According to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, the EU’s options for punitive actions against Russia have almost run out, and the bloc now needs to focus on providing financial and military support for Ukraine.
During a meeting of EU defense ministers, Borrell told in Stockholm that there was not much more that could be done in terms of sanctions but that we could continue to provide financial and military support.
“It would be odd if there were significantly more options available a year after the invasion started. We have been incremental – perhaps sometimes too incremental – while still following our step-by-step methodology”, he continued.
The EU has adopted ten rounds of sanctions against Moscow over the past year in an effort to make it more difficult for Russia to finance the conflict and deprive it of technology and the parts it needs to maintain its arsenal of weapons against Ukraine.
“But really, one year after the invasion, we’re coming to the end of the ladder,” Borrell said when asked about the next potential moves the bloc could take in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Instead, the union has begun to investigate ways to map Russia’s frozen assets, target circumvention, and leverage these assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction.
“The response is usually the same: keep backing Ukraine. A state at war has many financial needs, and Ukraine needs a lot of money just to keep the machinery running. This will take a lot of work from our end, so sanctions and military support are not enough”.
Borrell stated that Ukraine would “decide” what would happen on the battlefield, but that Europe’s role was to “help them, even by providing weaponry and ammunition”.
He continued by saying that Europe has financial resources that should be turned into military prowess and deployed to the front lines, along with adequate training for Ukrainian forces.
EU defense ministers decided in principle on Wednesday, March 8, to move forward with plans to expedite the supply of 155-millimeter ammunition to Ukraine in order to meet the country’s increasing demands on the battlefield in anticipation of a possible Russian spring offensive.
The European Peace Fund (EPF), which has already committed €3.6 billion to arming Ukraine since the start of the invasion in February and was recently topped up by an extra €2 billion until 2023, would be used in Borrell’s three-track strategy.
If the proposal is adopted, €1 billion would be used to pay member states for supplying Ukraine with ammunition from the still-existing but rapidly diminishing stocks, and €1 billion would be used to place joint purchase orders. Members states still need to agree on the specifics of how to finance the significant joint weapons purchase program, though.
NEED TO REPLENISH THE WEAPONS FUND
Borrell emphasized that the European Peace Facility will require extra funding for everything else, “all around the world, and even for Ukraine,” if EU member states choose to use the €2 billion top-ups on munitions for Ukraine.
The EU’s top diplomat said member states would need to make a decision quickly when asked how the EU could avoid a “band-aid” strategy of needing to top up the fund sometimes when requirements arise.
“The question is: Should we keep arming Ukraine using this method, and if so, how can we support our allies’ forces, such those in Africa? There are many commitments,” stated Borrell.
“Do we want to keep playing a global role? The member states will have to make a decision once it costs money”, he continued.
EU INDUSTRY FIRST
The EU is also looking for nations outside the bloc to join its efforts, and at least Norway has already shown interest, with Canada maybe showing some inclination to do the same.
However, there is disagreement among the member states about whether to include non-EU nations in the campaign. France, in particular, is in favor of utilizing pooled funding to buy ammunition made in the EU.
Because “we have European producers that can make this kind of ammunition,” according to Borrell, the initial €1 billion can be easily absorbed by European industry.
Borrell stated that “if there is a definite need backed by money, then [European] industry will start manufacturing more” in response to criticism that a European solution might be overshadowed by third countries like the US or the UK, which may be able to produce ammunition faster.
“Firms adapt to the demand; if the demand is evident, the market responds. They are hesitant to increase their production capacity if the demand cannot be satisfied and the amount that has to be produced is unknown”.
“Common procurement “sends a tremendous signal to the industry that this is our need because of this’, he continued.