The Global Partnership Supporting Arms For Ukraine: Secretary of State Blinken Visits France


By Pierre Tran

Versailles, France – The U.S. defense industry had much to gain if Congress approved swiftly a stalled $61 billion package of military and financial aid for Ukraine, in its fight against “Russian aggression,” the American secretary of state said April 2.

Antony Blinken was speaking at the side of the armed forces minister, Sébastien Lecornu, who had invited the top U.S. diplomat to the French head office of KNDS, which builds the Caesar truck-mounted artillery shipped to the Ukraine army.

The request by U.S. president Joe Biden for Congressional approval should be approved “as quickly as possible,” as Ukraine was at a “critical moment,” Blinken said.

“Virtually all the money requested by Ukraine for defense will be invested in the United States to produce what is needed,” he said. This allowed “building back and strengthening the (U.S.) defense industrial base,” such as European allies were doing as they sent military support to Kyiv.

Support from the global partnership, which included the U.S., European and other allies, was “truly extraordinary,” with the partner nations sending artillery, munitions, and air defense, allowing Kyiv to resist “Russian aggression,” he said.

But the fight back against the Russian incursion is entering its third year, amid concern a Ukrainian counter-offensive has largely failed and Russian forces were overwhelming Ukraine, which suffers from expiring ammunition stocks and waning Washington support.

A lack of Congressional backing meant Ukrainian forces were running out of shells, ammunition, and other vital military means.

There is also concern among some European leaders that re-election of former president Donald Trump might lead to further weakness of political and military support for Ukraine, and ultimately a victory for the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.

Republicans have held up the aid package for Ukraine, calling for moves against crossings on the Mexican-U.S. border and spending cuts.

Blinken and Lecornu gave a brief, highly televisual news conference in a showroom of KNDS, speaking in front of a Caesar 155 mm 52 caliber cannon, mounted on a six-wheel Renault truck chassis, with nearby a display of 155 mm shells.

Lecornu warmly welcomed Blinken’s visit to the French head office of KNDS, which the minister said was at “the heart of the artillery coalition,” led by France and co-led by the U.S. to back the Ukrainian resistance against Russia.

There were mostly television crews covering that press conference, with a U.S. official asking the five Paris-based reporters and correspondents to move aside to make room for American journalists accompanying Blinken. The request was politely declined.

Blinken went on to return to the capital, where he met the French foreign minister, Stephane Sejourne, and then went on to meet the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

Lecornu declined to give a brief question-and-answer session to the pack of television crews, which followed him to the ministerial convoy of official cars and police motorbikes.

The minister’s televisual reach out to the national and foreign press follows Macron’s recent policy switch in giving highly vocal military support for Kyiv, in contrast to previous efforts to persuade Putin to a peaceful pact with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

A March 21 black-and-white photo of Macron in boxing gear and working out on a punching bag sparked speculation the French commander in chief was sending a pugilistic message to his Russian counterpart.

Caesar to Ukraine

Denmark has sent 19 Caesars to Ukraine, with France sending initially 30. Paris has also sent 21 reconditioned TRF1 155 mm towed artillery, with a reported range of 25-30 km. A specialist company, S2M Equipment, reconditioned the guns before they were shipped to Ukraine, France Bleu radio reported.

France ordered a further six Caesars to send to Ukraine, part of a total order for 78 of the French-built artillery pieces pledged by the artillery coalition backing Kyiv.

“The funding is in place,” a source close to the artillery order said.

All the 78 cannon-truck systems are to be delivered this year, the source said. That delivery schedule reflects faster production of the Caesar.

KNDS previously built two Caesar artillery systems per month before the Russian attack on Ukraine, and output has since risen to six per month, and the target is to build 12 per month.

The aim to hit that rate of 12 per month in a year’s time, with much depending on the supply chain, the source said.

Nexter, the French company in the KNDS venture with German partner Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, builds the Caesar cannon barrel at its Bourges factory, central France.

The French company has the specialist kit to build the Nato standard 155 mm shell at its factory at La Chapelle Saint-Ursin, near Bourges, and is due to add a second facility in the next few weeks. A third facility due to open in Belgium next year, seeking to boost production of artillery shells for French and Ukrainian stocks.

The company is installing a specialist machine tool which allows a soft metal to be applied to the shell. The metal expands in the cannon tube, to boost the kinetic energy to deliver the shell to a critical 40 km range.

That range, greater than the Russian artillery, gives operational advantage, the source said.

Caesar is the “flagship of French artillery,” army general Jean-Michel Guilloton told the news conference. Guilloton heads the artillery coalition, which numbers some 23 nations.

The 78-strong order of cannons is financed by France, Denmark, Ukraine, and allies in the artillery coalition, he said. The Caesar has “operational superiority” with a range of 40 km, he said, with high accuracy, mobility, and stealth. There was a choice of shells which gave a variety of “tactical effects.”

The artillery met Nato standards and is certified by the French arms procurement office, he said. There was support, which includes training of artillery officers, munitions, spare parts, and maintenance. Industrial partnerships were needed for local production and maintenance.

France supports the Czech initiative to supply Ukraine with 800,000 shells, with France supplying 3,000, with the aim of delivering 80,000 shells in 2024, he said. There was need to build the industrial capacity for shells in Nato countries and Europe, particularly, he said.

“Obviously we will welcome every support in this area,” he said.

The leading objective was to meet the urgent needs of Ukraine, he said Jan. 25 on the website of the French armed forces ministry.

It was necessary to “counterbalance” the six-to-one advantage of the Russian forces, namely for every six Russian shells hitting Ukrainian positions, the Ukrainians can only return fire with one shell, he said. The second urgent need was to provide service support, repairing broken equipment.

The long term requirement was to build a future Ukrainian artillery and make it compatible with Nato standards, he said. That called for a “real transformation” as many Ukrainian cannons dated back to the Soviet era.

Nexter received orders worth €1.5 billion last year, said a slide that Lecornu showed at a March 26 news conference on the war economy and French support for Ukraine.

Guilloton commands the artillery coalition, which Lecornu launched on Jan. 18. The allied operational coalitions for Ukraine comprise air capabilities, maritime security, ground-based air defense, armor, and artillery.

Blinken is bilingual as he spent his childhood in Paris and went to a noted bilingual school before going back to the U.S. to study at Harvard and Columbia law school.

Lecornu also studied law, at the Panthéon Assas school, Paris university, and is a colonel in the reserve of the gendarmerie nationale police force.

Nexter and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann are partners of the Franco-German KNDS venture.

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