EU's Borrell urges countries to order more ammunition for Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: Informal meeting of EU defence ministers in Toledo

By Andrew Gray and David Latona

TOLEDO, Spain (Reuters) - EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged member countries on Wednesday to order more ammunition for Ukraine, as figures showed the bloc is a long way from a March target of giving Kyiv a million artillery shells within 12 months.

Borrell said over-arching agreements, known as framework contracts, had been signed with arms firms to allow EU member countries to place joint orders for 155 millimetre rounds, urgently needed by Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion.

"Now it's (up) to the member states to pass concrete orders inside these framework agreements with the industry," Borrell told reporters after a meeting of EU defence ministers in the Spanish city of Toledo.

In a landmark step, EU countries agreed in March on a plan worth some 2 billion euros ($2.18 billion) to provide 1 million artillery shells or missiles to Ukraine within 12 months.

The first element involved countries digging into their reserves or buying stock from elsewhere. Borrell said that element had yielded about 224,000 ammunition rounds and 2,300 missiles, worth a total of some 1.1 billion euros.

That means the EU has not even reached a quarter of its target, more than five months after the initiative was launched.

The rest of the shells are meant to come from the second element of the plan - a joint procurement scheme that encourages EU member countries to place orders for Ukraine and to replenish their own stocks, badly depleted by donating to Kyiv.

But with no orders announced so far under the scheme, some EU members are urging the bloc to look at other options.

"We have to ask ourselves... can we do more? And my answer here is clearly that yes, we can," Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur told reporters at the Toledo meeting, held at a former arms factory that is now a university building.

Pevkur said the EU needed to look again at digging into members' stockpiles, buying from countries outside the EU and embracing a proposal from Slovakia to refurbish old rounds.

The war in Ukraine has developed into an intense attritional conflict with both sides firing thousands of artillery shells every day, making such rounds a key element on the battlefield and meaning they now are in very short supply across the West.

Pevkur, whose government is a close ally of Ukraine, said Ukrainian forces were sometimes firing 6,000 to 7,000 shells a day but Russia was firing up to 10 times as many.

Slovakian Defence Minister Martin Sklenar said a company in his country was already carrying out refurbishment of artillery rounds that would otherwise be considered too old, and that such a scheme could be extended to other firms and countries.

"We have a small company, we can ... refurbish 12,000 of the ammunition pieces in a month, which could be probably further augmented with other companies getting involved," he told Reuters.

"The companies are able to do this at a rather rapid pace," he said.

With just six months remaining for the EU to hit its target, "we want to make sure that we use to the fullest the capacity that there is (to refurbish shells)," Sklenar said.

($1 = 0.9156 euros)

(Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Nick Macfie)