France, Germany to Build Arms Plant in Ukraine as Stakes Rise

(Bloomberg) -- Germany and France said they would start producing weapons inside Ukraine as the leaders of the European Union’s two largest economies tried to move past concerns that their differences would hinder the bloc from mobilizing sufficient support for Kyiv.

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The announcement from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, however, will do little to address Ukraine’s most pressing need: getting Kyiv enough ammunition in the short term to ward off the advances of Russian troops, whose average daily shell use can be anywhere from three to five times what Ukrainian forces can fire.

Nor will it assuage concerns that Europe’s leaders as a collective are still struggling to grasp the magnitude of the threat they face. Macron’s rhetoric has turned more dire in recent days, but he’s so far failed to persuade Scholz to endorse such a bleak analysis.

Scholz and Macron met with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in the so-called Weimar Triangle format to discuss aid and to try to present a united European front, following weeks of bickering among the bloc’s countries over what kind of equipment to provide and whether to consider sending troops into Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops are running desperately short of ammunition as they battle to hold off Russian advances, fueling fears that a defensive collapse could see President Vladimir Putin’s forces closing in on Kyiv once again.

Macron struck a much stronger stance this week, warning during a television interview on Thursday that the European Union would face a threat of a Russian invasion unless Putin’s forces are defeated in Ukraine.

“Who can think for a second that President Putin, who hasn’t respected any of his limits or commitments, would stop there?” Macron asked during a joint interview with TF1 and France 2 television channels on Thursday. “The security of Europe and French people are at stake.”

Neither Scholz nor Macron gave details on the production plants, but German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall AG announced last month that it will open a new plant in Ukraine to produce artillery ammunition with a local joint venture partner. The partners have agreed to build and jointly operate the plant, which will produce a six-digit number of bullets per year.

“Today in Berlin we discussed how we can very concretely support Ukraine even more strongly,” Scholz told reporters after the meeting. “The production of military equipment will be expanded, also with partners in Ukraine.”

Earlier this month, the French defense minister Sebastien Lecornu cited the Franco-German battle tank manufacturer KNDS among French companies that will set up partnerships to produce equipment in Ukraine.

“I’d like to thank the chancellor, who takes particular responsibility for industrial co-production choices on Ukrainian soil,” Macron said. Tusk told reporters that they “all agreed that help for Ukraine needs to be immediate and as intense as possible.”

Macron has sought to take a lead in Europe on support for Ukraine, organizing a leaders summit in Paris at which countries agreed on a plan to source much-need ammunition for the Ukrainian military outside the European Union, and signing bilateral defense pacts with Ukraine and Moldova. Last week he sent his top diplomat to Lithuania to drum up support from the Baltic states, which praised his sense of urgency.

But the French leader sparked tensions with allies two weeks ago by saying nothing should be ruled out when asked about putting boots on the ground in Ukraine. He argued strategic ambiguity was needed to deter Moscow. Scholz and the White House swiftly rebuffed the option, while Putin warned NATO risks a nuclear conflict if it sends troops to aid Ukraine.

Scholz, however, has faced criticism for refusing to agree to Kyiv’s request to provide it with long-range Taurus cruise missiles. The chancellor has instead highlighted that Germany is one of Ukraine’s most generous backers, pledging military assistance worth around $30 billion.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski praised Germany’s bilateral aid to Ukraine in an interview ahead of the meeting with Gazeta Wyborcza and Ouest France, while also urging Berlin to do more. “I hope that Friday’s meeting of the Weimar Triangle will encourage Chancellor Scholz to take more decisive action.”

While the meeting in Berlin won’t be a game changer, it is the last chance for Scholz and Macron to mend fences ahead of decisive months for Ukraine, June’s European Parliament elections and the appointment of a new NATO leader, consulting firm Eurasia Group said in a note.

Scholz’s chief spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, pushed back earlier Friday against suggestions that the chancellor and Macron dislike each other, which some critics have said is hindering progress in areas including support for Ukraine and joint European defense.

The two leaders have a “very good relationship,” even if they disagree on some issues such as sending troops to fight in the war with Russia, which Macron has declined to rule out, Hebestreit said at the regular government news conference.

--With assistance from Samy Adghirni.

(Recasts from the first paragraph.)

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