Ukraine allies meet in Prague as Czech ammunition drive raises 1.6 billion euros

Polish PM Tusk and Ukrainian PM Shmyhal meet for bilateral talks in Warsaw

PRAGUE (Reuters) -A Czech-led initiative to speed up ammunition deliveries to Ukraine has raised 1.6 billion euros ($1.74 billion), with the first deliveries due to arrive in days, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Tuesday.

Hosting Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and leaders of some European Union allies in Prague, Fiala said ahead of their meeting that the first deliveries from the initiative, which sources supplies outside the EU, will happen in June.

"The first tens of thousands of 155 mm (caliber) ammunition will be delivered in June," Fiala said. "Ukraine can expect the first shipment within the next days."

Ukraine has been urging Western allies to step up military aid to help it repel Russian forces, now well into the third year of their invasion.

The Czechs, through a team of government officials and private companies, have been working to source ammunition rounds from around the world.

Fiala said the money raised so far had come from 15 EU and NATO members, without giving details.

The leaders meeting said in a joint statement that with the current financing, they "expect to ensure the donation of half a million rounds of artillery ammunition before the end of the year."

They added they would continue the initiative as long as needed.

The talks in Prague included Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Latvian Prime Minister Evika Silina and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Several countries have made pledges to the initiative in recent months.

Germany said in April it would support Ukraine with 180,000 rounds of artillery shells as a contribution to the Czech plan, at a price tag of 576 million euros.

"We need it (the ammunition) at the front lines as soon as possible," Shmyhal said.

"The second area of today's discussion is providing Ukraine with air-defence systems to secure our skies. We need, as a minimum, seven Patriot systems and modern combat aircraft also as soon as possible."

Duda said Poland was ready to help with the transport of ammunition to neighbouring Ukraine as part of the Czech-led ammunition drive.

Also on Tuesday, the Netherlands said it would deliver parts of a Patriot air defence system to Ukraine and is talking to other countries in order to assemble a complete system.

Fiala, in remarks earlier in the day, also echoed the position of NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg in saying Western countries should lift restrictions that have barred Ukraine from using donated weapons to strike Russian territory.

($1 = 0.9200 euros)

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague and Alan Charlish in Warsaw, additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Essi LehtoEditing by Peter Graff, Gareth Jones and Chizu Nomiyama)