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EU Struggles to Overcome Challenges of Supplying Arms to Ukraine

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The European Union is close to making significant progress on mass ammunition purchases to aid Ukraine and restock member stocks, but critical issues of funding and scale remain unresolved.

This week, EU defense ministers will discuss plans to speed up the supply of 155mm ammunition to Ukraine, which demands more artillery shells to fight the Russian invasion, and order more ammunition together.

Hannu Pevkur, Estonia’s defense minister – who has spearheaded a campaign by the European Union to order millions of shells – said he believes ministers will reach a “political consensus” to pursue joint procurement when they meet in Stockholm on Wednesday.

But he noted that key issues are still up for debate, such as how to pay for joint purchases. Pevkor insisted that EU members could not count on money already earmarked for military aid to Ukraine.

“We need a clear consensus on the need for new funds for this initiative,” he told Reuters in a phone interview.

Kiev and its allies say both sides in Ukraine are firing thousands of artillery shells a day, but Russia could fire thousands more because of the large supplies. They also said that Ukraine was using up the shells faster than its allies could produce them.

Sending the shells to Ukraine has also badly depleted the stocks of Kiev’s allies, according to the officials, though the exact levels are classified.

Pefkor warned that joint procurement should not get bogged down by infighting between EU bodies. Various parts of the EU bureaucracy have been grappling with this concept in recent days.

If the project comes to fruition, it will be an important step in EU integration since defense procurement has been largely the monopoly of the bloc’s member governments.

“You can see the next potential quantum leap in European integration in the field of defence,” said an EU official in Brussels familiar with the discussions.

Things could move quickly, the official said, with a number of EU countries signing a so-called project arrangement – which sets out the terms of the procurement scheme – as soon as this weekend and the first contracts agreed at the end of April.

“It’s ambitious, but I think it’s also realistic,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

EU officials are focusing their joint procurement ideas on artillery shells, rather than weapons, right now as Ukraine has identified them as a particularly urgent need and they are more easily produced than complex weapons systems.

Three-track plan

The joint procurement is part of a three-track plan by EU institutions to be discussed by ministers in Stockholm.

The first step would encourage EU countries to donate more ammunition to Kiev from their own stocks immediately by offering a higher reimbursement rate than an EU-run fund that funds military aid, according to the European Peace Facility.

The European Union will allocate 1 billion euros ($1.06 billion) from the fund for the move, which is not without controversy.

Pefkor noted that it would place EU members into different funding categories, with those who were more generous with their ammunition earlier receiving less than those who donate now.

Joint purchase is the second part of the EU plan, which proposes a fast-track procedure for signing contracts with manufacturers of 155-mm projectiles in the EU countries and Norway.

The proposal document, which was sent to EU member states last week, says the joint purchases would allow the bloc to “place huge demand to send a clear demand signal to the industry, enabling it to increase its production capacity”.

But the document does not specify how many missiles the EU should order, at what cost, or when they might be available.

Estonia kicked off the current debate with a proposal last month that the EU buy one million 155mm rounds for Ukraine this year, at an estimated cost of €4 billion.

The third part of the plan foresees the use of EU funds to help European arms companies enhance their capacity and efficiency.

After talks in Stockholm, EU officials hope the plan can be confirmed at a meeting of foreign and defense ministers on March 20 and finalized at an EU summit later that week.

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