Ukraine minister says he wants to turn his country into a weapons production hub for the West

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s newly appointed head of defense industry says he is working tirelessly to ramp up local arms production and wants to turn the country into a weapons production hub for the West.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, the minister for strategic industries of Ukraine, said that Russia’s invasion of his country and the Israel-Hamas war raging in the Middle East have highlighted the need for countries to spend on their defense systems.

“We’re really focusing on making Ukraine the arsenal of the free world,” Kamyshin told The Associated Press in an interview late Friday.

Kamyshin said approximately 500 companies in Ukraine’s defense industry are contributing to the country’s efforts to increase weapons production in order to counter Russia’s attempts to seize more territory. Among those are 70 state-owned factories, over 200 primarily private factories producing unmanned systems, and more than 200 private sector companies involved in the production of various types of weaponry and ammunition.

“We are focused on producing all types of weapons and ammunition, and we show that we can test it on the battlefield and make it better during the war,” Kamyshin said. “That’s something we can contribute to the free world, because as you see, defense industry is becoming more and more important globally.”

Oleksandr Kamyshin was appointed to the post around eight months ago, and is now in charge of 300,000 people employed in Ukraine’s defense industry.

He previously worked as the chief of the national railway Ukrzaliznytsia, which under his rule, became famous for keeping trains running on time despite the war, crucial to evacuating hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to safety in the early days of Russia’s invasion.

Now he recalls that time as his “past life” and says he is completely focused on make the defense industry a successful enterprise like Ukrzaliznytsia.

He acknowledges that he has had to start scaling the local manufacture of weapons from scratch. Ukraine barely had a local defense industry to speak of before 2022, he said, with the military mainly relying on what it already had and what it received as military aid from allies before the war began with Russia's invasion in February 2021.

Now, Ukraine is delivering locally produced munition to the battlefield and can increasingly strike inside Russia, he said.

He declined to disclose specific figures but said Ukraine is manufacturing mortar and artillery ammunition, drones, armored vehicles, missiles and various other items. The industry, he says, has grown by dozens or even hundreds of times compared to the previous year in some segments.

Artillery ammunition production has increased by 20 times in the last 10 months, and armored vehicle production has grown by five times during the same period, he said.

Most crucially, Kamyshin says that the increased local production of weapons has enhanced Ukraine’s capabilities to launch attacks on Russian territory.

“As you know, Moscow never sleeps. Now, Sochi never sleeps. Now, Krasnodar never sleeps. And there would be more Russian cities that never sleep,” said Kamyshin, referring to regular drone strikes occurring on Russian territory.

Since the onset of the war, the Western allies were careful with providing Ukraine with weapons that could reach Russia, fearing the strikes of Western-supplied weapons on Russian territory would lead to a wider war.

Kamyshin acknowledged that defense technology, particularly in the field of innovative warfare, is a game-changer and the fastest-growing sector in Ukraine’s defense industry.

As many allies have significantly depleted their stocks in order to support Ukraine, the country has recently hosted an international defense industry conference seeking other forms of cooperation, including the joint production of weapons. Kamyshin said that over 60 companies signed an agreement to become a part of the Alliance of Defense Industries of Ukraine after the forum. He revealed they are mostly companies from the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Turkey.

The minister has ambitious plans for the future of Ukraine’s defense industry and believes that one day, his country will be able to export various types of weapons and munition, just as it exports its grain across the world.

“That’s something we can contribute to the free world because, as you see, the defense industry is becoming more and more important globally,” he said, adding that it could help to revitalize Ukraine’s economy, drained by war.

Despite the claims of steady growth, Kamyshin admits that it will never be possible for Ukraine to cover its needs without supply from its foreign partners.

“No matter how much you grow, it would never be enough because we got the greatest war of generations,” he said, referring to Russia's invasion.

“That’s why we will always be dependent on foreign supply as well."

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine