1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

EU mulls mission to train Ukraine's military

Jack Parrock Prague
August 30, 2022

The EU will work to "define the parameters" of a collective mission to help train the Ukrainian army in fighting Russia’s invasion, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said.

Ukrainian soldiers with an L119 light gun, which British soldiers have provided training on.
The US, UK, and several EU countries have already provided training for Ukrainian forces, shown here with an L119 light gun, weaponry that came with British instruction. Image: Tim Merry/Daily Express/dpa/picture alliance

European Union countries have not yet reached a unanimous agreement needed to launch a military training mission for Ukraine, but said they are working out the details. 

Defense ministers from the 27 EU countries discussed the possibility of the mission during a meeting on Tuesday in Prague. 

"We have to create the basis of an army which has to fight and will have to fight for quite a long time," said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who has spoken publicly in favor of creating such a mission. 

"Most of the member states agreed that it can be done better together. We are going to study to define the parameters of a potential mission," Borrell added. 

But for EU countries, this is not necessarily a given.

"Even if there is any possibility of such a mission existing in the future, further discussions regarding any specific involvement of the Czech Republic would be needed," the Czech Ministry of Defense press office told DW in a written statement after the meeting.

After over 6 months of war, rebuilding the capacities of the Ukrainian army is becoming a priority. 

The UK is currently running a 90-day basic training mission for 10,000 soldiers who are joining the Ukrainian army to fight. 

Several EU countries, including Germany, have been providing smaller scale trainings directly with Ukraine on German soil. 

The US has also been training troops on the weapons and equipment it has been sending to the war. 

EU diplomacy head Josep Borrell, Czech Defence Minister Jana Cernochova and Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist in Prague.
From left to right: EU diplomacy head Josep Borrell, Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova and Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist in Prague on Aug. 30.Image: Michal Kamaryt/dpa/CTK/picture alliance

Operational decisions 

The foreign policy arm of the European Union, the European External Action Service (EEAS), will now start working out what kind of mission could potentially be acceptable to the member states.

Ukraine's Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, attended the EU meetings in Prague via video link. Kyiv has specific demands for what it wants any such trainings to focus on: medical support, sniper training and de-mining expertise. 

Military experts say increased training is vital for Ukraine to continue fighting the war. 

"People who know war know that it isn't just soldier numbers and equipment that win them. You've got to have a lot of training and a lot of logistics," Jim Townsend, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration, told DW.  

"These things are just as critical to victory," he added. 

Choosing the command for any potential training mission is also a complicating factor. It would be the EU's first operation of this nature to be held on EU soil itself – ordinarily such training missions are held in the targeted country. 

"It's not clear whether the existing hub for EU training missions would be tasked to coordinate this one," Elena Lazarou, Head of External Policies at the European Parliamentary Research Service, told DW. 

"The Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) is in charge of three current missions in Africa – in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia – but this may be different because we expect the Ukraine mission to be held on EU territory," Lazarou said. 

The institutional knowledge of the MPCC means these missions can be launched quickly once the political agreement is found, but the host countries may also want control. 

Any mission would also need to be organized in cooperation with the NATO military alliance, according to observers. 

"Everything that is being done must be done in coordination with likeminded allies. We've seen it in sanctions and the military equipment being sent," Lazarou said. "The last thing we need right now is redundant help or duplication of efforts." 

What weapons is the West sending to Ukraine?

Political signals

The potential training mission would also send a political signal to Russia that the EU is ramping up its support for Ukraine. 

"In Putin's mind, the EU has already shoved a million pokers in his eye. This is just another grievance he'll sell as anti-Russia, but Europe shouldn't worry about that anymore," Townsend, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, said. 

"If you're in it for the long haul and you don't have unlimited manpower, which Ukraine doesn't, you've got to focus on training,” he added. "They won't be able to launch counter-offensives [like the one to retake Kherson] if they're not ready because they'll not have the manpower ready to replace those lost in the battles." 

In July 2022, there were 700,000 people registered in Ukraine's armed forces. That number increases to a million if the national guard, police and border guard are included, according to the country's defense ministry. 

The expansion of Ukraine's armed forces has been significant – in 2021, there were just under a quarter of a million people enlisted. 

"Guys arriving at the frontline without training can be really dangerous," Townsend said. "It's more of a hinderance than a help if you've got someone there who can't keep his weapon clean, and it ends up backfiring and injuring him."

The defense ministers' meeting in Prague was informal, which means they were under no obligation to release any concrete conclusions or statements. That means that the details on the size of the potential mission remain unknown. 

"It's very difficult to judge anything about the size or scale at the moment,” said Niklas Novaky, a Senior Research Officer at Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies. "That would depend entirely on the mandate. And that we will only find out once there's an agreement." 

Novaky expects that after Borrell's comments at the Prague meetings, the EEAS office will put together a "Political Framework for Crisis Approach" — the official planning document for such a mission that will then be presented to EU defense ministers.

The next time EU governments are likely to discuss this issue will be at the Foreign Affairs Council in mid-October. 

Edited by: Kristen Allen

Skip next section Explore more