Ukraine Allies Back Arms and Advisers Going Deeper Into War

(Bloomberg) -- Ukrainian allies are bolstering efforts to shore up Kyiv’s defenses with the US and Germany authorizing attacks inside Russian territory and France assembling a coalition to send European military trainers into the country.

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President Joe Biden’s administration and the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz said they would allow some Ukrainian attacks inside Russia with their weapons as Kyiv fends off a fresh offensive in the northeast. The US and Germany have until now been particularly cautious about such strikes because of the risk of a broader conflict.

French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile is in talks to forge a coalition aimed at sending military training personnel into Ukraine, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. He may unveil the effort at a World War II commemoration ceremony in Normandy on June 6, they said.

The new initiatives by top NATO allies mark a shift as Russia’s war against Ukraine drags well into its third year and momentum has swung to the Kremlin, which has exploited Kyiv’s dwindling ammunition stocks and manpower. As US weaponry makes its way to the front line after months of delay, allies are keen to repel a counteroffensive by Moscow that’s involved gains in Ukraine’s east and a fresh attack on the northeast.

“The hallmark of our engagement, our support for Ukraine over these more than two years has been to adapt and adjust as necessary to meet what’s actually going on on the battlefield,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Prague on Friday. Scholz’s chief spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said Germany is “continuously adapting” its support.

The training assistance, focusing on areas such as de-mining and equipment maintenance, would initially involve a limited number of personnel before dispatching a larger group potentially numbering in the hundreds, one of the people said. NATO members from the Baltic region, including Lithuania and Estonia, have already expressed willingness to send trainers to Ukraine.

Macron may announce the coalition at the anniversary of D-Day, marking World War II allies’ 1944 ground invasion of Europe ahead of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

“Lithuania, if needed, maybe would train them also in Ukraine in partnership with countries that would be willing to do so,” Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte told Bloomberg Television in an interview in Singapore Friday. Estonia’s defense minister told Bloomberg earlier this week that his government is “open to discuss” the possibility.

Some North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have quietly sent advisers to help Ukrainian forces operate western equipment, but sending more coordinated groups of personnel to aid in Ukraine’s defense would amount to a significant step by allies in the military alliance.

Crimea Strikes

Ukrainian forces have also been intensifying their activities. Kyiv’s security agency, the SBU, and the navy carried out attacks to disrupt military logistics between Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014, and the Russian mainland, according to an official familiar with the operation. The efforts included a strike on a fuel depot, ferries and a radar installation to hinder Russia’s military efforts, the official said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made clear he would welcome a training mission, an option he’s discussed with allies, which can assist with de-mining and equipment repair.

“It is faster than going to France for example, or even to Poland,” Zelenskiy told reporters earlier this month. “This all will open a new page in the war.”

The Ukrainian leader made a round of diplomatic visits ahead of a summit meeting in Switzerland next month to advance Kyiv’s peace plans. He arrived in Stockholm Friday, where he signed security agreements with Nordic nations a day after Sweden announced its biggest-yet military support package, worth 13.3 billion kronor ($1.3 billion), including two surveillance aircraft.

Zelenskiy is set to travel to Singapore this weekend to attend a regional defense forum, where he’ll urge Asian leaders to attend the Swiss summit, according to people familiar with the matter. In a potential setback for Kyiv, China signaled it may skip the gathering.

Scaling Down Costs

Training Ukrainian soldiers in Ukraine would scale down the cost and burden of travel by keeping troops closer to the front, where they will eventually deploy. But ensuring the security of western trainers in the nation hit by war may have costs of its own, such as diverting badly needed air-defense assets to protect trainers.

When Macron first raised the idea in February of sending personnel to Ukraine to help in non-combat areas, such as cyber defense and co-production of weapons, the proposal was overshadowed by the president’s refusal to rule out eventually sending troops on the ground, which in turn drew a sharp push-back from allies.

Some nations at the time suggested that sending personnel was not as urgent as Ukraine’s other needs, such as ammunition and air defense.

--With assistance from Aliaksandr Kudrytski, Justin Sink, James Regan, Natalia Drozdiak, Alberto Nardelli, Haslinda Amin, Daryna Krasnolutska, Milda Seputyte, Reinie Booysen and Courtney McBride.

(Updates with Blinken comment in fifth paragraph.)

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