European leaders brace for ‘some kind of a new cold war’ with Russia

This month, Häkkänen’s government announced it is doubling its production of ammunition, committing to send much of it to Ukraine as it struggles with thinning supplies from Western allies and the slow buildup of production capabilities in the U.S. and Europe. He declined to disclose how large the new output will be, or identify the exact munitions that will be involved.

With about $25 million in seed money from the government along with multiyear contracts to guarantee that the work continues in the coming years, the project is also being funded by new investments from NAMMO, the Norwegian defense firm with a large presence in Finland. The production increases will reach their peak by 2027.

Public and private investments, plus long-term purchase contracts will total $1.3 billion from 2024 to 2030.

Those kinds of long-term contracts have proven a major hurdle for American and European governments, which have been reluctant to make guaranteed commitments to defense spending in future years. But without them, even some major defense companies have been reluctant to invest their own money in weapons critical to the war in Ukraine, fearing that the resolve of governments will eventually falter.

The European Union announced an ambitious goal in early 2023 of shipping 1 million 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine by the end of the year, setting aside $1.1 billion to compensate countries for the effort. That plan fell short of its initial promise, however,
with about 300,000 shells
having been sent by November.

While the battlefield is frozen, over the long term “Ukraine has a good chance to win this because Western countries have bigger economic muscles and can ramp up their defense industry to the kind of levels that Russia can’t compete with,” Häkkänen added. “We can do it, and Ukraine can, but it needs decisive steps from Western countries.”

Other European officials share his concern.

Belgian Defense Chief Michel Hofman, while visiting Belgian soldiers stationed in Romania this week,
warned that Russia
has “already shown that they have the will to attack a neighbor,” and “it is absolutely possible that they will also have other ideas later. Either in the south in Moldova or the Baltic states.”

And while visiting the Ukrainian capital on Monday,
Czech President Petr Pavel said
“we are very likely to see some significant developments” throughout 2024 in the conduct of the war, not all of which will be welcomed in Western capitals.

“The indications so far are that it will not be, in the best sense of the word, as we would like it to be,” he said, adding that Russia’s renewed industrial capacity will begin to create “a new situation that we will have to deal with.”

In Washington, the Biden administration
has run out of money to supply Ukraine
with new weapons and equipment, and is waiting on $60 billion contained in a larger supplemental request that’s hung up in Congress due to border policy.

The issue of increasing production, and finding ways for American defense companies to partner with their Ukrainian counterparts,
was the focus of a trip
by top Ukrainian officials to Washington this month.

During that visit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy privately told a group of analysts that he is in desperate need of more air defenses, revealing that he has only a “handful” of air-defense missiles to protect Kyiv,
POLITICO reported

While the Ukrainian leader made sure to sound confident about his country’s prospects, the dwindling artillery stockpiles and the number of Russian missiles and drones that Moscow can launch at civilians across Ukraine is a real worry.

In Europe, a $54 billion European Union financial assistance package for Ukraine
has also been held up
due to Hungarian objections, scuttling the needed unanimous decision by the 27-member organization.

Some European countries, such as Germany, have recently increased military assistance to Ukraine, and a handful of British and German defense firms have signed small-scale co-production agreements with Ukrainian companies for the repair of armored vehicles, and building new artillery systems inside Ukraine.

Those initial steps toward rebuilding Ukraine’s defense industry are part of a wider recognition that the war will continue as Russian forces have scraped out some territorial gains in the east in recent weeks in new, bloody winter offensives.

Part of the issue with increased military production in the West, Häkkänen said, was the slow recognition that Russia’s full-scale invasion permanently changed the political landscape of Europe.

“I think many Western countries were thinking that this was a short-term” problem, he said. “But now I think that in the U.S. and in NATO countries, almost everyone knows that this is the end of the last 30 years” since the Soviet Union fell. “Now we’re going into some kind of a new cold war.”