A year ago, during a meeting at the Ramstein airbase in Germany, Ukrainian government officials pleaded with their Western counterparts to provide whatever weapons or ammunition they could after Russia’s failed siege of Kiev caused their stocks are almost exhausted.
Now in a better position, Ukrainian officials said this week they wanted to discuss their path to victory when they met allies once again in Ramstein on Friday. Ukraine’s troops are preparing for another counteroffensive that will include a plethora of Western military equipment provided by the United States and other countries present.
kyiv’s new hope is that, at some point, its attacks could also include larger Western air and naval systems.
“There is a very palpable conviction among the participants that Ukraine should win. That it will be a joint success,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told NBC News regarding deliberations at the latest meeting in Ramstein. “The partners make it clear that they will provide support for as long as it is needed. The trajectory for us has changed from survival to victory.”
The group, an initiative of more than 50 countries, including the US and all 30 NATO member states, is meeting for the 11th time at Ramstein Air Base. Nearly a year ago, the group met for the first time after Russia’s withdrawal from kyiv. Ukraine was preparing for a counter-offensive around the then-occupied city of Kharkiv, the eventual success of which liberated the region.
Currently, a months-long stalemate between the two sides near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine continues to add to casualties and burn ammunition stockpiles. Kiev officials came into the meeting on Friday with new goals as they prepare for their latest counter-offensive that they hope will put the Kremlin on the back burner.
Three Ukrainian defense officials involved in the talks have said in previous meetings that they successfully lobbied for Western support and equipment, especially tanks. German Leopard 2s and British Challenger 2s are already in the country and the US-made M1 Abrams is expected to arrive in the coming months.
That means, the officials said, Ukraine is pushing to build coalitions focused on boosting security in the Black Sea, as well as fighter jets. “This is the future of Ramstein,” said one of the officials. “Moving towards more sophisticated platforms”.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Black Sea, bounded by Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia and Romania, has been a security problem ever since Russia launched its bloody invasion of Ukraine. Both sides depend on the sea for trade, and a blockade of Moscow last year nearly sparked a global food crisis.
Ukraine is likely to have to deal with Moscow’s naval power at some point. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is currently headquartered in Crimea, a territory occupied by Russia since 2014 and the main objective of Ukraine. It is unclear what naval efforts Ukraine might undertake, as its maritime capabilities are limited, but its coastal defenses have kept Russia at bay.
UK Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace told NBC News last week that Ukraine’s efforts in the Black Sea could force the Kremlin’s hand.
“He is a brave Russian captain who is going to put a ship anywhere near the Ukrainian coast right now,” Wallace said. «And depending on what happens, the counter-offensive, I think those are the kinds of major moves that will make Russia maybe think it’s really time to negotiate.»
As for fighter jets, the Biden administration has resisted providing them thus far. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed the importance of ground-based air defense weapons when reporters asked in Ramstein on Friday about Ukraine’s requests for US F-16s.
Two Pentagon documents allegedly leaked by a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman appear to show that Ukraine is using large amounts of its air defense munitions while fending off relentless Russian missile and drone attacks. Without more ammunition and air support, Russia could potentially secure air superiority and start flying fighter jets over areas held by Ukrainian troops, according to one of the two documents, dated February 28.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, also told Ramstein’s news conference along with Austin that the entire day had been spent on air defense discussions. He said decisions on the supply of F-16 fighter jets are «matters of policy to be made by political leaders.»
Yuriy Sak, Reznikiov’s adviser, said kyiv is realistic and knows that they will not get fighter jets overnight. But, he added, the planes would be needed to win the war, so Ukraine will not let up on the pressure campaign.
“This war is far from over. Russia is not going away. Russia also shows no signs of wanting to stop this war,” Sak said. «In order for us to be more efficient and successful on the battlefield, we’re going to need fighter jets, we’re going to need F-16s, because they’re going to give us air superiority in the long run.»
Still, Ukrainian officials acknowledged that they have come a long way.
At the start of the war, Ukraine was just over six to eight weeks away from running out of ammunition, officials said.
Since then, the dynamics have changed a lot from last year, when few countries were willing to send ammunition to Ukraine and private sellers «sold only on full prepaid terms,» they said.
“In the period before Ramstein , we tried all ways to acquire weapons and ammunition,” said one official, noting that Ukraine had to learn to buy large quantities of weapons very quickly since the war. “We got some help, but we also bought whatever we could get our hands on.”
Buying as much as they can is still a tactic, but it has become increasingly difficult to acquire weapons and ammunition as demand increases globally. Arms manufacturers are struggling to meet the need, and countries helping Ukraine are beginning to see their own supplies run out.
Pentagon officials said during a briefing last month that the United States will do whatever it takes to ramp up production and resolve potential bottlenecks within the defense industry.
“Make no mistake,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said at the briefing, “we are buying up to industrial base limits even as we are expanding those limits, and we continue to cut red tape and speed up timelines. ”