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EU leaders endorse Ukraine ammunition deal

March 23, 2023

A meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels has been dominated by discussion of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They endorsed a plan to send Kyiv a million rounds of artillery shells over the next 12 months.

A Ukrainian soldier holding tank ammunition
Ukrainian troops are in desperate need of more ammunition as they fight the Russian invasionImage: Ignacio Marin/AA/picture alliance

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday endorsed a deal to ramp up the supply of artillery shells to Ukraine as the country defends itself against Russia's unprovoked invasion.

"Taking into account the security and defense interests of all member states, the European Council welcomes the agreement ... to deliver ground-to-ground and artillery ammunition to Ukraine and, if requested, missiles," the meeting's conclusions on Ukraine read.

The two-day European Council summit, which is also to focus on other issues, including energy supply, was also attended by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a working lunch on Thursday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also addressed the meeting via video.

"The EU supports Ukraine in its relentless quest for freedom," European Council President Charles Michel said. "We stand with Ukraine as long as it takes."

What happened at the summit?

Leaders of most of the 27 EU member states signed off on a fast-track procedure to ramp up the supply of ammunition to Ukraine that was adopted during a meeting of foreign and defense ministers earlier this week.

The plan, which would send 1 million rounds of artillery shells to Ukraine over the next 12 months, was mooted last month by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. It is modeled on a similar joint purchasing plan that was devised during the coronavirus pandemic to buy vaccines.

EU leaders endorse Ukraine ammunition deal

Ukraine is facing an acute ammunition shortage as it fights Russian troops. The war is widely seen as a conflict in which European liberal values are at stake.

Hungary, whose stance on Russia's invasion is ambivalent, has announced that it will not take part in supplying ammunition to Ukraine, but said it would not veto the deal to prevent other members from doing so. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban last month accused the bloc of helping prolong the war by imposing sanctions on Russia and supplying Ukraine with military and financial aid.

Bulgaria's president, Rumen Radev, also ruled out the delivery of shells but added that "Bulgaria will support European diplomatic efforts to restore peace."

Zelenskyy expresses thanks

During a video call, Zelenskyy thanked leaders for the initiative, a diplomat with direct knowledge of the conversation told The Associated Press. 

The diplomat said Zelenskyy also asked leaders to deliver modern aircraft and long-range missiles to help Ukraine fight.

The president was speaking from a moving train while he visited besieged Ukrainian cities, the diplomat said.

Guterres: EU needs to lead climate change fight

Discussions with Guterres were expected to focus on a recently renewed deal, brokered by the world body and Turkey, that allows the safe export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea during the conflict. 

In his initial remarks, Guterres also spoke of the need for the European Union to be at the forefront of efforts to combat global warming.

"We very much count on the European Union to lead the transformations that are necessary in order to be able to put back on track the 2030 agenda," Guterres said, referring to climate goals set for the next seven years.

"We are close to the tipping point," Guterres said. "We need dramatic action. ... We count on the leadership of the European Union in this regard."

The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently gave what it called a "final" warning that the world must act now to prevent catastrophic consequences of global warming.

Guterres also spoke of the world as being in a dire situation overall, saying there was a "perfect storm" in many regions.

"More hunger, more poverty, less education, less health services," he said. "And it is clear that our international financial system is not fit for purpose to deal with such a huge challenge."

Antonio Guterres and Charles Michel walking
Guterres (left), who arriived with Council President Michel, spoke of a "perfect storm"Image: NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/AFP

Trade dispute with United States

The EU leaders were also to discuss  the bloc's competitiveness and its response to the $369 billion (€338.6 billion) US Inflation Reduction Act.

Following a meeting with US President Joe Biden earlier this month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said there was "a striking symmetry" between the US legislation and the European Green Deal, as both have the stated aim of fighting climate change and boosting investment and growth.

There have been complaints from within the European Union that clean-energy subsidies contained in the Inflation Reduction Act and other US bills will divert investment away from the EU and hurt economies.

According to the European Council, ways of ensuring the security of the energy supply within the EU was also to be on the agenda, as well the current high energy prices in the bloc, partly caused by fallout from the war in Ukraine.

Boosting energy security will include phasing out dependency on Russian fossil fuels, which have long met many of the industry's energy needs within the bloc, notably in Germany.

The summit is being overshadowed by a Franco-German spat over energy despite the issue not being on the official agenda.

Germany has irked some fellow EU members after it blocked a landmark deal to prohibit new sales of fossil fuel cars from 2035, saying it sought an exemption for synthetic fuels. Berlin's move is seen as a product of domestic politics, with the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) exploiting their outsized power as kingmakers in an otherwise leftist coalition to bring about the last-minute call.

France, one of the main critics of Germany's blocking tactic, wants the European Union to state that nuclear power has a role to play in the EU's green future, angering countries that oppose the use of atomic energy, such as Austria and Luxembourg.

tj/es (Reuters, AP)