Russian defence chief calls for wartime missile output to be doubled

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Russia’s defence chief has urged a state company to double its missile output, as a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive looms and with both sides in the 14-month war reportedly feeling an ammunition crunch.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking at a meeting with top military brass, said the state-owned Tactical Missiles Corporation had been fulfilling its contracts in a timely manner.

But, Mr Shoigu added, “right now it is necessary to double the production of high-precision weapons in the shortest possible time”.

Analysts have been trying to work out whether Russia is running low on high-precision ammunition, as its missile barrages against Ukraine have become less frequent and smaller in scale.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence noted in an assessment on Tuesday that “logistics problems remain at the heart of Russia’s struggling campaign in Ukraine”.

“Russia does not have enough munitions to achieve success on the offensive,” it said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday described Washington’s latest estimate of Russia’s losses in Ukraine as “spun out of thin air”.

The White House said on Monday it now estimated that just since December Russia had suffered 100,000 casualties, including more than 20,000 killed, as Ukraine rebuffed a heavy assault by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US estimate was based on newly declassified American intelligence.

He did not explain how the intelligence community derived the number.

“Washington doesn’t have the opportunity to give any correct numbers. They don’t have such data,” Mr Peskov said.

Later in the day, the Ukrainian military reported that Russian forces launched 30 air strikes, three missile strikes and eight attacks from multiple rocket launchers on Tuesday, resulting in casualties among the civilian population and damage to civilian infrastructure.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russia was continuing to concentrate its efforts on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks around Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka in the country’s Donetsk province.

Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, say they are readying their own counter-offensive – and stockpiling ammunition to sustain it along potentially long supply lines.

Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Monday that the “key things” for the assault’s success were “the availability of weapons, prepared, trained people, our defenders and defenders who know their plan at their level, as well as providing this offensive with all the necessary things – shells, ammunition, fuel, protection, etc”.

“As of today, we are entering the home stretch, when we can say: ‘Yes, everything is ready’,” Mr Reznikov said in televised comments.

Also on Tuesday, Denmark said it was donating 1.7 billion kroner (£201 million) in aid to Ukraine, including mine clearance vehicles, munition, field bridges and money for air defence that will be needed for a counter-offensive against Russian forces that are dug in behind multilayered defensive lines, including hundreds of miles of trenches.

“We know that the Russians have entrenched themselves in the occupied territories of Ukraine with trenches, minefields and other obstacles to stop a Ukrainian offensive,” acting Danish defence minister Troels Lund Poulsen said.

“The material in the donation package is important to pave the way for Ukrainian tanks and the armoured infantry in the front line.”

In recent months, amid winter weather, the conflict has become bogged down in a war of attrition that has depleted ammunition stocks.

A Ukrainian soldier fires an RPG during his training at the frontline positions near Vuhledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier fires an RPG during his training at the frontline positions near Vuhledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine (Libkos/AP)

In February, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warned that Ukraine was using up ammunition far faster than its allies could provide it.

According to some estimates, Ukraine was at that time firing up to 6,000-7,000 artillery shells each day, around a third of the daily amount that Russia is using almost one year into the war.

Sporadic night-time Russian shelling continued to hit Ukrainian areas early on Tuesday, officials said.

At least seven civilians were wounded, authorities said.

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