Martin Docherty-Hughes: ‘Join the Czech artillery initiative to help Ukraine defeat its Russian occupier’

In late March 2024, following my questioning of the UK defence secretary, Grant Shapps, at the House of Commons defence select committee of which I am a member, I was concerned to learn that the UK government is not part of and has no plans to join the Czechia-led initiative to procure much-needed artillery shells for Ukraine.

Czechia has spearheaded an innovative and much-needed response to Ukraine’s dwindling artillery shell supplies. The project sources shells from countries outside the EU, often from unused military stockpiles. Eighteen countries have committed to the initiative, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Sweden and Iceland. The first shipments of a confirmed 300,000 high-calibre shells are expected to reach Ukraine no later than June 2024.

At present, Ukraine is facing an acute shortage of artillery shells, which is making it much harder for Ukraine to defend its territory and citizens from Russia’s continued full-scale invasion. It has played a direct role in Russia being able to occupy Avdiika and other areas around Avdiika in recent months. Ukraine is facing a dire state of affairs when you consider that Ukrainian officials have stated that for every 5 shells Russia fires, Ukraine is only able to fire one. As someone who believes strongly in Ukraine’s national self-determination, I believe in order for Ukraine to liberate all its territory from the Russian occupier, its allies, including the current UK government, must do all they can to provide Ukraine with the shells it needs — without delay.

I recognise that the current shortage of shells for Ukraine is a direct consequence of delays in the US government passing an aid package through Congress, and the opposition of far too many Republican legislators. Whilst the US House of Representatives finally voted for the aid package last week and the Senate this week, the delays showed we cannot rely on the US government to provide the bulk of military aid going to Ukraine in the future. It is time for European countries to step up production and procurement of shells as we cannot always rely on the US, given the current state of the Republican Party. This is something that countries like Czechia, Germany and Sweden understand. 

Prime minister Rishi Sunak and the UK government claim to be committed to Ukraine’s victory and present themselves as a staunch ally of Ukraine, yet in their time of need, the UK is not taking an opportunity to help Ukraine. Whilst I understand the cupboard is bare when it comes to the UK’s production of shells due to successive Conservative government’s savage cuts to the Ministry of Defence’s budget, the UK should have the diplomatic connections to help the Czechia-led coalition procure and finance the procurement of shells, yet it has decided not to do so.

Nor am I in any way assuaged by the fact the UK defence secretary stated the reason the UK government is not joining the artillery procurement is because it has its own artillery procurement scheme called Kindred. 

Firstly, this is a scheme shrouded in mystery and which I have been able to find little information on at all. Secondly, I do not see other artillery procurement initiatives and Czechia’s led artillery procurement initiative as competitors. Rather, I see them as complementary ways of helping us move towards the millions of shells Ukraine needs to acquire to stop further Ukrainian territory from ending up in the hands of the Russian occupiers. If we are to reach the goal of procuring the millions of shells Ukraine requires, we need more programs than the Czechia scheme alone and for the UK government to be a part of these schemes.  After all, the UK government states it is committed to helping Ukraine liberate all of its land from the Russian occupier.

The position the UK government has found itself in — by failing to do everything in its powers to help provide Ukraine with the firepower for its ultimate victory — is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs. As the SNP’s defence spokesperson, I urge the UK government to change course and rectify their mistake, by joining the Czechia artillery coalition without delay. This would show that in deeds, not just words, the UK government like the SNP and the Scottish government, is committed to the liberation of Ukraine’s land from the Russian occupier. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.