By Olena Harmash
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine and the United States have agreed to launch joint weapons production in a step that will enable Kyiv to start producing air defence systems, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday as he wrapped up a visit to the U.S.
In his daily address to Ukrainians, Zelenskiy said the long-term agreement would create jobs and a new industrial base in Ukraine, whose economy has been devastated by Russia's invasion and war.
"It was a very important visit to Washington, very important results," Zelenskiy said in a video posted on the presidential website on Friday morning.
"And a long-term agreement - we will work together so that Ukraine produces the necessary weapons together with the United States. Co-production in the defence (sector) with the United States is a historic thing."
Kyiv has stepped up efforts to boost domestic weapons production as much as possible because 19 months of war has created a huge demand for arms and ammunition to fend off Russian attacks along a 1,000 km (620 mile) front line. Russian air strikes across Ukraine have caused widespread damage and killed many people.
Zelenskiy said the Ministry for Strategic Industries, which oversees weapons production in Ukraine, had signed cooperation agreements with three associations, uniting over 2,000 defence U.S. companies, on future possible work in Ukraine.
"We are preparing to create a new defence ecosystem with the United States to produce weapons to strengthen further freedom and protect life together," Zelenskiy said without disclosing more details.
Ukraine depends heavily on Western military support. To reduce its dependence, Zelenskiy and his team have been pushing for reforms in the domestic defence industry to modernise local producers and increase supplies to the front.
Zelenskiy has said previously that Kyiv will soon host an international arms production forum, inviting companies from over 20 countries.
The government is also implementing reforms at its main weapons production company - Ukroboronprom - to improve transparency, boost production capacity and enable it to cooperate more actively with Western producers.
Ukraine has already agreed several joint projects with central European producers to repair Ukrainian tanks and other vehicles, and has been working to develop drone and missile production.
(Reporting by Olena Harmash, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Philippa Fletcher)