EU presses for joint arms purchases to help Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman carries a shell to load into a howitzer, for firing at Russian positions on the front line, near Bahmut, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on Feb 16, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUNICH - The European Union is urgently exploring ways for its member countries to team up to buy munitions to help Ukraine, following warnings from Kyiv that its forces need more supplies quickly, said diplomats and officials.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the idea of joint procurement of 155mm artillery shells – badly needed by Kyiv – at a meeting in Brussels on Monday.

EU officials and diplomats said a joint approach would be more efficient than member states placing individual orders. Larger orders would also help industry invest in extra capacity, they said.

“It is now the time, really, to speed up the production, and to scale up the production of standardised products that Ukraine needs desperately,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Ms von der Leyen later said she was confident that the urgency of the situation would convince EU members to set aside their longstanding preference for buying arms at a national level.

“In this atrocious war that Russia unleashed against Ukraine, we see that we can move mountains under pressure,” she told Reuters and other news organisations in an interview.

The joint arms buying could be similar to the EU’s advance purchase of Covid-19 vaccines, she added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said ammunition was a “critical issue”, which he had discussed with defence industry leaders at the Munich conference.

“I received assurances – and I have specific numbers – about the quantities that can be produced,” he told reporters. “The question is (around) contracting them, financing and logistics.”

While no decisions are expected on Monday, an EU diplomat said announcements were likely in the coming days, following an Estonian proposal for EU procurement of 155mm ammunition, the shells used in artillery pieces such as howitzers.

The diplomat said the bloc was focusing on how to boost production and how joint purchases would be funded.

A joint procurement effort would aim to replenish the stockpiles of Kyiv’s allies, badly depleted after a year of supplying munitions to help Ukraine fight Russia’s invasion.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said last week that Ukraine was using up artillery shells faster than its allies could currently produce them.

Ukrainian forces are firing between 2,000 and 7,000 artillery shells per day, while Russia is using between 20,000 and 60,000, according to the Estonian paper, seen by Reuters.

A senior EU official said the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Mr Josep Borrell, and its diplomatic service considered the Estonian proposal to be “potentially a very good idea”.

Officials and diplomats said that at least some funding would likely come from the European Peace Facility, an EU military aid fund.

It has approved €3.6 billion (S$5.1 billion) in support for Ukraine, but mainly by bankrolling aid given by EU members individually.

The bloc’s European Defence Agency (EDA) took part in a joint procurement effort in 2014 with five EU members to buy ammunition for an anti-tank weapon.

It has offered to take the lead in another ammunition-buying effort.

EDA chief executive Jiri Sedivy said: “We have proposed to member states that we can act on their behalf for the procurement of different types of ammunition.”

Diplomats and officials did not specify how much the EU might spend on joint procurement. The Estonian paper suggested that one million 155mm rounds could be bought in 2023 for some €4 billion. REUTERS

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