West races to procure Soviet arms – media
The US and its NATO allies have been scouring behind the former Iron Curtain – searching in Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries – to find factories that can make ammunition for Ukraine’s Soviet-standard weapons, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Even as they send billions of dollars’ worth of modern weaponry to Kiev, Western bloc governments can’t supply the Soviet-type artillery shells and other munitions on which Ukraine’s military still relies, the newspaper said. As a result, they have turned to Bulgaria and other countries that were formerly in the “Soviet orbit” to help produce the weaponry that Ukraine needs to battle Russian forces.
The search has required secrecy to avoid “political fallout and Russian retaliation” because, as in the case of Bulgaria, the local populations are largely pro-Russian, the Times said. Revelations last summer that Sofia was supplying weapons to Ukraine, despite strong opposition, ignited political uproar.
The report cited the addition of a new production line at a plant in Kostenets, Bulgaria, that will soon resume making 122-millimeter artillery shells for the first time since 1988. Another state-run Bulgarian arms factory, located in the small town of Sopot, will also be ramping up output to supply Ukrainian forces.
Brokers with US-supplied cash are also looking to plants in Serbia, Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina as possible suppliers of Soviet-type shells, according to the report. Luxembourg has tapped an arms maker in the Czech Republic to procure arms for Ukraine.
The scramble for Soviet weapons comes amid struggles by NATO members to produce ammunition fast enough to replace the shells that are being fired off each day in Ukraine. Kiev is burning through weaponry at a rate “many times higher” than its Western allies can produce it, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned earlier this month.
The UK government has formed a secret task force to find suppliers of Soviet-type weapons for Ukraine. Both the US and the UK have funded deals using brokers to help former Eastern Bloc manufacturers and their governments hide their involvement in the conflict, the Times said. In one case, the British paid a Romanian broker to buy artillery shells from a Pakistani arms maker. As it turned out, the Pakistani supplier failed to deliver the munitions.