The EU has nearly exhausted its options for punitive measures against Russia and the bloc’s attention needs to shift to financial and military support for Ukraine, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
“There is not much more to do from the point of view of sanctions, but we can continue to increase financial and military support,” Borrell told EURACTIV in Stockholm, following a meeting of EU defence ministers.
”It would be strange that one year after the invasion began, there would be much more options left. We have been using our step-by-step process, and we have been incremental – maybe sometimes too incremental,” he added.
Over the past year, the EU has approved 10 rounds of sanctions against Moscow meant to make financing the war more difficult and starve Russia of tech equipment and spare parts for arms to be used against Ukraine.
“But indeed, one year after the invasion, we’re getting to the end of the ladder,” Borrell admitted when asked about the next potential steps the bloc could take in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The answer is always the same – to continue supporting Ukraine. Ukraine needs a lot of money just to keep the machinery working, a state at war has a lot of financial needs – this will require a lot of effort from our side – so sanctions and military support are not everything.”.
Borrell said battlefield operations were “up to Ukraine to decide” but Europe’s responsibility “is to support them, also by providing arms and ammunition“.
Europe, he added, has financial capacities that should be converted into military capabilities and taken to the frontline, with proper training for Ukrainian soldiers,
To address Ukraine’s rising needs on the battlefield towards a likely Russian spring offensive, EU defence ministers agreed in principle on Wednesday (8 March) to move ahead with plans to speed up the supply of 155-millimetre ammunition to Ukraine.
Borrell had proposed a three-track plan that would use money already allocated to the bloc‘s European Peace Facility (EPF), which has already dedicated €3.6 billion towards arming Ukraine since the start of the invasion last February and was recently topped up by an additional €2 billion for 2023.
The plan, if approved, would see €1 billion used to reimburse member states for providing Ukraine with ammunition from the remaining but quickly depleting stockpiles and another €1 billion for placing joint procurement orders.
However, member states have yet to hash out details on financing the massive joint munitions-buying effort.
”For the time being, we need an agreement on €2 billion – if this will not be enough, then we will come back to it because we don’t know how much ammunition we can buy with this €2 billion – it depends on the final price and the delivery, and the need will also change according to the nature of the war;“ Borrell said.
Asked whether the joint procurement plans to secure fast delivery of ammunition could go beyond artillery shells and towards more heavy weaponry, Borrell said the EU “could be equally fast for other needs“.
“Today, we have a war of attrition, tomorrow, we might have a war of movement, and then the level of ammunition expenditure or consumption will be less – we are adapting to a situation that constantly changes on the ground,” Borrell said.
Weapons fund top-up needed
BorrelI warned that, if EU member states agree on using the €2 billion top-ups on ammunition for Ukraine, the European Peace Facility will need more resources for everything else, “all around the world, and even for Ukraine”.
Asked about how the EU could avoid a ‘band-aid’ approach of having to top up the fund every once in a while as needs arise, the EU’s chief diplomat said member states would need to decide soon.
“The question is: Do we want to continue using this tool to arm Ukraine, and how do we support the armies of our partners, for instance, in Africa? There are a lot of commitments,” Borrell said.
“Do we want to continue being a global actor? Then it costs money, and the member states will have to decide,” he added.
EU industry first
The EU is also seeking countries outside the bloc to join its efforts, with at least Norway already expressing interest and Canada potentially willing to join in.
However, member states are split over whether to bring non-EU countries into the efforts, especially France advocating for using pooled financing to acquire EU-manufactured ammunition.
Borrell said the first €1 billion can easily be absorbed by European industry because “we have European producers that can produce this kind of ammunition”.
Responding to criticism that a European solution might be dwarfed by third countries like the US or the UK, which could be able to supply ammunition faster, Borrell said that “if there is a clear demand backed by money, then [European] industry will start producing more“.
“Firms adapt to the demand – if there is a clear demand, the industry reacts. If it is not a solvable demand and it’s unclear how much needs to be produced, they are reluctant to raise their production capacity.”
“That’s why common procurement sends a powerful signal to the industry – this is our demand,” he added.
Source : Euractiv