Western allies are close to announcing a major boost in their supplies of ammunition and other defence equipment for Ukraine in the face of Kyiv’s rapidly shrinking stockpiles.
The EU was poised on Wednesday to confirm a €2bn (£1.75bn) proposal to both speed up shipments of artillery ammunition to Ukraine and increase European production.
At the same time, defence officials from more than 50 countries supporting Kyiv met to discuss how to get pledged weapons into Ukraine as soon as possible.
EU countries have agreed in principle to buy more shells to help Ukraine in a landmark joint procurement deal that would provide national governments with financial incentives worth €1bn to send more of their artillery rounds to Kyiv, while another €1bn would fund joint procurement of new 155 millimetre shells.
The plan is set to be finalised at a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers on Monday.
Joint procurement is part of a three-track plan that would firstly encourage EU countries to donate more ammunition to Kyiv from their stockpiles immediately by offering a higher reimbursement rate from an EU-run fund that bankrolls military aid, the European Peace Facility.
The second part of the EU plan would be a fast-track procedure to sign contracts with manufacturers of 155mm shells in EU countries and Norway. And the third foresees using EU money to help European arms companies boost capacity and efficiency.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, EU Council President Charles Michel said Russian forces were firing between 20,000 and 50,000 artillery shells per day, compared to Ukraine’s estimated 2,000 to 7,000.
Strengthening our European defence means developing our industrial capacities and this is urgently needed to support Ukraine. “Ukraine needs ammunition to defend itself,” Mr Michel said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that by procuring jointly, the EU will be able to reduce unit prices and delivery time.
Buying weapons together is indeed a complex issue because it is a totally new approach in Europe,” he said, comparing it to the EU’s joint Covid-19 vaccine purchase programme.
The plan comes as EU arms companies have called for cast-iron contracts before ramping up production.
“I need orders. Without orders, I won’t produce anything,” said Armin Papperger, chief executive of Germany’s largest weapons manufacturer Rheinmetall.
Meanwhile, the so-called Ukraine Defence Contact Group of around 50 allies, also known as the Ramstein format, met online to address why Kyiv is receiving fewer weapons than the more than $60bn (£50bn) pledged by Western states in the past year.
Ukraine has stepped up its pleas for more artillery rounds, saying that it has less than a quarter of the shells that Russian forces rain down on them in high-intensity bombing.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told the meeting that the war was “the greatest threat to European security since the start of the Cold War in the aftermath of World War Two”, and said allies “must provide Ukraine with the full capabilities for the fight ahead”.
He focused on new donations of ammunition and air-defence systems to Ukraine and said countries “are coming together to develop innovative solutions to industrial-production problems”.
The US has pledged more than $44bn (£36.5bn) in military aid to Ukraine, more than two-thirds of the entire western support, and 10 times the level of the next country, Britain.
Many countries are providing air-defence assets, from Italy and France’s SAMP/T contribution, the US Germany, and the Netherlands donating Patriot missiles, and Canada and Germany contributing mid-range air-defence systems like NASAMS and IRIS-T.
On Wednesday, the Danish government announced it will establish a fund for Ukraine of seven billion Danish crowns (£823m) this year, of which 5.4 billion crowns will go towards military aid while the rest will be spent on civilian and business rebuilding efforts.
The coalition of countries donating German-built Leopard tanks to Ukraine continues to grow, with nine countries now committed to providing more than 150 of them – and Berlin’s 18 Leopards will arrive by the end of March.
Meanwhile, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda is pushing to hand over its 30 Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, but he is only willing to do so as part of an international coalition, and Nato allies have so far baulked at this step.