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Western officials warn munition shortages could be catastrophic for Ukraine as US stalls on providing more aid

By Natasha Bertrand and Katie Bo Lillis, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine’s shortage of ammunition and military equipment resulting from the US and its allies’ struggle to resupply the country’s military is having an increasingly dire effect on the battlefield, US and NATO officials are warning, as Russia intensifies its attacks on Kyiv’s dwindling air defenses knowing that they likely won’t be replenished anytime soon.

The Ukrainian military is “experiencing shortages in air defense munitions, mostly in the medium to long range,” a NATO official said on Wednesday. “It’s not just that we know that. It’s that Russia knows that. So Russia is using drones and missiles in ways that are really explicitly designed to deplete Ukrainian air defense systems.”

Ukraine has been rationing its air defenses for about a month now, said another person familiar with western intelligence. The Ukrainians had limited systems to start with, including the US and German-provided Patriot systems around Kyiv, some S-200 and S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, and some older, retrofitted Soviet launchers that they have been using to fire western missiles like Sidewinders, this person said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the battlefield situation for Ukraine “difficult” and “serious” on Thursday. He said that NATO foreign ministers who met this week in Brussels agreed to check their countries’ inventories to see if they have any additional air defense systems, particularly Patriots, that they can share with Ukraine.

But Ukraine is running out of munitions for their air defense systems quickly, and the US will not be able to resupply them until the administration secures supplemental funding from Congress. Last fall, the administration asked Congress for more than $60 billion in additional funds to help support Ukraine, but more than 6 months later the funding has not passed amid opposition from Republican lawmakers.

“There are things in the pipeline being procured, being produced, but not in a timeline over the next few months that would be sufficient for the gaps, because we don’t have the funding,” a senior defense official said last month.

‘Tough decisions’

The official suggested that by now, the Ukrainians must be making “tough decisions” on where to prioritize their air defenses because of the dwindling supply. And the separate shortages of artillery ammunition could be “potentially catastrophic” for Ukraine in the short term, the official added.

Russia, meanwhile, maintains a “significant quantitative advantage” over Ukraine in terms of munitions, manpower, and equipment, the NATO official said, and is likely recruiting roughly 30,000 additional personnel per month. Russia has continued a “gradual advance” west of Avdiivka over the last month, the official said, but it is continuing to build momentum and take advantage of the fact that Ukraine has fewer fixed, well-defended positions in urban areas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that Ukraine has managed to “stabilize” the situation but predicted that Russia could launch a new major offensive by May or June that will be difficult to defeat without significantly ramped up western support.

The NATO official said that as of now, Russia appears to lack the necessary maneuver units to mount such a large-scale, successful attack. US officials are growing increasingly concerned, however, that Ukraine’s frontline positions may not be resilient enough to fend off Russia’s ongoing advances, especially given their acute shortages of artillery ammunition.

One significant breakthrough in the frontline could open the floodgates to a Russian onslaught, one US official warned, and it has been difficult to determine just how fortified the Ukrainian positions are right now.

Russia has been able to make some “tactical” advances, the NATO official acknowledged, despite Ukraine’s attempts to fortify the frontline with anti-tank Dragon’s Teeth obstacles and ditches, infantry trenches, and minefields.

“It’s still relatively small advances that are being made there” by the Russians, the official said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned at all because strategic advances are made up of a lot of tactical advances.”

Energy sector attacks yielding success

However, though the situation is dire, Ukraine has had some successes. Attacks on Russia’s energy sector have had a notable impact.

Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian oil refineries using long-range drones are “imposing financial costs on Russia and impacting the domestic fuel market,” the NATO official said.

The assessment is notable given that US officials have expressed misgivings over the Ukrainian attacks on Russian energy infrastructure, reiterating that the US does not encourage or enable Ukrainian strikes inside Russian territory.

“We understand the calls of our American partners” to halt the attacks, Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna said during remarks at a security forum in Kyiv last month. “At the same time, we are fighting with the capabilities, resources and practices that are available to us today.”

The NATO official said the attacks on the refineries are having a “significant” impact, disrupting as much as 15% of Russia’s refinery capacity. Rebuilding that capacity will likely take “considerable time and expense,” the official said.

As a result of the Ukrainian strikes, Russia has had to significantly increase its gasoline imports from Belarus and has even imposed a 6-month ban on exports in order to stabilize domestic prices, the official said.

“We are seeing fewer and fewer of these types of Russian energy critical infrastructures that are safe from potential strikes, and a greater and greater impact on the Russian economy,” the official said.

Period of attrition

US and western officials broadly recognize, however, that while it is possible the Russians manage to pull off a battlefield upset, the prospects for a significant breakthrough on either side of the war this year are low. That is why they believe it is critical for the west to continue to support Ukraine through this period of attrition.

To that end, Stoltenberg is considering a range of options to shore up long-term support for Ukraine, including establishing a fund of $100 billion over five years from the alliance members, CNN reported on Wednesday.

While the fund would not be large enough to support Ukraine’s war effort against Russia indefinitely, it would give the country a base of support that NATO officials view as vital as allies worry about Donald Trump securing a second term in November that could mean the US will be unwilling to provide any more support to Kyiv.

One of the other ideas under consideration includes NATO taking over the leadership of the Pentagon- led Ukraine Contact Defense Group, which is the central node coordinating the logistics of weapons deliveries into Ukraine.

“Allies agreed to move forward with planning for a greater NATO role in coordinating necessary security assistance and training for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

The secretary general detailed that it is necessary “to establish a stronger and more robust and more predictable framework for the long-term support” of Ukraine, so that the country is “less dependent on ad hoc, voluntary, short-term announcements.”

CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed reporting.

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