By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia may be able to increase production of artillery in the next couple years to about 2 million shells annually, about double some previous Western expectations but still far short of Moscow's Ukraine war needs, a Western official said on Friday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, estimated Russia fired between 10 million and 11 million rounds last year in Ukraine. Moscow launched its invasion in February 2022.
"That's the predicament they've got," the official told a small group of reporters.
"If you expended 10 million rounds last year and you're in the middle of a fight and you can only produce 1 to 2 million rounds a year, I don't think that's a very strong position."
Other Russia investments in its defense sector may also allow Moscow to produce close to 200 tanks a year, double some previous Western estimates, the official said. But that too, the official said, was a far cry from what it needs after suffering heavy losses in Ukraine.
"When you've lost 2,000 tanks, you've got a decade before you get to where you started," the official said, adding Russia had also lost 4,000 armored fighting vehicles, over 100 aircraft and suffered 270,000 casualties in the conflict, including both forces killed and wounded.
Russia's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In May, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said weapons production and the supply of arms to the front line in Ukraine would be crucial to the success of what Moscow calls its "special military operation."
In July, Shoigu visited North Korea. The White House has said Russia is currently looking to North Korea to help replenish its stocks of weapons, adding that arms negotiations between Moscow and Pyongyang are actively advancing.
The Western official said those negotiations were likely aimed at securing artillery and demonstrated Moscow's desperation in Ukraine.
"It has to go to these dubious partners in order to prop up its catastrophic invasion of Ukraine. And it will it cost a fortune because North Korea will squeeze out a good deal," the official said.
The official said the Russian economy itself was under strain as Moscow redirects resources to Ukraine, hiking defense spending and reducing "spending on everything else."
"That then triggers the risk of social unrest against a fragile political backdrop," the official said.
The remarks about the strains in Russia came as several U.S. Republican presidential hopefuls have questioned American aid to Ukraine, fuelling concerns over whether Washington will maintain its support once the 2024 election campaign intensifies.
The U.S. government has provided more than $43 billion in weaponry and other military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began last year.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)