“The whole world was unarmed”

Munich Volodymyr Pikuzo had three meetings with armaments representatives when he was asked by a businessman late in the evening on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference whether he would like to move into a club with them. “Are there howitzers there?” the Ukrainian asks back. Otherwise the visit would make no sense for him there.

In the fight against the Russian aggressor, Ukraine is scouring the world for weapons. Speaking at the security conference, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said what his country most urgently needs is “ammunition, artillery, tanks”. With a large delegation, he campaigned in Munich for more and faster support.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, for example, made a commitment. Britain will be “the first country to provide longer-range weapons to Ukraine,” he said. But for the Ukrainians, such vague statements are not worth much.

Volodymyr Pikuzo has to ensure that promises quickly become contracts. The 37-year-old is head of the armaments procurement agency, which is comparable to the Bundeswehr procurement office. The Ukrainian spoke to the Handelsblatt about his challenges.

Procuring weapons and ammunition is usually a matter of months or even years. But Pikuzo doesn’t have the time: “If there’s an offer, I’ll sign the contract in a few hours,” he says.

At the same time, he knows that delivery agreements in other countries have to go through many control instances for good reason. “There are a lot of risks: the danger of corruption, quality defects, that delivery promises are not kept,” says Pikuzo.

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Until the beginning of the war, the law graduate was head of department in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. Then he was put in charge of setting up the new agency that was supposed to make procurement processes fit for war.

“I have to be fast and stamp contracts every day,” says Pikuzo. But at the same time he had to make clear and understandable decisions at all costs so that he could continue to count on support. He concludes every contract as if Ukraine would pay for it itself – but then has to work with diplomats to try to get funding from the federal government, for example. “Trust is the most important thing for us now,” he says.

Around 100 ammo types and weapon systems on the list

Pikuzo estimates that the list of weapon systems and types of ammunition he needs to procure is about a hundred items long. And that’s just rough information. “Our requirement isn’t ‘Panzerhaubitze 2000’,” he says – he’ll take any he can get his hands on.

Battle in Donetsk region

The Ukrainians now have a large hodgepodge of weapon systems, which also creates problems.

(Photo: dpa)

That’s difficult enough. Nobody was prepared for this war, says Pikuzo. “The whole world was unarmed.”

Some countries now only have a critical minimum of weapons because they would have given everything else to Ukraine. In recent years, people around the world have been downgrading rather than upgrading, and series production has been discontinued.

At the same time, Ukraine has yet to build many relationships during the war. Until the Russian attack, states like Germany had ruled out deliveries to the country because German law does not allow arms deliveries to conflict zones. “Our markets were countries like Pakistan and India,” says Pikuzo.

In the meantime, the federal government is also trying to mediate with countries that have not yet delivered. On the fringes of the security conference, she is said to have campaigned with the Qataris to hand over to the Ukraine the German Cheetah anti-aircraft tanks and ammunition that had been purchased to protect the stadiums for the World Cup at the end of last year.

However, there was no success to report in this regard. The German tanks are “part of our air defence”, which Qatar needs in view of neighbors like Iran, Majed Al-Ansari, spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry, told the Handelsblatt. And as a small country, Qatar cannot afford to unilaterally supply arms.

Issues with logistics and different weapon types

However, the possibilities of building a capable army from the international hodgepodge of weapons also have their limits. The logistical situation is already a “disaster,” admits Pikuzo.

“For example, we have more than a dozen types of artillery systems and standard calibers” – and of course Ukraine needs spare parts and repair services, and sometimes systems have to be sent back to the manufacturer.

>> Read here: A year of war – How things will continue for Ukraine

According to media reports, there are some serious problems. For example, the tank builder Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) has set up a repair center in Slovakia to repair broken Cheetah anti-aircraft tanks, for example. But at the border there are now apparently problems with customs.

The logistical challenges are unlikely to be manageable if it actually comes to the delivery of fighter jets. It’s not as easy as with howitzers, says Pikuzo.

Every plane has special requirements: “Having the complete infrastructure for every type of aircraft seems almost impossible to me.” However, Ukraine will take any plane if there is support from the donor country.

Own production as an option

According to Pikuzo, Ukraine is also considering domestic production in order to ensure a quick supply of weapons and ammunition. A report in the British newspaper “The Telegraph” also confirmed on Sunday that there had been talks with British armaments companies at the Munich Security Conference.

>> Read here: Interview with General Robert Brieger: “Why not build a joint tank?”

In his previous role, he was responsible for state manufacturing facilities, says Pikuzo: “I estimate that we could set up a tank factory within a year.” would flinch.

Purchasing land in other countries is also an option, says Pikuzo. Foreign Minister Kuleba spoke in Munich of plans to produce ammunition in Poland.

Entrepreneurs and sales managers that Pikuzo meets all over the world are sometimes amazed that he is only 37 years old. “People in Ukraine are much more mature than their passports state,” he says. But they also learned a lot: “How we get the world to listen to us – and how we efficiently conclude contracts.”

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