France will soon deliver 78 howitzers to Ukraine to meet Kyiv's urgent needs, defense minister says

France's defense minister says it will soon be able to deliver 78 Caesar howitzers to Ukraine
FILE - French soldiers fire a French-made CAESAR self-propelled howitzer during the Spring Storm 2023 military drills, the largest annual exercise of Estonian Defence Forces, near Tapa, Estonia on May 25, 2023. France will soon be able to deliver 78 Caesar howitzers to Ukraine and will boost its supply of shells to meet Kyiv's urgent needs for ammunition to fight Russia's two-year invasion, the defense minister said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, file)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

FILE - French soldiers fire a French-made CAESAR self-propelled howitzer during the Spring Storm 2023 military drills, the largest annual exercise of Estonian Defence Forces, near Tapa, Estonia on May 25, 2023. France will soon be able to deliver 78 Caesar howitzers to Ukraine and will boost its supply of shells to meet Kyiv's urgent needs for ammunition to fight Russia's two-year invasion, the defense minister said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, file)

PARIS (AP) — France will soon be able to deliver 78 Caesar howitzers to Ukraine and will boost its supply of shells to meet Kyiv's urgent needs for ammunition to fight Russia's full-scale invasion, the defense minister said Tuesday.

Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu said at a news conference that an agreement was reached among France, Ukraine and Denmark to finance the Caesar self-propelled 155 mm howitzers, which will enable France to “quickly deliver” them.

France has also set a goal to deliver 80,000 shells for 155 mm guns to Ukraine this year — up from 30,000 delivered since the beginning of the war on Feb. 24, 2022, he said.

In addition, Lecornu said, France is participating in an effort to identify available stocks of gunpowder and ammunition that could be bought from countries outside the European Union, a plan initiated by the Czech Republic to further support Kyiv.

Under the plan, the Czechs seek to obtain 800,000 artillery shells for Ukraine. Czech leaders previously said the first shells should be delivered to Ukraine no later than June. At least 18 countries have joined the initiative, according to officials in Prague.

Earlier this month, Germany, France and Poland vowed to procure more weapons for Kyiv and step up production of military equipment, promising that Ukraine can rely on the trio of European powers as it tries to overcome a shortage of military resources.

Lecornu argued that European countries should reduce their reliance on the U.S. to ensure the continent's security. He said he expects the issue to be a campaign topic before the European Parliament election in June.

“We know that part of Europe's security agenda should from now on fall on Europeans," Lecornu said. “That's an absolute necessity.”

“To me ... it's not right that the U.S. taxpayer should have to pay so much for the Europeans' security,” he said.

Lecornu's comments come as many in Europe have raised concerns that the potential return of Donald Trump to the White House would weaken the NATO alliance, after his remarks threatening not to come to the defense of allies in the event of an attack by Russia.

Even if U.S. President Joe Biden stays in office, EU leaders worry that the long, slow U.S. pivot to Asia to focus on an ever-more assertive China will pick up speed and increasingly leave Europe to take care of its own security. U.S. efforts to get new funds to arm Ukraine have stalled in Congress.

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