— Today is Israel’s big day at the NATO summit, but on Wednesday Ukraine got to press its case for more aid.
— NATO ministers will discuss what happened to a Finnish-Estonian gas pipeline, with suspicions that Moscow may be involved.
— The French and Armenian defense ministers will talk, as Paris sticks with plans to send military aid.
JUGGLING TWO WARS: This NATO ministerial has been about two crises from the beginning, and now it’s time for Israel to take center stage. Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will remotely join in the morning meeting of NATO’s and Sweden’s defense ministers.
Ukraine gets a hand: Despite worries in Kyiv that its allies would be distracted by Israel’s war against Hamas — Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy even showed up personally for what was a ministerial meeting — NATO insisted it isn’t forgetting its commitment to help Ukraine. Zelenskyy was especially keen to get more air defenses because of the worry that Russia will again spend the winter pounding Ukrainian infrastructure. He made clear that it’s crucial for allies to help Ukraine beef up air defense, which he called “a significant part of the answer to the question of when this war will end.”
U.S. response: “He spoke about a need for ground-based air defense and artillery platforms and munitions,” U.S. Defense Secretary Loyd Austin said of Zelenskyy’s big asks during Wednesday’s meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (including both the 31 regular NATO members and a host of other countries friendly to Ukraine).
More on that from Stuart, Joshua and Laura.
Everyone helps out: The U.S.-led coalition agreed to set up small groups of countries to focus in on specific support measures. “These coalitions will be responsible for coordinating contributions from coalition members for each major capability area,” said Austin, More from me here.
More F-16s to come: Belgium will send the U.S.-made fighter jet in 2025 — with a caveat. “They will be at your disposal, of course pending the decision of the government that’s in place at the moment,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Zelenskyy on Wednesday, referring to next year’s federal election in Belgium (more from Laura here). The Netherlands and Denmark have already pledged to send F-16s to Kyiv, with Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen reportedly saying on Wednesday the first jets would be sent by April 2024.
Sky Shield 10: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Slovenia signed a memorandum of understanding on the Sky Shield common air defense plan. Caleb has the news here. Don’t forget, Berlin already has another Sky Shield MoU with non-NATO members Austria and Switzerland.
Missing Pole: One NATO minister was missing, Poland’s Mariusz Błaszczak. Instead of showing up in Brussels, he was on Polish TV. Poland has seen its relations with Ukraine deteriorate as the government has blocked grain exports and warned Kyiv not to complain. However, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told me that he was “absolutely confident” all NATO allies would continue to fully support Ukraine, despite recent rhetoric from Warsaw.
NATO: A signing ceremony for an Airspace Management initiative is scheduled at 3:05 p.m. and the final press conference is at 3:30 p.m. The full agenda here.
**A message from ASD: A strong defence industry is crucial for Europe’s security and freedom to act. Today, European governments rightly focus on filling the most pressing capability gaps. However, an uncoordinated search for quick fixes can be counter-productive and ultimately self-defeating. Short-term actions should not undermine long-term collaborative projects and common strategic objectives. Learn more.**
PIPELINE WORRIES: Day two of the summit will also see ministers discussing the Estonian-Finnish pipeline disruption. “In this meeting we are having a dialogue about this, how to react in this kind of situation, and what are possibly the measures, but still we have to be calm here because the investigation is ongoing,” Finnish Defense Minister Antti Häkkänen told Stuart.
Pointing fingers: Senior Finnish officials suggested the pipeline may have been sabotaged, without speculating on who might be responsible — though the rumor mill has already been fired up with a local newspaper reporting unnamed officials suspect Russia. A nearby undersea internet cable was damaged in the same incident. On Tuesday, operators switched off the Balticconnector after a sudden drop in pressure, indicating it had sprung a major leak.
More from Gabriel Gavin here.
The Commission steps in: Those concerns are prompting the European Commission to help invest in “cable projects of European interest” that would reduce its reliance on too few undersea internet connections and make it less vulnerable to sabotage, a document seen by POLITICO showed. More here.
FRANCE TO DISCUSS ARMS SALES WITH ARMENIA: French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu will be in touch with his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikyan next week to “finalize a number of things on a very operational and concrete level,” he told senators during a hearing Wednesday.
Last week, the French government announced France would send military gear to Armenia, amid escalating tensions with its neighbor Azerbaijan, but Lecornu declined to provide details to the Senate’s foreign affairs and defense committee. “In any case, you can see that certain weapons are strictly defensive, and cannot be diverted for other purposes, and so they help us to enable Armenia to protect lives and its territory,” Lecornu said.
Can’t miss the boat on the MGCS: The French minister, who’s regularly interrogated on the Franco-German next-generation battle tank by lawmakers, dismissed concerns that the German industry could take too powerful a role in the project, to the detriment of France’s Nexter.
However, he added, the battle tank will need to be truly innovative, for example by including directed-energy weapons and laser cannons. France can’t afford to miss the mark on tanks as it did on drones, he told senators. France “won’t make decisions that go against Nexter, but we’re not here just to look after a company’s current interests.”
