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EU Seeks Ammunition Boost for Ukraine in Bid to Approach Goal

In Europe
January 30, 2024

(Bloomberg) — The European Union will aim to boost ammunition deliveries to Ukraine as it tries to make up for delays in meeting an ambitious target of sending 1 million artillery rounds by March, Estonia’s defense minister said.

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While the bloc agreed last year on the deadline, only one third of the rounds has been delivered to Ukraine with another 30% due by March, Hanno Pevkur said in an interview in Brussels. The goal at the time wasn’t backed by money, he added on the eve of a meeting of EU defense ministers due Wednesday.

“We’re lacking still around one third of that,” Pevkur said. “This is why we need to send a clear signal that we have either the shells from stocks or the money.” Pevkur added he expects his counterparts to commit at their meeting to finding the rounds or funding for shells for Ukraine.

The EU agreed early last year to send the one million rounds to Ukraine after a push by Estonia to make the pledge. EU officials told its 27 member states late last year that it’s likely to fall short of its ammunition target, despite efforts to ramp up the bloc’s defense industry.

Just as Ukraine faces shortages in financial and military aid from allied nations, Russia has been bolstered by an influx of supplies from North Korea, which according to a South Korea lawmaker shipped 1 million shells to Russia last year.

Estonia’s Pevkur said at least seven other countries, including Poland and the Nordics, were ready to pledge more money toward the goal. Even if the EU is unlikely to meet the March deadline, having fresh funding for production means the rounds will eventually be sent to Ukraine, he added.

The bloc is also bracing for a show-down with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the EU leader closest to Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a summit of leaders Thursday. Leaders will try to agree on a €50 billion ($54.5 billion) aid package for Ukraine that Hungary blocked in December.

At the meeting of defense ministers a day earlier, participants will gather in private to discuss the ammunition goal and assess how much each member state has in stock, has supplied and intends to procure specifically for Ukraine, according to senior EU diplomats.

The tally of ammunition sent to Ukraine may get a boost if defense ministers decide to count bilateral contributions that EU states hadn’t sought reimbursement for, allow orders made abroad or change internal deadlines for reimbursement, the diplomats said. There’s also a push to prioritize shipments to Ukraine over other export destinations.

But the bloc is unlikely to meet the target even with those tweaks, the diplomats added.

A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry in Belgium, which currently holds the EU presidency, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two other diplomats said that the EU set itself up for failure by setting such a demanding target amid supply chain shortages, but that the target itself has helped turbo-charge ammunition production for Ukraine.

Pevkur pointed to EU estimates that the bloc is set to produce as much as 1.4 million ammunition rounds this year, showing a tripling in the production rate.

“That means we can still say this one million initiative gave us the result we wanted to see,” he said. “Now we just need to work.”

–With assistance from Jorge Valero and Alberto Nardelli.

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