congress to break a deadlock and approve the Biden administration’s $61.4 billion request for emergency funds for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, part of a $106 billion package that would include aid for Israel and the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans in the House of Representatives have sought to separate the aid for Ukraine and Israel, an idea the White House opposes.

Yermak met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisers from the U.S., Germany, U.K. and France while in Washington. The State Department said in a statement that Blinken “underscored ongoing U.S. work together with our global coalition of more than 50 allies and partners to provide Ukraine the support it needs.”