HALIFAX SECURITY FORUM: Washington to Host Defense Industry Conference for Ukraine

By Stew Magnuson

Stew Magnuson photo

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Looking long term to a day when Ukraine will be recovering from its war with Russia, the White House and the Ukrainian government will hold a joint conference to explore how to support the war-torn country’s defense industrial base, a Biden administration official said Nov. 18.

Penny Pritzker, U.S. special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery, said the joint conference will be held Dec. 6-7 in Washington, D.C. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the White House made an initial announcement about the conference Nov. 17.

“Prior to Russia's full scale invasion in February of 2022, Ukraine was one of the world's largest weapons exporters, always among the top 20 countries in terms of arms exports,” she said at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

President Joe Biden appointed former Commerce Secretary Pritzker to the special role in September. She is charged with rounding up support for Ukraine among allies and donors, helping the country with economic reforms and planning for a time when Ukraine will be rebuilding, according to a State Department statement.

The conference will seek ways U.S. defense companies can help their counterparts in Ukraine.

“Even now — especially now — Ukraine has a lot to offer Western defense companies as a market for defense in the short run,” she said.

New weapons and tactics have been developed and refined during the war such as loitering munitions and cyber and electronic warfare.

Representatives from the Defense, State and Commerce Departments will be a part of the dialogue along with the National Security Council and representatives from Ukraine’s government. A similar conference was held in Kyiv in September, a White House statement said.

Antone Voronin, deputy director of Ukraine’s government-owned defense company Spets, told National Defense in September the country was looking for investors.

“If we can get new investors, they can give us the possibility of building factories outside the country and inside the country,” he said. “Then our facilities grow, our manufacturing grows and that helps supply the Ministry of Defense.”

The war has forced Ukraine’s defense industry to mature quickly, he said. The loitering munitions are one example. When Ukraine first started resisting the Russians, it had commercial-off-the-shelf DJI drones made in China. Today, the country is manufacturing its own flying munitions from scratch, he said.

Pritzker said it was important to continue to support Ukraine’s war effort. “They're defending the rest of Europe against Russia. That's a pretty good deal for the United States and our allies. It saves lives of Americans, Canadians, and our other NATO allies, while protecting our values and our democracy,” she said.

Meanwhile, conference panel discussions featured a series of Ukrainian officials and advocates who pleaded for the United States and allies such as Germany to send more advanced weapon systems such as F-16 jet fighters and the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System.

The conference was held as the Israeli fight against Hamas has taken the world’s attention away from Ukraine, and the U.S. Congress has failed to pass a new aid package for Ukraine.

Politicians who want to block funding or weapon transfers to Ukraine are simply on Russia’s side, said Petro Poroshenko, former president of Ukraine. “There is no gray zone,” he said. “It’s a stark choice between the dark and the light.

“If you want to postpone, delay or suspend aid for any reason, you are on Putin’s side,” he said. “Because … the price we pay for delays is enormous.”

Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said: “I hope that the civilized world will have enough resources to help us win our war started by Russia. But once again, it’s important to make decisions now. Because if you make them later, and more wars and conflicts will be started, you will pay more. It’s better to pay now less, than later pay more.”


Topics: Defense Department, Industrial Base

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