EU Eyes ‘War Economy’ in Push to Rush Ammo to Ukraine

EU defense ministers will discuss Wednesday plans to raid their stockpiles to rush one billion euros’ worth of ammunition to Ukraine and place joint orders for more to ensure supplies keep flowing.

Ukraine’s Western backers warn that Kyiv is facing a critical shortage of 155-millimeter howitzer shells as it fires thousands each day in its fight against a grinding Russian offensive.

Ministers meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov in Stockholm will debate a three-pronged push to meet Kyiv’s immediate needs and bolster Europe’s defense industry for the longer term.

The first part of the plan, as laid out by the EU’s foreign policy service, envisions using a billion euros ($1.06 billion) from the bloc’s joint European Peace Facility to get member states to send shells in their stocks to Kyiv within weeks.

Ukraine’s European allies have already depleted their shelves, committing some 12 billion euros of military support, with 3.6 billion euros coming from the joint fund.

Officials say they are confident there are enough 155-mm shells still in storage that Europe’s own defenses will not be made too vulnerable. The defense ministers are expected to provide details during their meeting.

The second part of the plan is to pool together EU and Ukraine demands to place massive joint orders that would incentivize ammunition producers to ramp up their capacity.

The move represents an important shift for the 27-nation bloc as Russia’s war has sped up the push to work more in unison on defense.

Officials say the money to cover Ukraine’s needs could come from another one billion euros already in the joint kitty.

Estonia, the ex-Soviet republic that initially proposed spending four billion euros on a million shells for Ukraine, wants more new funds committed.

“According to Ukrainian needs, they would need at least 350,000 155-mm rounds per month,” Madis Roll, a senior official at Estonia’s defense ministry, told AFP.

“Therefore, Estonia has proposed the initiative to jointly procure at least one million 155-mm ammunition rounds to Ukraine, which is the absolute minimum military requirement for Ukraine.”

‘High-Intensity Conflict’

EU countries are weighing whether the bloc’s central defense agency or member states with more experience should negotiate contracts.

There is a strong desire to avoid seeing the process slowed down by bureaucracy.

There is also a thorny debate about buying ammunition from outside the bloc as some argue the priority should be speed, not helping European industry.

More broadly though, there is a clear sense that after years of lower investment after the Cold War, more needs to be done to get EU defense firms to step up their output fast.

“European industry is not adapted for the needs of a high-intensity conflict,” European internal market commissioner Thierry Breton told journalists Tuesday.

“Our defence industry must quickly switch to ‘war economy’ mode.”

Breton was to tell ministers that, beyond just placing a major joint order, the EU needs to unlock stalled funds to bolster industrial capacity and to ensure firms got easier access to loans.

Officials say they hope to agree on a firm plan to send the ammunition to Ukraine at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on March 20.

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