(Bloomberg) -- Ukraine and its allies are losing the race to secure the ammunition Kyiv needs to hold off Russian attacks. 

The flow of western military aid into Ukraine has tailed off dramatically, according to officials from allied nations familiar with the latest on the front line, and some Ukrainian guns are firing just a single round a day in order to preserve their dwindling stocks.

That’s set allies scrambling to try to maintain the flow of supplies to Ukraine by scouring for shells around the world. But with these initiatives slow to get off the ground, it’s unclear whether they will yield enough in the short-term to keep Ukraine’s front line stable. 

“We have no time to waste,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in an email to Bloomberg. “Long-term commitments are important, but it is also a fact of war that the side who has the most ammunition will win.” 

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s allies are increasingly concerned that a summer offensive by the Russians could break through Ukraine’s defenses, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Russian forces are now launching seven times as many shells as their opponents, they added. That’s more than double the rate in late January, when Kyiv warned allies it was being outgunned three-to-one.

The shortages persist despite an increasing awareness among Western leaders of the price of delay. They know, according to one official familiar with discussions on aid, that it will be more costly to defend NATO territory if Russia makes significant advances into Ukraine. 

That’s why the country’s European allies are hunting far and wide for ammunition after months of stalling over whether it was acceptable to use EU funds to make purchases from abroad. The Czech Republic is leading one initiative and a similar effort is being prepared by Estonia. 

The start of the week did bring some encouragement for Ukraine that over $60 billion of US military aid could be unblocked. House Speaker Mike Johnson said he wants funding approved “right away” — even though other members of the House Republican leadership put his odds of success at no more than 50%.  

The issues of ammunition scarcity and the risk of a Russian advance are likely to come up when NATO foreign ministers gather from Wednesday in Brussels to celebrate the 75th year since the alliance was founded — as a response to Soviet aggression during the Cold War. 

Zelenskiy told the Washington Post last Thursday that without some relief, Kyiv’s troops will be forced to retreat and hand territorial gains to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who could then target major cities.

“If you need 8,000 rounds a day to defend the front line, but you only have, for example, 2,000 rounds, you have to do less,” he said. “How? Of course, to go back. Make the front line shorter.” 

Ukrainian forces have been resisting Russian advances by digging trenches and erecting barriers to fortify a 2,000 kilometer-long (1,200 mile) front line. They’ve also taken the fight to new arenas, attacking more than a dozen oil refineries inside Russia with explosive-laden drones over the past month.

That’s slashed the Russians’ fuel production — something Zelenskiy said would continue, despite US discontent. One European official in the US said Washington’s leverage on this issue diminishes with every day that US aid fails to materialize.

Yet the damage cuts both ways, with Russian strikes also wreaking destruction on Ukrainian infrastructure. The same official said the damage in the last few weeks was probably the worst of the war and is likely to have long-term strategic effects that will compound the effect of ammunition shortages. 

Russia is expected to produce or refurbish around 4.5 million shells this year, according to Estonian Defense Ministry estimates. That’s in addition to the ammunition it’s getting from North Korea and Iran. 

By contrast, the EU is set to produce only 1.4 million shells in 2024 and as many as 2 million next year. The US is working to produce 1.2 million shells by the end of 2025, but that effort also depends on Congress passing the aid package. And European firms are collaborating with Ukrainian companies to ramp up domestic production, but that effort will also take time to bear fruit.

Ukraine’s shell supply wouldn’t necessarily need to match Russia’s given the modern weapons systems it’s using are more precise than Russia’s, according to officials familiar with the situation on the battlefield, but they do need to get closer. Even bumping up Ukraine’s rate to three shells for every seven fired by Russia would make a major difference, one of them said. 

Once US and European production ramps up later this year and next, Kyiv’s supplies should start to stabilize, western officials say. But the major problem is bridging the gap until then.

With European companies’ order books filled for the next year or two, an EU goal to send Ukraine 1 million artillery shells by this past March has had to be delayed until the end of the year. Only half the amount has been sent since the target was set more than 12 months ago.

Countries like Estonia, who has committed to spend 0.25% of its GDP to help Ukraine, have urged other European nations to also spend more and explore the possibility of joint borrowing to boost the continent’s defense industry.

A Czech-led plan to buy hundreds of thousands of shells, including from outside the EU, should begin to reap results in June. While that’s still weeks away, the hope is that it at least gives Ukrainian forces the confidence to expend more ammunition now.

But big countries like France and Spain haven’t yet made any financial pledges to the Czech plan, despite verbally backing it. And EU members are still discussing the legality of a plan to use the profits generated by frozen Russian assets to buy weapons. 

Discussions between Japan and the UK to buy ammunition also appear to have stalled while Brazil rebuffed allies’ requests to supply ammunition for Kyiv, according to both European and Brazilian officials.

“We know that Russia’s military industry is working in three shifts and Ukraine’s supplies are shrinking fast,” Estonia’s Kallas told Bloomberg. “Without our support this war can also be lost.”

--With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska, Simone Iglesias, Selcan Hacaoglu, Gregory L. White, Peter Martin, Shelby Knowles, Natalia Ojewska, Volodymyr Verbianyi, Ott Tammik and Andra Timu.

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