Ukraine buys six French Caesar howitzers, France to supply missiles

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) -Ukraine has bought six Caesar howitzers, France’s defence minister said on Thursday, adding that Paris would send 50 precision-guided missiles a month to Kyiv to aid its fight against Russia’s invasion.

Speaking to France Inter radio, Sebastien Lecornu said Caesar manufacturer Nexter had managed to halve the production time of the howitzer to 15 months meaning that some 78 units would be available this year.

In Ukraine’s first purchase of French-made weapons since the start of the war, Lecornu said Kyiv had bought six for between 3 million and 4 million euros ($3.3-$4.4 million) each. Ukraine currently has 49 Caesar self-propelled howitzers gifted by France and Denmark.

Lecornu later told reporters that France would also spend 50 million euros from a fund it had created for Ukraine to buy a further 12 Caeser canons which it would then send to Kyiv.

He said he hoped allies would buy 60 Caesars for around 285 million euros.

“We want to share the bill and enable European countries to share the financial burden,” Lecornu said.

Ukraine’s defence minister had been due in Paris on Thursday for a conference on improving artillery supplies to Kyiv, but the visit was cancelled at the last minute.

“Shortage of ammunition, shell hunger, is a very real and pressing problem that our Armed Forces are facing at present. We need to find a way to address this together,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov told the gathering by video conference.

Separately, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday he had thanked French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call for Paris committing to the production of dozens of Caesar howitzers and ammunition this year.

Macron will head to Ukraine in February to finalise a deal under which Paris would deliver more sophisticated weaponry, including long-range cruise missiles, and provide long-term political, aid and reconstruction commitments.

Europeans would ramp up their support for Ukraine in the coming weeks, Macron said on Tuesday, so it could continue to defend itself, nearly two years on from Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Lecornu said France would also deliver about 50 precision-guided A2SM missiles per month to Ukraine from January, adapted for Soviet-type planes.

The Safran-made missiles can carry bombs ranging from 125, 250 and 500 to 1,000 kilogrammes.

The minister also said France would also start producing from this year 3,000 155 mm shells a month, around 36,000 a year, up from just 2,000 in 2023.

Ukrainian officials say they use between 5,000-15,000 shells a day.

($1 = 0.9193 euros)

(Additiona reporting by Thomas BalmforthEditing by Ros Russell and Mark Potter)