22nd Mar 2023

EU leaders to bless joint-ammunition buying for Ukraine

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen greets Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky at the last EU summit in Brussels on 9 February (Photo:
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EU leaders are preparing to bless joint purchases of ammunition for Ukraine, amid deeper strategising on how to protect Europe from Russia.

"The European Council welcomes the swift agreement ... to facilitate the immediate provision of ammunition for Ukraine, including through joint procurement," the 27 EU heads plan to say at a summit in Brussels on 23 March, according to an internal EU memo.

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  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell visited Ukraine shortly before Russia's invasion (Photo:

The "draft guidelines for conclusions" were circulated by officials in the EU Council, who choreograph summits, on Monday (6 March) and seen by EUobserver.

EU defence ministers also discussed the ammunition-for-Ukraine scheme in Stockholm on Wednesday, following earlier warnings by Kyiv it needed 250,000 artillery shells a month to keep its war effort going.

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, who joined them, said Ukraine was "now a war of attrition". "This is about ... getting the supplies, the ammunition, the fuel to the frontline", he said.

EU countries have so far spent €3.6bn on military aid for Ukraine from a joint fund called the European Peace Facility (EPF).

They've also delivered tens of billions of euros of military aid bilaterally, but joint buying of arms would mark a quiet quantum leap in defence integration.

Off the battlefield, the EU leaders' meeting later this month will pledge "further increasing" of "collective pressure" on Russian president Vladimir Putin's finances.

"The European Union will continue to step up work towards the use of Russia's frozen and immobilised assets for Ukraine's reconstruction and for the purposes of reparation, in accordance with EU and international law," their draft speaking points said.

EU countries have frozen some €300bn of Russian central bank reserves.

Leaders aim to throw their collective political weight behind "full accountability for war crimes" for both Putin and individual Russian soldiers, including through a new International Centre for Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression in The Hague.

"Ukrainians forcibly transferred and deported to Russia, in particular children, must immediately be allowed to return safely," they aim to say in a preamble.

The final wording of the summit communiqué will differ from the "guidelines".

But whatever statement leaders sign on 23 March, behind the scenes EU diplomats are pondering the deeper implications of Russia's shocking invasion of Ukraine one year ago.

"The Russian aggression against Ukraine is a tectonic shift for Europe's security and a significant source of destabilisation for the rest of the world," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told EU capitals in his latest progress report on the Strategic Compass, a European blueprint for defence coordination over the next seven years.

Total EU defence expenditure was forecast to hit €289bn by 2025 from €214bn in 2021 in reaction, said Borrell's report, dated 27 February.

"The war in Ukraine has bolstered this trend ... Russia's aggression against Ukraine has demonstrated the need for more high-intensity capabilities [in EU countries' armouries]," it said.

By comparison, the US spent €753bn on its military in 2021, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think-tank.

China spent €276bn and Russia €62bn.

Beyond Europe, the EU was planning to spend EPF money in "individual African countries, [in] the Middle East, the Western Balkans and our eastern neighbourhood," the strategy paper noted.

"The first provision of lethal equipment for African partners [for counter-terrorist purposes] should be adopted this year," Borrell's review said.

Russia's complex attack has involved "instrumentalisation of food, irregular migration, energy, and lawfare," he said.

It has also prompted concern about European vulnerabilities under the high seas and in orbital space.

"After the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines [in September 2022], we have agreed on an EU-wide coordinated approach to strengthen the resilience of critical infrastructure," the Strategic Compass review said.

"We have tested together with member states the EU space threat response mechanisms and explored mutual assistance in case of attacks originating from space or threats to space-based assets," it added.

Regional vision

The EU is aiming to have an operational joint force of 5,000 troops by 2025 called the Rapid Deployment Capacity.

Its embryo is currently deliberating how to do "rescue and evacuation" and "the initial phase of stabilisation" in a future security crisis in the European neighbourhood, the strategic review indicated.

Borrell's 26-page review focused on Europe and Africa, while putting EU geopolitical ambitions in second place.

"The arteries of the global economy depend on stability and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific," it said, in a rare mention of Asia.

"The very first EU-US naval exercise in the Indo-Pacific region in March 2023 demonstrates our common resolve to strengthen maritime security," it added.

The EU foreign service did not reply to a question asking which exercise this referred to.

"We are committed to develop a distinctive role in the region, including by deepening security and defence exchanges with Japan, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, and Australia," Borrell's strategy paper also said.

"We will continue to pursue dialogue and consultations with China, where this is in our interest," it added, in its only mention of China.


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