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European officials agree to supply more artillery shells to Ukraine

BRUSSELS – European Union foreign and defense ministers agreed on Monday to spend up to 2 billion euros, or $2.14 billion, to supply Ukraine with artillery shells including it badly needs, to replenish its own national stocks and to increase the production of ammunition in Europe.

As is usually the case for the bloc and its 27 member states, the details of the deal have yet to be hammered out and questions remain over the speed of response, a crucial issue as Ukraine prepares for a spring counter-offensive.

But the agreement nevertheless marks a new step for the European Union in its collective work for Ukraine, and in an area – defense – that member countries largely keep as a national priority.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, welcomed the deal. “We are taking a key step towards fulfilling our promises to provide Ukraine with more artillery ammunition,” he said. said on Twitter.

On Monday, 17 member states, plus Norway, also agreed to work with a Brussels institution, the European Defense Agency, on the joint purchase of ammunition, in particular for 155 millimeter artillery shells including Ukraine badly needed.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Germany would also let other countries join its contracts with German defense manufacturers because speed was essential. “Our goal must be to ship a significant amount of ammunition to Ukraine before the end of this year,” he said.

His Estonian counterpart, Hanno Pevkur, said: “There are still many, many details to be worked out, but for me it is very important that we conclude these negotiations, and this shows me one thing: if there is a will , there is a way.”

But even one of the staunchest advocates of aid to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis of Lithuania, admitted that the target of one million rounds this year, originally proposed by the Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia was ambitious. “We may not be able to reach it,” he said.

While Ukraine uses artillery shells faster than the West can produce them, the Europeans pursue a three-part program.

The first and most urgent part is to pressure member states to send artillery shells to Ukraine from their own dwindling stocks, using 1 billion euros to pay them back.

It remains unclear how many shells are available in EU stockpiles, as some member states have refused to disclose their holdings, partly for security reasons. And countries have been keen to preserve some of their own stockpiles in case war suddenly escalates.

The new European money is intended to increase their willingness to part with these shells.

kyiv’s main need is to use 155 millimeter shells in Western guns. Ukraine says it wants 350,000 shells per month, but European Union arms manufacturers can only produce a total of around 650,000 shells of all types per year.

This is why the second part of the plan foresees an additional 1 billion euros for arms manufacturers to speed up the production of shells, both to replenish EU stocks and to supply more to the EU. Ukraine. But it won’t be easy or quick: new contracts must be drafted and signed, the now scarce raw materials for making explosives must be sourced and factories must be built.

Brussels officials want to start ordering ammunition collectively because they believe larger orders are more attractive to manufacturers and can drive down prices. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and others have cited the example of Brussels buying Covid-19 vaccines in bulk.

Some countries, however, do not want to cede this kind of power over defense matters to Brussels or believe that coalitions of Member States with a long history of military contracts would be more effective than the commission, which has never negotiated such contracts before.

Views are also divided on what to buy: some countries want to buy only European-made ammunition, while others think the need for speed should dictate buying off-the-shelf, where stocks can be found.

The third part of the plan is longer term and focuses on reviving Europe’s defense industry, but that would require billions more and remains vague.

So for now, the immediate goal is to supply Ukraine with another million 155mm shells this year and sign new supply contracts by the end of May, Borrell said. .

Since the start of the war 13 months ago, Brussels has spent 450 million euros to reimburse its members for the supply of 350,000 shells to Ukraine.

nytimes Gt

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