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EU leaders exhort allies to do more for Ukraine as ministers debate ways to fill its ammunition gap

A bell tower of the Saint Sophia Cathedral is seen through the destroyed Russian artillery cannon in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) A bell tower of the Saint Sophia Cathedral is seen through the destroyed Russian artillery cannon in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
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BRUSSELS -

The leaders of five European Union countries urged their neighbours and allies Wednesday to ramp up military support for Ukraine, while the bloc's defence ministers debated ways to help meet the war-ravaged country's ammunition shortfall.

In their appeal, the leaders of the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany and the Netherlands warned that Europe's security is tied to the fighting that started almost two years ago with Russia's invasion of its neighbour.

"Our ability to continue to support and sustain Ukraine's defence, both during the winter and in the longer term, is decisive," they wrote in the Financial Times newspaper. "In fact, it is a matter of our common European security."

With neither Russian nor Ukrainian troops demonstrating an advantage in the drawn-out conflict, fears are growing that public support for Ukraine's war effort is waning. EU and NATO leaders, who are among Ukraine's main backers, have shifted from praising the country's battlefield gains to celebrating its ability to survive against a more powerful enemy.

The prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House after the U.S. presidential election in November is also driving leaders and military officers to demand that Europe must do more to defend itself. During his last term, Trump undermined confidence among NATO allies that the U.S. would back them in a security crisis.

In the Financial Times, the five leaders said it was vital to speed up arms deliveries up given that the war was unlikely to end soon.

"Russia doesn't wait for anybody, and we need to act now. If Ukraine loses, the long-term consequences and costs will be much higher for all of us," they wrote. "We Europeans have a special responsibility. Therefore, we must act. Europe's future depends on it."

According to EU estimates, Ukraine was firing around 4,000 to 7,000 artillery shells each day last summer, while Russia was launching more than 20,000 shells a day in its neighbour's territory. Russia's arms industry far outweighs Ukraine's, and Kyiv has relied on Western help to match Moscow's firepower.

Yet the 27-nation EU's plans to produce 1 million artillery rounds for Ukraine have fallen short, with only about a third of the target met. Senior EU officials have said they now expect the European defence industry to be capable of producing around 1 million shells annually by the end of this year.

But the shells will not arrive quickly. NATO's procurement agency said last week that delivery of ammunition orders can take anywhere from 24 to 36 months. Even the five leaders conceded that deliveries could take a year.

"What is urgent today is to provide the ammunition and weapon systems, including howitzers, tanks, UAVs and air defence, that Ukraine so urgently needs on the ground. Now," they wrote.

EU defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Wednesday discussed ways to further boost production.

While not targeted by the five leaders, France has been accused of failing to provide sufficient support given its size and military weight. Still, on Jan. 18, France announced more planned deliveries of its Caesar artillery system to Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to travel to Ukraine in coming weeks.

Asked Tuesday about doubts over future U.S. support for Ukraine, Macron said, "I am convinced that the next few months are decisive." He stressed that he thinks Ukraine is mainly a European issue.

"Ukraine is on European soil. It is a European country. And if we want a peaceful and stable Europe, we need to be credible in terms of our own security and defence vis-a-vis all our neighbours," the French leader said during a trip to Sweden.

EU leaders are set to gather over dinner later Wednesday to discuss their support for Ukraine. They have a Thursday summit scheduled on overcoming Hungary's veto of a long-term financial aid package worth 50-billion-euro ($54 billion) to help prop-up the Ukrainian economy.

Political infighting also is holding up additional U.S. support for Ukraine.

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Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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