European capitals are racing to raise $1.5 billion in emergency funding to provide Ukraine with artillery shells from overseas to shore up the front lines against Russia as the full-scale war enters its third year, Report informs via The Financial Times.

The last-ditch scheme to buy ammunition from outside the EU is being spearheaded by the Czech Republic to compensate for the congressional deadlock on US aid and delays in European production.

Prague has taken the initiative as capitals squabble over extending the EU’s main military support facility for Kyiv.

Officials familiar with the discussions say the country needs its European partners to help provide the $1.5 billion to finance the ammunition purchases, which Prague has been organising since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“The Czechs have done the work, but they need others to provide money,” said a person briefed on the initiative.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told EU counterparts on Monday that Ukraine needed 2.5 million artillery shells this year but that the bloc had only sent 400,000. He pleaded with them to find a solution fast.

“The Ukrainians couldn’t care less where these shells come from, and who pays for them,” said one EU diplomat. “We’re arguing over acronyms while they suffer on the front line.”

Ukrainian forces are already having to drastically ration artillery fire, making it harder for them to repel Russian assaults. Russian forces seized the eastern town of Avdiivka last week in their first significant territorial gain since May.

Deliveries from US artillery stocks are suspended because a $60 billion support package for Ukraine is stuck in the US House of Representatives, putting the onus on Europe to make up the shortfall.

The EU set a target of sending 1 million shells to Ukraine by March this year from stockpiles, production and foreign purchases — but is likely to reach only half that.

Czech President Petr Pavel, a former general and senior Nato official, surprised delegates at the Munich Security Conference last weekend when he said Prague had identified an unnamed country outside the EU with “half a million rounds of 155mm and another 300,000 rounds of 122mm calibre which we can deliver within weeks if we can find quickly funding for that”.

Some EU members have already chipped in, say officials familiar with the Czech scheme.

The Czech government declined several requests for comment.

Prague needs financial contributions from national governments because EU capitals are at loggerheads over a proposed €5 billion top-up of the European Peace Facility, the main EU vehicle for funding weapons supplies to Kyiv.

EU ambassadors failed to reach agreement on the EPF at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and have set a target of agreeing the rules of a fresh capital injection before a summit of EU leaders on March 21.

Germany is insisting that its notional contribution of roughly €1.25 billion be reduced to reflect its large bilateral military aid to Ukraine, worth €7 billion this year.

“What is crucial for Ukraine is that military aid reaches it without bureaucratic delay. Bilateral support is very quick and efficient — it should be considered as an equivalent contribution to the European Peace Facility,” said Michael Clauss, Germany’s ambassador to the EU.

France and Greece insist that an expanded EPF should only buy weapons and ammunition from EU and Norwegian manufacturers — which would prevent it financing the Czech plan or ammunition from the US.

The French government maintains that EU funds should be used to strengthen the bloc’s defence industrial base. Greece is concerned that contracts could be signed with Turkish defence companies.

“Of course we should be buying more to help Ukraine including from outside the EU,” said French military analyst François Heisbourg. “But politically it is going to become very difficult to buy artillery shells from the US when the US Congress is refusing to send further military aid.”

Europe has been slow to ramp up its artillery production because national governments and EU and Nato entities were slow to sign contracts with manufacturers, making it harder for companies to access finance to expand their facilities.

There has also been a shortage of propellant, which takes several months to make, and of its precursor chemicals.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said EU annual production capacity will rise to 1.4 million shells by the end of 2024, outstripping the US, which is expected to hit 1.2 million next year.

In a paper for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, analysts, Franz-Stefan Gady and Michael Kofman concluded that Ukraine would need 75,000-90,000 artillery shells a month “to sustain the war defensively, and more than double that — 200,000-250,000 — for a major offensive”.

They added: “At this stage, the western coalition depends mostly on US stocks to sustain the lower range of this figure and does not have the ammunition to support a major offensive next year.”