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European action plan to acquire ammunition for Ukraine takes shape

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After hiccups and delays, Ukraine’s European allies are hurrying to put together the financing and industrial resources to supply the Ukrainians with the artillery ammunition they need.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently announced his country has so far received only a third of the one million artillery shells the EU had committed to delivering by March, with Brussels struggling to expand production with European defence companies.

In a recent plea, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell warned the bloc’s member states that “doing nothing is not an option”, while Ukrainian troops fire approximately up to 2,000 artillery rounds a day.

The European Peace Facility (EPF), which smaller countries have used as a source for reimbursement of their donations according to a solidarity mechanism, remains dysfunctional over a Hungarian blockage and an unclear future.

At the same time, the EU-level solidarity vehicle under the bloc’s three-track ammunition plan to supply one million rounds of ammunition to the country by March has been in effect limited, due to Paris’s stipulation that they will only assist on purchases of EU-made equipment.

But now the several separate and parallel initiatives — the EU-led ammunition plan, a Czech-led bulk ammunition purchase and a series of bilateral security deals between Ukraine and individual Western countries — should ship at least 700,000 shells over the next couple of months.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukraine’s Minister of Strategic Industries, recently said that amidst a brutal artillery war with Russia, Ukraine requires an amount of ammunition that “no single country can deliver”, not even the United States.

Defence and foreign affairs from more than 20 countries are also expected to meet in Paris this week to discuss their support for Ukraine.

At Monday’s leaders’ summit convened by French President Emmanuel Macron, he said France would be open to non-EU ammunition purchases for Ukraine, signifying a note of realism.

The talks saw Western leaders promise to team up and buy the urgently needed ammunition for Ukraine together, no matter whether it comes from within or outside of the bloc. Defence ministers were tasked to come up with plans in the next 10 days on how to deliver more Kyiv.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said some 15 countries had shown interest in Prague’s initiative, which has identified 800,000 units of urgently needed artillery ammunition for Ukraine on world markets.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, the US and Canada have already announced contributions, with more expected around the ministerial in Paris.

“There is hope that we will be able to put together a significant amount of resources,” Tomáš Kopečný, Czech governmental envoy for the reconstruction of Ukraine, told Euractiv.

“800,000 pieces [of ammunition] is not the definitive number, we can definitely get much more depending on the availability of donors,” he said.

Asked about the timeframe of delivery, Kopečný said this would be “several months, and not be within a few weeks”, concerning the identified existent stocks and to-be-manufactured shells.

“More countries can join us, because we have been working on this and with this quietly for two years and with international partners for a year and a half, without much notice from the global public attention,” Kopečný said.

“We have already a very good track record with two EU Member States [Denmark, Netherlands], who are very keen on transparency and great public procurement track record and public financing,” Kopečný said, adding, that he hopes other partners will join in the next weeks.

The UK, Finland and other NATO countries have also individually pledged undisclosed quantities of shells to Ukraine through this year.

And then there is the surprise move by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who this week suggested it was “time to start a conversation about using the windfall profits of frozen Russian assets to jointly purchase military equipment for Ukraine”.

The EU’s executive could present a formal proposal in two weeks, people familiar with the discussions said.

“We’ve been saying the windfall profits would be used for the reconstruction of Ukraine – but there needs to be a country to reconstruct in the first place, so such a step would make absolute sense,” an EU diplomat said.

It remains open whether the collective Western batch of ammunition supplies will be enough to match Russia’s supply of shells from its own factories and, more importantly, from North Korea.

The Czech-brokered plus the EU plan ammunition is expected to get Ukraine to shoot again at a rate of perhaps 6,000 shells a day by summer.

Western military officials expect it to be enough for the country’s armed forces at least to hold the line against Russia in an expected offensive by May and plan for their own.

DEFENCE BRIEFING

DEFENCE STRATEGY | The European Commission this week is expected to present its new shiny strategy to develop the bloc’s military-industrial complex and increase war readiness, with subsidies to boost production capacity, build reserves, and encourage investment. We’ve got a preview for you.

SPACE JAM | Brussels and Washington are close to green-lighting the launch of European navigation satellites from US territory this year to avoid service disruption, after two years of delay.

At the same time, the EU’s Satellite Centre (SatCen), responsible for analysing satellite images from crisis zones, is stretched for resources and cannot meet all the requests unless EU countries redefine its priorities and provide it with new technologies, its director, Sorin Ducaru, told Euractiv recently.

WIDER EUROPE

WESTERN BALKANS | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked Western Balkan countries this week to start producing military equipment to help his country fight Russia, as the EU and US continue to grapple with providing military and financial aid.

TRANSNISTRIA FEARS | Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region asked Russia to help its economy withstand Moldovan “pressure”, dismissed by the pro-European Chisinau government as a propaganda stunt to gain headlines.

PUTIN SPEECH | Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said that Western support for Ukraine risks triggering a global war, in his most explicit threat to use nuclear weapons since he ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Thousands of mourners, meanwhile, attended the funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, two weeks after Putin’s top critic died in an Arctic prison.

TURKEY VOTE | While the Turkish opposition is poised to repeat their 2019 election success in the capital Ankara in an upcoming local election, in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP and the opposition CHP are running neck and neck.

EU IN THE WORLD

GAZA TRUCE | Mediators expected to reconvene in Cairo this Sunday and search for a formula acceptable to Israel and Hamas for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza, sources with knowledge of the talks said, after foreign governments resorted to airdrops to aid desperate civilians in the Palestinian enclave.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

In Navalny’s Funeral, Echoes of Dissidents Past [Guardian]
The Land That Was Once Nagorno-Karabakh [Foreign Policy]
China Is Building Its Own Starlink — Even As Questions Surround Musk’s Constellation [Defense One]

ON OUR RADAR NEXT WEEK

UN General Assembly Session on Gaza, UNRWA| Monday, 4 March 2024 | New York, Unites States
European Commission due to present EU defence strategy| Tuesday, 5 March 2024 | Brussels, Belgium
‘Super Tuesday’ presidential primaries| Tuesday, 5 March 2024 | Unites States
French President Macron visits Prague to talk ammunition| Tuesday, 5 March 2024 | Prague, Czech Republic
European Commission expected to present pre-enlargement reforms and policy reviews| Wednesday, 6 March 2024 | Brussels, Belgium
New farmer protests against Ukraine imports and EU rules planned| Wednesday, 6 March 2024 | Warsaw, Poland
IAEA chief Grossi visits Russia, talks with President Putin possible| Wednesday, 6 March 2024 | Moscow, Russia
US President Biden gives State of the Union address| Thursday, 7 March 2024 | Washington, United States

PREVIOUS EDITIONS

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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