Official: Czech artillery initiative could deliver far more than announced, if funding found

A fresh Russian offensive targeted at Kharkiv puts Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Putin’s aggression under renewed focus. It may also increase the importance of a Czech initiative to provide large amounts of artillery ammunition to Ukraine, funded by partner states, which is set to begin next month.

Czech President Petr Pavel made world headlines in February when he said at the Munich Security Conference that his country could secure 800,000 artillery shells for Ukraine – if partner states provided the funding.

Photo: Nadační fond pro Ukrajinu

What became known as the “Czech initiative” earned international plaudits and was celebrated domestically as one of the most successful diplomatic efforts in the state’s modern history.

Though there have been some questions along the way about Prague’s ability to deliver, Czech leaders have repeatedly said June is when deliveries of the artillery procured under the scheme will begin.

But, especially with Ukraine facing fresh Russian pressure on its second city Kharkiv, what is happening with the initiative behind the scenes?

Tomáš Kopečný is Czech government commissioner for the reconstruction of Ukraine, and one of the architects of the munitions drive.

“When you start to discuss it in February and somebody signs up to it politically in March then, for the most part, the processing of the transfer of the funds takes place in April.

Tomáš Kopečný | Photo: Ľubomír Smatana,  Czech Radio

"It takes a certain number of weeks from when a prime minister backs it to it going through parliament – and for budgetary measures to be implemented and the money to arrive, virtually, in some account where a Czech subject can work with it.

"Some states still haven’t done all this, after three months.”

Mr. Kopečný told Czech Radio this week that the initiative in some ways expands on the hitherto approach of the Prague government, which has been a steadfast supporter of Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion began.

“Supplies from Czechia are regular and constant. Things are already working now in the way that they will from June. Every month, in fact every two weeks, we supply relatively major deliveries of large calibre munitions.

"But thanks to the fact we’ve received world attention – and related funding – the volume we send every month will be multiplied, mainly thanks to money from Denmark and the Netherlands.”

The initial figure quoted by President Pavel was 800,000. However, the government commissioner for the reconstruction of Ukraine says far more is possible, if partner states reach into their coffers.

“To be perfectly honest, the numbers game is built on a certain expectation management, in terms of communication with the Ukrainian Army and, above all, the donors.

"We are capable of delivering one million pieces of large calibre munitions – at the same pace at which we can deliver the 500,000 that we already have the money for.

"The problem is we don’t have the money. But we could also supply three million. It’s just a question of funding.”

Authors: Ian Willoughby , Šárka Fenyková
run audio