EU falls well short of ammunition target for Ukraine

Brussels: The EU on Wednesday said it would supply only half of the million artillery rounds it had pledged for Ukraine by March, as Brussels urged countries to send more arms quicker.

The bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he expected 524,000 howitzer shells would be delivered by the end of the 12-month timeframe set last year.

The failure to reach the target comes as Ukraine’s military is being outgunned by Russian forces along the frontline nearly two years on from Moscow’s invasion.

Borrell insisted that the EU would eventually supply more than one million artillery shells to Ukraine by the end of the year as the bloc’s defence industry keeps ramping up production.

As fears swirl over future military aid from Ukraine’s other main backer the United States, Brussels has been demanding clear figures from EU states on what they’re giving Kyiv this year.

“Many members have sent their input and I can say that at least it’s going to be 21 billion (euros) budgeted for 2024,” Borrell said after a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – whose country is the largest European donor to Ukraine – has called for others to lay out their military support and do more to help Kyiv.

Accusations have been levelled that key EU economies such as France, Italy and Spain are not pulling their weight on arming Ukraine.

The discussion over EU military support for Ukraine will roll over into a summit of European leaders on Thursday, dominated mainly by Hungary blocking 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in budget support for Kyiv.

“You have to do more and quicker because on the frontline the battle is fierce and Ukraine needs more support,” Borrell told EU member states.

The EU is currently debating an overhaul to a central fund used to cover the cost of weapons for Kyiv.

Borrell’s diplomatic service is pushing for an extra five billion euros for the fund but Germany argues contributions should be offset against bilateral aid.

The looming spectre of a potential return of former president Donald Trump to the White House at November US elections has heightened calls for Europe to stand stronger.

The EU has launched a major drive to bolster its defence industry to make it fit-for-purpose in the face of Russia’s aggression.

Arms producers have struggled to ramp up capacity fast enough and say governments need to commit to long-term contracts.

But Brussels insists it has now unleashed the momentum needed to bring industry up to the level of meeting the continent’s defence needs.

“We certainly have speeded up,” Borrell said.

“There was some initial inertia, and that inertia is what stops motion, but then once things get set in motion, they can speed up.”