The European Union’s failure to provide Ukraine with one million ammunition rounds within a year as it has promised should still be cheered, some of the bloc’s top officials have argued.
EU member states approved in March last year a €2 billion plan to boost ammunition deliveries to Ukraine, pledging to send one million 155mm shells within 12 months so the country could defend itself against Russia’s full-scale invasion.
But with less than two months to go before the self-imposed deadline, Josep Borrell conceded on Wednesday that the target would not be reached and that just 330,000 ammunition rounds had so far been delivered, mainly from EU states’ existing stockpiles.
By March 2024, he expects the bloc to have reached around 52% of its objective with over half a million deliveries and for the one million objective to be hit only toward the end of the year.
“The whole machinery of the European defence industry is working, and member states are passing commands. And by the end of the year, the planned deliveries will reach more than one million, because the figures on the pipeline amount to 630,000,” he told reporters following an informal meeting of defence ministers in Brussels.
“I think we should be fairly satisfied with what we’ve managed to achieve, increasing the industry’s production capacity by 40%,” he added.
Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton also chose to focus more on the ramp-up in production capacity than on the delivery target.
“Last March I took a commitment which was to be able to increase our production capacity of ammunitions, mainly 155mm, up to one million per year,” he said on Wednesday.
“We are already at this level today. In other words, we are two months ahead of schedule in our capacity to produce more ammunition in Europe,” he added.
‘Wake-up call to do more’
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was more cautious in her assessment, describing the failure to reach the target as “a wake-up call to do more”, acknowledging however that “without this ambitious goal, we would be in a worse place.”
“What is good out of it is that the production of ammunition has tripled in Europe – of course, it’s not enough. What it also showed is that the defence readiness of European countries is far behind what it should be. So, definitely, it sends a clear message to everybody that we should all do more.”
According to Bloomberg, Ukraine’s forces are facing a “critical” shortage of ammunition and have just 2,000 shells to fire every day along the 1,500km frontline, down from 7,000 over the summer.
Kallas was in Brussels on Thursday for an extraordinary summit of EU leaders to discuss a four-year €50-billion macro financial package for Ukraine. The adoption of EU the package had been delayed in mid-December by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who requested a yearly vote to disburse the funds which the 26 other leaders were staunchly against.
Under the deal agreed on Thursday morning, EU leaders will hold a yearly debate on the Ukraine Facility and how the money is spent by Ukraine. Leaders will also be able to request a review from the European Commission at the two-year mark.
Kyiv needs roughly €35 billion this year from international partners to keep essential services going including healthcare, education, social protection and pensions.
Also on the agenda for leaders were plans to include a special fund for Ukraine within the European Peace Facility (EPF) – the off-budget instrument under which they have provided weapons to Ukraine and which allowed them to be reimbursed for some of their contributions.
Borrell had last year proposed that member states earmark at least €5 billion a year over the next four years for Ukraine military assistance through the EPF but several member states – including Germany – have pushed back against this number. They request that their bilateral donations to Ukraine be counted as well.