EU looks to forge plan for rushing ammo to Ukraine
Ukraine on Wednesday urged the EU to ramp up promised ammunition supplies as defence ministers debated plans to raid their stockpiles and place joint orders for shells worth two billion euros.
Ukraine's Western backers warn that Kyiv is facing a critical shortage of howitzer shells as it fires thousands each day in its fight against a grinding Russian offensive.
EU ministers meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov in Stockholm discussed a three-pronged push to meet Kyiv's immediate needs and bolster Europe's defence industry for the longer term.
"Our priority number one is air defence systems, and also ammunition, ammunition and again ammunition," Reznikov said as he arrived for the meeting.
The first part of the plan, as laid out by the EU's foreign policy service, envisions using a billion euros ($1.06 billion) from the bloc's joint European Peace Facility to get member states to send shells in their stocks to Kyiv within weeks.
Ukraine's European allies have already used up much of their supplies, committing some 12 billion euros of military support, with 3.6 billion euros coming from the joint fund.
There are questions over how many shells Europe can spare without leaving itself too vulnerable.
"Everyone agreed on the urgency to move because everybody agrees on the objective which is to support Ukraine as much as possible as quickly as possible," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
The second part of the plan is to pool EU and Ukrainian demands to place massive joint orders that would incentivise European ammunition producers to ramp up their capacity.
Baltic state Estonia initially proposed spending four billion euros on a million shells for Ukraine and wants more new funds committed.
Borrell said he was proposing using another one billion euros that is already in the joint kitty to cover Ukraine's needs. That amount would exhaust the fund.
But Reznikov had earlier insisted that figure was "not enough because we need one million rounds, and approximately it should be four billion euros".
"We need more," he said.
Borrell said he hoped to agree on a firm plan to send the ammunition to Ukraine by a meeting of foreign ministers on March 20.
- 'War economy mode' -
Borrell backed using the EU's central defence agency to negotiate contracts.
But some EU states fear that risks seeing the process get bogged down in bureaucracy and that countries with more experience should take the lead.
There is also a thorny debate about buying ammunition from outside the bloc, as some argue the priority should be speed rather than helping European industry.
Sweden's Defence Minister Pal Jonson said the first choice should be to use EU firms, but the bloc should not "exclude that possibility" of looking for ammunition elsewhere.
"I think the focus should be on helping Ukraine and finding the best way to accomplish it," he said.
More broadly, there is a clear sense that after years of lower investment after the Cold War, more needs to be done to get EU defence firms to step up their output fast.
"We are at a decisive moment in our support to Ukraine and it is absolutely mandatory that we move towards a sort of war economy mode," EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said.
"We need definitely to make sure that we can increase drastically our capacity to produce more in Europe," he said.
But German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said calls to put Europe's economy on a war footing went too far.
"This would be a fatal signal" since it would mean that "we subordinate everything to the production of weapons and munitions," he said.
"We -- the European Union and Germany -- are not at war."