Ukraine's air defences are at serious risk of running out of ammunition within the next few weeks unless NATO allies immediately step up arms shipments to Kyiv, according to a leak of classified US documents posted online at the end of last week.
As reported by The New York Times, one document dated 28 February estimated that Ukraine's Soviet-era S-300 and Buk air defence systems will be fully depleted by 2 May and mid-April respectively. Both systems collectively account for almost the entirety of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' defence against Russian missile and air attacks.
Another document forecast that Ukraine's air defence batteries tasked with protecting troops on the front line will be "completely reduced" by 23 May.
The documents, whose veracity has been largely confirmed to The New York Times by anonymous US officials, have exacerbated fears in Western capitals about Ukraine's continued ability to fight its war against Russia. They also echo previous explicit warnings issued by the alliance's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
"The war in Ukraine is consuming an enormous amount of munitions and depleting Allied stockpiles," Stoltenberg said in February. "The current rate of Ukraine's ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production. This puts our defence industries under strain."
A mixed signal from Kyiv
Ukrainian officials' reactions to the revelations have largely been mixed, with one presidential official claiming last Friday that the documents consist of a "very large amount of fictitious information".
"These are just standard elements of operational games by Russian intelligence," Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said in a written statement.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, however, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Yuri Ihnat effectively admitted that Ukraine was facing serious difficulties sourcing sufficient quantities of ammunition to resupply its S-300 and Buk systems. “If we lose the battle for the skies, the consequences for Ukraine will be very serious. This is not the time to procrastinate."
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Last February, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna admitted that Ukraine's ammunition stocks were dangerously low. Ukraine was estimated at the time to be firing roughly 5,000 artillery rounds every day: similar to the amount purchased by a small European country each year.
"What is of ultimate urgency is the ammunition and the artillery that we need immediately to make sure that we can operate with the new military equipment we received," Stefanishyna told The Financial Times. "We do not have this amount of ammunition that we need."
Yet Ukraine's ammunition shortages were hardly a revelation in itself. More seriously, the leaked documents reveal that the US has been pressuring South Korea to supply US-made artillery shells to Kyiv, despite Seoul's long-standing policy of not sending ammunition or arms to conflict zones.
Another document suggested that special forces units from NATO countries including the US, France, and the UK are currently active in Ukraine.