EU could top up fund for Ukraine arms purchases by 3.5 billion euros -official

FILE PHOTO: Commemorations marking the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels

By Sabine Siebold and Bart H. Meijer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union could soon top up the fund used for purchasing weapons for Ukraine by 3.5 billion euros ($3.7 billion), a senior EU official said on Friday.

Under a plan drawn up by foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, EU states would get financial incentives worth 1 billion euros ($1.06 billion) to send more of their artillery rounds to Kyiv while another 1 billion euros would fund joint procurement of new shells.

"If there is a deal on this 2-billion-euro package, resources under the EPF will be exhausted," the EU official said, referring to the European Peace Facility (EPF) used to fund arms for Kyiv.

"It's up to the member states to decide if and when they want to operationalize this new possible 3.5 billion euros top up," he added.

Kyiv is burning through shells faster than its partners can make them and has urged the EU to club together to buy 1 million 155-millimetre shells this year at a cost of 4 billion euros to help fight Russia's invasion and launch a counter-offensive.

One million rounds should have Ukraine covered for three to five months, "depending on the tactical situation on the ground", the EU official estimated.

But Western stocks are depleted more than one year into the war, and 155mm artillery shells have a lead time of one year from order to delivery, according to the official.

"We know that some countries are almost entirely out of stock," he said, adding EU member states had been reimbursed by the EPF for supplying 350,000 of these rounds to Kyiv so far.

Turning to the U.S. is not an option either as their production capacity for 155mm shells was behind that of the EU where 15 companies in 11 member states make that type of ammunition, the official said.

($1 = 0.9380 euros)

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Bart Meijer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)