By Olena Harmash
KYIV (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday he wants to turn Ukraine's defence industry into a "large military hub" by partnering with Western weapons manufacturers to increase arms supplies for Kyiv's counteroffensive against Russia.
He was speaking at a forum his government convened with international producers to discuss how to jointly develop industrial capacity to build and repair weapons in Ukraine despite constant Russian bombardment.
"Ukraine is in such a phase of the defence marathon when it is very important, critical to go forward without retreating. Results from the frontline are needed daily," Zelenskiy told executives representing more than 250 Western weapons producers.
"We are interested in localizing production of equipment needed for our defence and each of those advanced defence systems which are used by our soldiers, giving Ukraine the best results at the front today," he told the forum in Kyiv.
Zelenskiy said that air defence and de-mining were his immediate priorities. Ukraine also aims to boost domestic production of missiles, drones and artillery ammunition.
Kyiv began its counteroffensive in early June to try to recapture territories seized by Russia, which still controls about 18% of the Ukrainian territory. Kyiv reported advances in several directions and liberated over a dozen villages, but so far has not managed to retake any major cities.
Ukraine critically depends on Western financial and military support and has had tens of billions of dollars of such help since the start of Russia's invasion in February 2022. But the war created a constantly growing demand for arms and ammunition.
Executives from weapons producers from over 30 countries attended the forum. Some said they were depleting their stocks quickly and had struggled to find supplies to be able to ramp up production to meet Ukrainian demand.
Ukrainian officials see the development of domestic defence production as a boost to the economy, which has shrunk by about a third last year due to the war.
Several leading Western producers like Germany's weapon production giant Rheinmetall and Britain-based BAE Systems have already announced plans to team up with Ukrainian producers.
The Foreign Ministry said Ukrainian producers signed about 20 agreements with foreign partners for joint production, exchange of technology or supply of components to make drones, armoured vehicles and ammunition. It did not identify the companies.
The Ukrainian government plans to create special economic conditions to draw Western investment into the domestic defence sector including a fund to support new technology development.
"It will be a mutually beneficial partnership. I think it is a good time and place to create a large military hub,” Zelenskiy said during a separate meeting with U.S., British, Czech, German, French, Swedish and Turkish weapons producers.
(Reporting by Olena Harmash, Editing by William Maclean)