Wait and see on Aarok drone: “A lot will depend on the highly anticipated flight in the coming months,” the minister told senators, referring to a new combat drone developed by medium-sized firm Turgis & Gaillard. The French arms procurement agency is closely watching the developments, he added.
**Reach beyond the headlines with Power Play, POLITICO’s brand-new global podcast bringing you compelling discussions with international power players, hosted by award-winning broadcaster Anne McElvoy. Episodes of the must-listen podcast drop every Thursday – click here to be notified.**
GERMAN HEAVY COMBAT BRIGADE TO LITHUANIA: German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius informed the Bundestag that Berlin is strengthening NATO’s eastern flank by permanently stationing a heavy combat brigade in Lithuania. Pistorius took to X to express his enthusiasm for the new brigade’s stationing in the context of Germany’s increased defense investment following the war in Ukraine. “For me, the permanent stationing of the German brigade in Lithuania is THE flagship project of Zeitenwende!”
Enhanced Forward Presence: Eight multi-national battle groups are now stationed along NATO’s eastern flank, up from four in 2017. Germany will begin the permanent deployment in the spring; it already has 800 troops in Lithuania as part of the of the alliance’s enhanced Forward Presence.
MORE TANKS? NO THANKS: Norway has decided against investing in additional Leopard 2 tanks, opting instead to strengthen air defense and long-range precision fire capabilities. Speaking to Breaking Defense, Lars Lervik, chief of staff of the Norwegian army, confirmed that the original $1.9 billion order for 54 Leopards from Germany would go ahead, but without exercising an option for 18 additional tanks.
Air defense reserves needed: Europe’s ongoing ammunition crunch — and Ukraine’s anticipated need for more air defense ammunition ahead of the winter — is at least partly responsible for Norway’s procurement about-face. “What we’re seeing now is that the current war in Ukraine illustrates that we need to be capable of staying in the fight for a longer duration and that requires volume,” Lervik said.
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NEW ARMOR FOR OSLO: Sweden’s military procurement agency signed a €3.1 million contract with BAE Systems Hägglunds AB to replace the 9040C combat vehicles Oslo donated to Ukraine. Under the terms of the agreement, the preliminary design should be made in time to order an updated CV9035 MkIIIC design by early 2024.
CV90 upgrades: Saab, in turn, received an €84 million order from BAE Systems Hägglunds for a sight- and fire-control capability for CV90s the Czech Republic ordered earlier this year. The upgrade will improve hit probability while on the move.
NORDEFCO AMMUNITION PRODUCTION: Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway have signed an agreement on ammunition procurement for Ukraine through a first joint order for artillery ammunition valued at about €52 million. They will cooperate under the auspices of Nordefco, a defense collaboration group.
Surviving the winter: The three Nordic countries are in dialogue with their defense industries to ensure Kyiv is well-supplied. In the short-term, they will dip further into their own stockpiles for ammunition destined for Ukraine, while in the medium term, they aim to restructure their industries and increase orders. In the long term, the focus will be on “capacity building, enhanced cooperation and integration of industry in the Nordic-Baltic region, [and] through a strategic partnership agreement,” said the text of the agreement.
AMMUNITION ASSESSMENT: The Association of the United States Army mega-conference wrapped in Washington and one of the main takeaways was the need to rethink artillery, our U.S. colleagues report. When it comes to combat in Ukraine, “the scale is phenomenal when you look at the consumption of 155 [millimeter artillery] rounds,” Patrick Mason, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for defense exports and cooperation, told the audience Tuesday. “We have not seen anything like that, and the scale is incredibly daunting, especially when you’re in those meetings and you talk about what we need to do to increase our artillery production,” he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Austin was asked at the NATO meeting whether the country could assist both Ukraine and Israel at once.
“Absolutely we can do both and we will do both,” Austin said. “We are the strongest nation in the world and we are going to do what’s necessary to help our allies and partners.”
Japan is set to rename its air force the Air and Space Self-Defense Force in 2027 to amalgamate both theaters. Stars and Stripes has more.
The U.S. has accepted an invitation to attend China’s Xiangshan security forum later this month — although it won’t send Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. More from Reuters.
Russia has launched a massive offensive in the east of Ukraine near Avdiivka involving thousands of troops. We have the full story.
**A message from ASD: Spending more is not a silver bullet: Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted most European countries to significantly increase their defence budgets. However, most recently announced procurement decisions have been for off-the-shelf solutions from abroad. In taking such decisions, each country makes a multi-decade commitment to a non-European solution. This can undermine Europe’s own industrial base and jeopardise European cooperative development projects, exacerbating existing dependences and creating new ones. The European Union should therefore establish policy instruments and financial incentives that are sufficiently compelling to convince EU Member States that the merits of cooperation and of European choices outweigh the perceived benefits of third country off-the-shelf procurement. More substantial EU action is needed to foster joint procurement of equipment developed in Europe, but also to support industry in developing the next generation of defence technologies.**