One year after having launched his war of aggression against Ukraine, President Putin is obviously not interested in peace. He has not given up any of his imperialistic war aims. Russia continues its systematic destruction of the country’s civilian infrastructure. It still seeks to conquer the entire Donbas. Russia has thrown huge numbers of Russian soldiers to try to obtain in Bakhmut a symbolic victory that has eluded Putin for more than a year, even at the cost of thousands of Russians lives, yet so far yielding little territorial progress. Since 24 February 2022, Putin has demonstrated that human lives are worthless to him, whether they are Ukrainian or Russian.
An intense war of attrition
Currently, it is mainly an artillery war that is fought in this region. In this intense war of attrition, a lot of ammunition are used daily and the next weeks will be critical. Against this backdrop, Ukrainian leadership has called for urgent and massive deliveries of artillery shells, air defence equipment, tanks and other forms of much needed military supplies.
Following up on President Zelenskyy’s appeal, EU leaders discussed at the European Council of 9-10 February, the idea put forward by Estonia to jointly procure ammunition in support of Ukraine. Since then, we have worked hard to put together a concrete proposal. We have first discussed the issue at our Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 20 February. We also exchanged on this at our trilateral meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg on 21 February.
“Time is of the essence: we need to deliver more artillery ammunition and we need to deliver faster.”
At our informal defence ministers’ meeting in Stockholm last Wednesday, the Ukrainian Defence Minister Reznikov repeated the message loudly and clearly: the Ukrainian Armed Forces urgently need further military support and in particular artillery ammunition. Time is of the essence: we need to deliver more artillery ammunition and we need to deliver faster.
To that aim, I presented a proposal based on three tracks, building on the work done by the European External Action Service and the European Defence Agency together with the Commission:
1. Ensure the immediate delivery of more artillery ammunition, notably 155 mm, to the Ukrainian Armed Forces out of existing member states’ stocks, or from pending orders. I propose to allocate €1 billion for reimbursement of these ammunition, using the existing European Peace Facility (EPF).
2. Aggregate demand in Europe and fast-track the procurement of 155 mm ammunition to backfill member states’ stocks and ensure long-term support to Ukraine. By procuring jointly, we will be able to reduce unit prices and delivery time. I have proposed to mobilise an additional €1 billion through the EPF, for the reimbursement of the ammunitions that member states will procure together for delivery to Ukraine. It can be done using a promising joint procurement project that the European Defence Agency has been preparing with EU member states over the last months.
3. Support the rapid ramping-up of manufacturing capabilities of European defence industry. To meet the massive demand to replenish stocks – both for Ukraine and for EU member states -, the European defence industry needs support to produce more and reduce production time. In the current geopolitical context, this is essential to help Ukraine, but also beyond that, to make up for the significant deficit in the capacities of our defence industry that has accumulated over the past thirty years.
To become mutually reinforcing, these three tracks need to proceed in parallel: EU member states will be more likely to agree to support Ukraine from their existing stocks if they receive the guarantee that they can replenish them; and they will only be able to do so if our European defence industry scale up its capacity to deliver.
In Stockholm, everyone agreed on the urgency to move forward
In our discussion with defence ministers in Stockholm, everyone agreed on the urgency to move forward. However, some issues need to be worked on. My intention is to reach an agreement on a package deal on these three tracks at our next meeting of foreign and defence ministers on 20 March, ahead of the European Council on 23-24 March.
Buying weapons together is indeed a complex issue because it is a totally new approach in Europe. In 2021, we showed that we could solve a serious European crisis by jointly purchasing vaccines against COVID-19. There are significant differences between the two situations. Regarding vaccines, we have had first to finance research to develop them, before being able to purchase them together. Regarding ammunitions, we need just to add industrial capacities. However, to invest in these capacities, the defence industry need visibility and certainty. That is what we have to provide now in order to support Ukraine against the greatest threat to peace and democracy in Europe since World War II.
This article was originally published on the European Union External Action website.