Minister of Strategic Industries of Ukraine: ‘We want to get as many people as we can out of the front lines and put in machines’

Alexander Kamyshin says Kyiv has already tested unmanned ground devices on the front lines that ‘kept the Russians at bay for 40 days’

Oleksandr Kamyshin
Ukrainian Minister of Strategic Industries Alexander Kamyshin.Daniiar Sarsenov (Gobierno de Ucrania)

Two days after this interview, held on March 10, events confirmed the words of Alexander Kamyshin. Dozens of drones allegedly launched by Kyiv — which for the moment has not acknowledged responsibility for the attack — on Monday and Tuesday struck the Russian provinces of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tula, Oryol, Bryansk, and Nizhny Novgorod — some more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from Ukrainian territory — and the border provinces of Voronezh, Belgorod, and Kursk. Ukraine’s Minister of Strategic Industries emphasizes these successes of the country’s military technology with regard to Kyiv’s Western allies, to show Ukraine not as a mere beneficiary of war supplies, but as a reliable and competitive technological partner for the EU and NATO amid an ongoing war with a superpower that allows it to instantly test the most advanced unmanned devices on land, at sea and in the air.

To stop being a burden for the West, these countries must invest in the local arms industry and thus generate economic and strategic benefits for both parties. “Spain is capable of producing 155-millimeter ammunition on a large scale,” Kamyshin says of a security agreement he is currently negotiating with the government of Pedro Sánchez.

Question. After this summer’s counteroffensive, the conflict has become a costly war of attrition in which Ukraine is fighting against one of the world’s main arms producers, and which possesses vast resoucres in manpower. Will Ukraine be able to bear the cost of such a war?

Answer. Our defense industry is growing. It was good in Soviet times but later it was neglected. Now it is growing again and is capable of growing even more. We finance ourselves with the resources that the market gives us and we look for internal and external financing sources. But despite what we can produce, we will continue to depend on supplies from the West. I am very grateful to Spain for its support during these 746 days of war. We would never have been able to resist Russia without the support of our allies, alone with our resources and our funds. If we add the defense industry capabilities of the European Union, the United States and Ukraine, they would not be sufficient against Russia’s military industry either. They have not stopped developing over the last two decades. They have grown non-stop.

Q. In recent months Ukraine has suffered from its dependence on the West. Aid from the United States is stalled, there is a global ammunition crisis, and some countries like Germany are hesitant to deliver long-range missiles like the Taurus. How are you going to reduce that dependency?

A. We will never stop being dependent because no country can confront Russia alone with the capabilities of its own military industry. But we are trying to reduce the burden on our allies and produce more ourselves. If we talk about long-range missiles, some countries justify not giving us those weapons because it fears that we will use them on Russian territory. But the truth is that the world has seen that we can already reach the most distant targets inside Russia with weapons built in Ukraine. In recent cases we have reached targets deeper than Moscow with our own manufactured capabilities.

Q. Ukraine wants to stop being a simple beneficiary of Western aid and become a partner. What can you offer your allies?

A. Ukraine will join the EU and NATO. It is not yet known when, but it is a fact that it will happen. That will be good for both organizations. Not only because of our army, which fights non-stop, but also because of our defense industry. Our industry is already capable of producing many things, from 155-caliber self-propelled artillery systems to armored vehicles and drones. We are already able to turn over products that would be complementary for both the EU and NATO and our products are also competitive in price. That is why Ukraine’s entry into these organizations will bring benefits to our partners.

Q. What specific products can Ukraine supply to its partners?

A. From conventional weapons to long-range weapons. Also products that have emerged during this war, such as technological warfare devices, drones, and naval drones that have never been used before. It is something that we have used extensively for the first time in this war and that has given us the ability to hit the Russian fleet in Crimea. We have sunk much of their fleet with our small fleet of naval drones.

Q. Creating a competitive and multinational military industry in the middle of a war is a difficult task. How do you plan to achieve this goal while fighting Russia?

A. Our growth is good, but it will never be enough. There are definitely areas where it is, but in others it is not. We are facing scarce funding. We know that we could produce more than we have if we had more resources at our disposal. We have never spent so much on defense. For years we have been a peaceful and agriculturally focused country. Now we need to spend more. That is why, for example, we are asking NATO countries that have promised us a million drones to buy them from Ukrainian arms companies. We’re capable, we’re price competitive, and it’s the quickest way to help each other and get those drones to the front. We know what works and we know how to build it quickly and get it to the front.

Q. You are currently negotiating a security treaty with Spain. How is the Spanish military industry going to help Ukraine?

A. It’s not just about helping Ukraine. It is about developing joint defense capabilities. Spain has important companies such as Expal or Santa Bárbara. It can produce 155-millimeter projectiles on a large scale. If Spain produces more, this would help Ukraine, Spain, and the joint capabilities of both countries. After signing the treaty there will be agreements between arms companies, businesses from which we will all benefit.

Q. Former army commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi recently stated in a CNN article that technology was most needed to win this war and that heavy weapons were not that important. You surprised the world with your ability to build drones and quickly deploy them on the front lines. But lately the Russians have caught up in that area. What new devices is Ukraine preparing?

A. Last year, the challenge was to produce technology and we achieved it. This year, the challenge is to coordinate, integrate, and manage, to use technology correctly. President Zelenskiy has announced the creation of a new unmanned systems force (in addition to the army, navy and air force). This year will be the year of artificial intelligence and its use in proximity [drone] swarms. There will also be new ground-based technological devices on the front. We want to get as many people as we can out of the front lines and put in machines. We have already tested unmanned ground devices on the front lines that kept the Russians at bay for 40 days. Technology is the key in this war, so we have to learn faster to use it immediately. We have to increase its production.

Q. What are Ukraine’s medium- and long-term prospects in the war?

A. In 2022 we fought with the support of the West and what we had of Soviet heritage: 2022 was the year in which Ukraine became a testing ground for this weaponry. 2023 was the year we started producing ourselves and the industry continues to grow. It doesn’t matter when we win this war, because the defense industry will remain strategic for Ukraine, the EU and NATO. Democracies must always be better armed than dictatorships, and Russia will always be at our doors. We have to be strong enough to not allow them back in.

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