Ukrainian defense minister cancels France trip over security concerns – media
Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov has canceled a trip to meet his French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu “for security reasons,” several media outlets have reported. The two officials are instead expected to hold talks via video link later on Thursday, as Paris prepares to launch an “artillery coalition” in support of Kiev.
Le Monde and France 24 reported on Thursday that the cancellation of Umerov’s trip had been announced at the last minute. The two defense chiefs had reportedly planned to visit industrial sites in Bourges owned by weapons manufacturer Nexter, where self-propelled Caesar howitzers are assembled, as well as a facility in Selles-Saint-Denis owned by missile manufacturer MBDA.
The “artillery coalition,” led by France and the US, reportedly comprises a total of 23 nations. Lecornu previously explained that the new grouping is needed to “coordinate efforts to help Ukraine build artillery forces suitable for the needs of the counteroffensive and its future army.”
Speaking to Le Parisien daily on Thursday, the French minister revealed plans to produce 78 Caesar howitzers for Kiev this year. While Ukraine had “just bought six Caesars with its own money,” the official called on “our European partners and allies to share” the cost of the remaining pieces of military hardware.
On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated that his country would continue to stand by Ukraine, with plans to send an additional 40 SCALP air-launched long-range cruise missiles, as well as “hundreds of bombs.”
He added that he was planning to visit Ukraine in February to sign a bilateral security agreement, similar to the one between London and Kiev that was finalized last week.
These latest announcements by top French officials came off the back of a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive, which achieved no significant territorial gains but incurred heavy casualties. With Russian forces regaining the initiative along the front line recently, the Ukrainian government has been increasingly pressuring its backers for more weapons. As recently as Monday, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba urged the West to do more in this regard.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Wednesday that its precision strike on a building in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov the previous day had killed at least 60 foreign fighters and injured another 20, most of whom were believed to be French.