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24th Feb 2024

Fighter jets included in EU arms-to-Ukraine scheme

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (Photo: consilium.eu)
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EU defence ministers will discuss how to get European weapons to the front line in Ukraine on Monday (28 February), after central banks wake up to new Russia economic sanctions.

Fighter planes are to be transferred to the Ukrainian air force alongside deliveries of smaller items, such as shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles for the Ukrainian army, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said late Sunday.

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  • Thousands of anti-war protestors at Berlin's victory column on Sunday - the protest stretched another 2km to the Brandenburg Gate (Photo: Matthew Tempest)

"We are going to provide even fighter jets", Borrell said. "We are not talking about just ammunition. We are providing the most important arms to go to war," he said.

The weapons were to be partly financed by €450m from the EU budget, in a first-ever use of EU funds to buy lethal arms for a country at war, he noted. Member states, including Denmark, Germany, and Sweden, were also directly pouring in military supplies, he added.

Poland was acting as a "logistics hub" for the arms deliveries to its neighbour after the Russian invasion closed Ukrainian skies to foreign planes.

And EU defence ministers, meeting Monday, will discuss "how this materiel is transported to the front line," Borrell said. "The western borders of Ukraine are still open as far as I know," he said.

The Western weapons are going in despite Russian president Vladimir Putin's threats of a nuclear response to Nato aggression or interference in the Ukraine war - threats which Borrell described as "irresponsible" and "crazy".

"This doesn't prevent us doing what we have to do," the Spanish former foreign minister said. "We want peace in Europe, but we have to be prepared to defend this peace," Borrell said.

Meanwhile, central banks in Europe would wake up on Monday to new EU sanctions on Russia's financial institutions, he added.

"We are excluding a certain number of Russian banks from SWIFT," Borrell said, referring to an international-payments grid.

Russian central bank reserves held in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, amounting to half the Russian bank's wealth, were also being impounded, Borrell noted.

The "legal act" on the measures was meant to be in force by "tomorrow [Monday] when the central banks will restart working", Borrell said on Sunday.

The economic sanctions were designed to "cripple" Russian finances, he added. And market forces began pummelling the Russian rouble as soon as trading began Monday morning, when the Russian currency plunged 30 percent against the US dollar.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking earlier Sunday from Kyiv, had called for all Russian banks to be banned from SWIFT and for a Russian oil and gas embargo. "That oil and gas now contains Ukrainian blood," he said.

But Borrell said the SWIFT ban had to be "carefully calibrated" so as not to hurt ordinary Russians trying to send money to relatives, for instance. A total Russian disconnection from the bank grid "cannot be done just like this, with scissors, overnight", Borrell said.

He did not mention Russian gas and oil.

The latest measures included an EU-wide blockade on Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, which Borrell accused of "brainwashing" people with propaganda. They also included visa-bans and asset-freezes on more Russian oligarchs, with names expected to be published on Monday.

It was "very probable" that neutral Switzerland would freeze Russian assets the same day, Swiss president Ignazio Cassis said on national TV.

BP, one of the largest private-sector investors in Russia, also promised to walk away from its stake in Russian oil firm Rosneft this weekend as political and moral outrage at Russia's attack gathered pace.

The first four days of Russian aggression has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in Ukraine and forced millions of people to flee their homes, the UN says.

At least 100,000 people took part in an anti-war rally in Berlin on Sunday, police estimated. About 70,000 people also joined one in Prague, along with demonstrations in Paris, London, and other cities worldwide.

Von der Leyen's offer

Ukraine has been seeking an EU membership perspective, as well as a Nato membership action plan, to little avail since its first pro-Western revolution in 2004.

But speaking late Sunday to the Euronews broadcaster, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU door would be opened to Ukrainians after the war.

"Indeed over time, they [Ukrainians] belong to us. They are one of us and we want them in," von der Leyen said.

"This is a debate which, in any case, will be held," EU Council president Charles Michel also told French TV station BFM on Monday.

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