EU struggles to produce and send the ammunition it promised to Ukraine
Published Tuesday, November 14, 2023 7:34AM EST
BRUSSELS -- European Union nations acknowledged on Tuesday that they risk failing to provide Ukraine with the ammunition they pledged to help Kyiv stave off the Russian invasion and win back its territory.
Early this year, EU leaders promised to provide 1 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine's front line by spring next year in what would have amounted to a serious ramp-up of production. But the 27-nation bloc, for over half a century steeped in a "peace, not war" message and sheltering under a U.S. military umbrella, is finding it tough to come up with the goods.
"The 1 million will not be reached, you have to assume that," said German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, ahead of a meeting of EU defence and foreign affairs ministers in Brussels.
Estonia's defence minister, Hanno Pevkur, said it was crucial to ramp up supply of the ammunition.
"Look at Russia. They are producing today more than ever. They are getting shells from North Korea. Europe cannot say that ... `Russia and North Korea can deliver and we cannot,"' he said.
Some 300,000 rounds have been delivered from existing stocks in the EU so far. With the rest becoming increasingly elusive to source before spring, Latvian Defence Minister Andris Spruds insisted the original target should not be taken too literally.
"Well, of course, 1 million rounds are symbolic. I think aspiration and ambition is important," he said.
On the battlefield, though, the presence of ammunition is the only thing that counts.
In Ukraine's war with Russia, 155mm artillery rounds play a pivotal role. The daily consumption of 6,000 to 7,000 shells highlights its strategic importance. Acquiring 1 million such shells could secure stability for Ukraine for at least half a year, providing a substantial advantage in sustained operations and flexibility on the battlefield, observers said.
EU Commissioner Thierry Breton insisted the industry production target of 1 million rounds could be met by industry. "But it is now upon member states to place their orders."
However, member states put the blame on producers.
"We have all signed contracts. We've done joint procurement. So industry now has to deliver. It has to step up its game to produce more," said Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren.
Breton acknowledged that the EU's over-reliance on so-called soft power and decades of sinking budgets in many European nations had left the bloc exposed.
"As you well know, it is history, certainly the peace dividend. It is true that we dropped a bit, even significantly, our production capacity, but the industrial base is still there" to ramp up production anew, he said.
One way to get more ammunition, said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, was to redirect current EU exports and prioritize Ukraine.
"About 40% of the production is being exported to third countries," he said. "So maybe what we have to do is to try to shift this production to the priority one, which is the Ukrainians."
Illia Novikov contributed from Kyiv, Ukraine.