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Exclusive: Russia produces three times more artillery than the US and Europe produce for Ukraine

Russia appears to be on track to produce nearly three times as much artillery ammunition as the United States and Europe, a key advantage ahead of what is expected to be another Russian offensive into Ukraine later this year.

Russia produces about 250,000 artillery shells a month, or about 3 million a year, according to NATO intelligence estimates of Russian defense production shared with NATO. CNN as well as sources familiar with Western efforts to arm Ukraine.

Collectively, the US and Europe have the capacity to generate only about 1.2 million munitions annually to send to Kiev, a senior European intelligence official told CNN .

The US military has set a goal of producing 100,000 artillery rounds per month by the end of 2025 – less than half of Russia's monthly production – and even that number is now out of reach with $60 billion in funding for Ukraine stalled. in Congress, a senior Army official told reporters last week.

“We are now in a production war,” the NATO official told CNN . “The outcome in Ukraine depends on how each side is equipped to conduct this war.”

Officials say Russia currently fires about 10,000 shells a day, compared with just 2,000 a day from the Ukrainian side. The ratio is worse in some places along the nearly 1,000-kilometre front line, according to a European intelligence official.

The deficit comes at perhaps the most dangerous time for Ukraine's war effort since Russia first marched on Kiev in February 2022. U.S. money to arm Ukraine has run out and Republican opposition in Congress has effectively stopped giving more.

However, Russia recently seized the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka and is widely seen as having the initiative on the battlefield. Ukraine is struggling not only with ammunition, but also with growing labor shortages on the front lines.

The US and its allies have provided Ukraine with a series of highly sophisticated systems, including the M-1 Abrams tank and, soon, F-16 fighter jets. But military analysts say the war will likely be won or lost based on who fires the most artillery shells.

“The number one issue we are looking at right now is munitions,” the NATO official said. “It’s these artillery shells, because that’s where Russia really [está] gaining a significant production advantage and a significant battlefield advantage.”

Russian war machine “at full steam”

Russia runs artillery factories “24/7” on rotating 12-hour shifts, the NATO official said. Around 3.5 million Russians currently work in the defense sector, compared to between 2 and 2.5 million before the war.

Russia also imports ammunition: Iran sent at least 300,000 artillery shells last year — “probably more than that,” the official said — and North Korea supplied at least 6,700 ammunition containers containing millions of shells.

Russia “has put everything it has at stake,” the intelligence official said. “Their war machine is running at full speed.”

A rough equivalent in the US would be if President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act, a US official said, which gives the president the power to order companies to quickly produce equipment to support the country's national defense.

Russia's acceleration is not yet enough to meet its needs, U.S. and Western officials say, and Western intelligence officials do not expect Russia to make major gains on the battlefield in the near term.

There is also a limit to Russian production capacity, officials say: Russian factories will likely reach a peak sometime next year. But it is still far beyond what the US and Europe are producing for Ukraine – especially without additional US funding.

Competing with the Putin-run economy

European nations are trying to make up the deficit. A German defense company announced last month that it plans to open a munitions factory in Ukraine that it says will produce hundreds of thousands of 155mm caliber bullets every year. In Germany, the same company began construction of a new factory that should produce around 200,000 artillery shells per year.

US and Western officials insist that although Russia has been able to boost its production lines, in part because it has the advantage of being an autocrat-run economy, Western capitalist nations will eventually catch up and produce better equipment.

“If we can really get the economy under control, then we can probably move forward a little bit faster than other countries out there,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, in an interview with CNN . But, he said, “the West will have more sustaining power. The West is just beginning to build the infrastructure to add the necessary munitions capacity.”

When money was still flowing, the U.S. Army expanded artillery ammunition production in Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Texas.

“Russian production is 24/7. I mean, huge, huge,” said one European lawmaker. “We must not underestimate their willingness to wear us down with patience and resilience.”

Intelligence officials believe neither side is poised to make major gains imminently, but the overall math favors Moscow in the long run — especially if additional U.S. aid fails to materialize.

“It’s not going well, but it all depends,” said a source familiar with Western intelligence. “If help starts again and comes quickly, all will not be lost.”

Targeting Ukraine's weapons production

Russia has also recently attacked Ukraine's domestic defense production with its long-range weapons.

“If we were talking about this last fall, we would have talked about how they were targeting critical infrastructure,” the NATO official said. “Now what we see are some targets in critical infrastructure, but also many targets in the Ukrainian defense industrial base.”

According to the senior NATO official, Russia produces between 115 to 130 long-range missiles and 300 to 350 unidirectional attack drones based on an Iranian model supplied by Tehran every month. While before the war Russia had a stockpile of thousands of long-range missiles in its arsenal, today it stands at around 700, the official said.

The Russians have lately retained these weapons to use in large bursts to try to overwhelm Ukrainian missile defenses. And they compensated by increasing drone use, sending an average of four times more drones per month than last winter.

Perhaps Russia's biggest challenge has been the production of tanks and other armored vehicles. The country produces around 125 tanks per month, but the vast majority are older models that have been refurbished. About 86% of main battle tanks produced by Russia in 2023 have been refurbished, the NATO official said.

Although Russia has about 5,000 tanks in storage, “probably a large percentage of them cannot be renewed and only serve to cannibalize parts,” the official said.

Moscow has lost at least 2,700 tanks, more than double the total number it initially sent to Ukraine in February 2022 when the invasion began.

Russia’s “transformed” economy

Officials are also closely watching Russia's economy for signs of how the interplay between an overstretched defense sector, Western sanctions and Putin's efforts to prepare his economy for war are impacting Russia's ability to sustain conflict. .

The war has absolutely “transformed” Russia’s economy, the NATO official said, from the post-Soviet period when oil was the leading sector. Now defense is the biggest sector of the Russian economy and oil is paying for it.

This creates some long-term imbalances that are likely to be problematic for Russia, but for now it is working, said the NATO official and Basham, the U.S. European Command official.

“In the short term – say, the next 18 months or so – it may not be sophisticated, but it is a durable economy,” the NATO official said.

The Pentagon is weighing whether to turn to its last remaining source of funding — but has previously been reluctant to spend any of that remaining money without guarantees it would be reimbursed by Congress, because withdrawing from the Defense Department's arsenals with no plan to replace it this equipment could impact U.S. military readiness.

“If no more US aid arrives, will the Ukrainians change the way they feel about the negotiations?” said the source familiar with Western intelligence.

*With information from Jennifer Hansler, from CNN.

Source: CNN Brasil

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