“It can definitely make a difference”: Pavel announces major shells plan for Ukraine

Petr Pavel

President Petr Pavel made international headlines at the Munich Security Conference when he said Czechia could secure about 800,000 artillery shells for Ukraine – if partner states provided the funding. How realistic is this plan? And what would such a delivery mean for the Kyiv government? I spoke to international affairs and security expert Michal Smetana of Charles University.

“It may be realistic. It’s important to know that we are not talking about shells that are available in the Czech Republic – we are talking about shells that in partner countries abroad.

Michal Smetana | Photo: Karolína Němcová,  Český rozhlas

“These shouldn’t be any NATO countries. These are probably third countries, which means, let’s say, that they are countries that we work with but they are not necessarily NATO or EU allies.

“We don’t know which countries we are talking about. This is by design, because these countries are for some reasons not ready to disclose it officially, maybe because they are concerned about their own relationship with Russia. So there is going to be some secrecy around it.

“But overall, this is realistic. There are many countries that produce a substantial amount of shells and ammunition that could be used in Ukraine.

“And if the Czech Republic and some other countries were mediators they would be purchasing this ammunition and delivering it to Ukraine. This sounds like a good strategy and a realistic strategy, for sure.”

President Pavel said these shells would be funded by Czechia’s partners, by other countries. Do you think he would have announced this idea if there were not already agreements in place with other countries for the initiative?

“Obviously I don’t know. But I believe that it’s pretty feasible that even without prior agreement there would be partners that would be able and willing to fund it.

“Overall the EU are behind their own schedule for delivering their own shells to Ukraine, and they would very much welcome any kind of deal that would allow them to transfer munitions without going to their own stocks, or their own production.

“So I have zero doubt that the Czech Republic, even without prior arrangement, would be able to find international partners among NATO countries to deliver these shells.”

Speaking of the EU, would it be significant at European level if Czechia took the lead on something like this? For example, would it maybe make some bigger states look bad if a relatively small state was taking the lead on this?

“I don’t think it would necessarily make other countries look bad.

“This might be an initiative that would be looked at in a positive light with respect to the Czech Republic, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it necessarily says something bad about other countries.

“It’s a good initiative that makes sense. And let’s not forget that we still need the funding from these other countries, so if Germany, for example, or the UK or Sweden, would be chipping in and providing money for this then this is really win-win, in my view.”

To me as a lay person, 800,000 artillery shells sounds like a lot, but I don’t know how long that would possibly last the Ukrainians. How significant would such a delivery be for Ukraine in their war effort?

“It is significant. I believe we are talking about 500,000 155mm artillery shells, which are the standard NATO shells, and around 300,000 122mm shells, which is more like Soviet-style artillery.

Photo: Roman Chop,  ČTK/AP

“Overall this is important, especially now. Generally Ukraine is suffering from so-called ‘shell hunger’ – they don’t have enough ammunition at the critical parts of the front, so they need this urgently.

“This deal would not solve all of Ukraine’s problems, absolutely not. But it’s going to be a significant help and it can definitely make a difference on the battlefields.”

In Munich President Pavel warned against fatigue – people getting tired of supporting Ukraine. Do you get any sense here in Prague that there’s any fatigue on the part of the Czech government, or Czech leaders?

“Well, I would say that fatigue is very much widespread in the West.

“One thing is to what extent the politicians are experiencing fatigue, another question is to what extent their voters are experiencing this fatigue.

“I believe that there will be many parties across the Western countries that would tap into this kind of fatigue and discontent and, let’s say, use it for their own political purposes by appealing to their own voters: that the war is going on too long and there is no victory for Ukraine in sight, that Russia is clearly winning anyway and that we should stop the slaughter, stop delivering ammunition and push Ukraine to negotiate.

“So, it’s a more complex interaction between fatigue, which may be increasing and widespread, and political dynamics, where some actors can take advantage of that and use it for their own purpose – which, again, feeds the perception of voters that this really doesn’t make any sense and that we should stop supporting Ukraine.

“Which, in my view, would be a big problem.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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