PARIS (AP) -- France on Sunday pledged air defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities against drone strikes, as well as an expanded training program for Ukrainian soldiers, as it seeks to puncture perceptions that French President Emmanuel Macron's government has lagged in supporting Ukraine militarily against the Russian invasion.
Up to 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be embedded with military units in France, rotating through for several weeks of combat training, more specialized training in logistics and other needs, and training on equipment being supplied by France, Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu, said in an interview published in Le Parisien.
"We are noting the fact that the war, alas, will last," the newspaper quoted the minister as saying. "A new generation of soldiers must also be trained, to last the distance."
France had previously trained Ukrainian artillery troops to use Caesar self-propelled howitzers it has supplied.
The expanded training that France is now offering is "a very important step," the minister said. "We are changing the scale."
The minister said Crotale air defense missile batteries that France is preparing to send to Ukraine "will be particularly useful in the fight against drones and against aerial bombardments."
France has 12 of the batteries, the minister said. He didn't specify how many of them will go to Ukraine but said "it will be significant to enable them to defend their skies."
The aim is for Ukraine to be able to deploy them within two months, which includes the training time for Ukrainians to use them, the minister said.
France has supplied 18 Caesar artillery pieces and is in discussions to furnish six more. Lecornu said France is also studying a Ukrainian request for rocket-launched ground-strike weaponry.
France also has set up a fund of 100 million euros ($97 million) "which the Ukrainians can use to buy what they want, on condition that the supplier is French," the minster said.
Among recipients of the first Ukrainian orders using the fund is a French firm that will supply pontoon bridges, he said.
France's dipping into its stocks of weaponry to supply Ukraine has also turned a spotlight on the country's own defense needs.
Lecornu said the Crotale batteries destined for Ukraine are being replaced by the more modern Mamba air defense system, which is expected to form part of the security shield around the 2024 Paris Olympics.
France has also placed orders to replenish its stock of Caesar cannons, to replace those sent to Ukraine, the minister said.
The French defense budget for 2023 will climb to its highest levels since World War II, at 44 billion euros ($42.8 billion), he said. That compares with 32.3 billion euros in 2017 when Macron won his first term, the minister said.