Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

[Analysis] The Europeans are blocking the delivery of ammunition to Ukraine? A little exaggerated no! Explanations

(B2) The Europeans cannot agree on ammunition. And it's all France's fault. This is the little refrain heard in the corridors from Brussels to kyiv via Warsaw. What exactly is…

(Photo: Bulgarian Ministry of Economy – Archives B2)

A “French bashing” relayed by several press articles, notably in the Polish press (Pap agency) or European (Politico), and by some politicians, notably the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba, who cracked a tweet rather clumsy (see box).

A three-part plan

You have to start from the beginning. On February 9, the Heads (of State and Government) decided at the European Council to accelerate arms deliveries to Ukraine, particularly ammunition. A package was developed, approved by ministers on March 20 (read: [Decryption] At least 2,5 billion euros to boost ammunition production in the EU and delivery to Ukraine). This plan includes three components, very distinct – even if they share the same strategic objective (supporting Ukraine) – which are spread out over time, as B2 explained in February (read: [Confidential] Purchase of ammunition in common. Emergency, Short term, Medium term. Solutions emerge).

Where are the three parts?

The first part (emergency) aims at deliveries of ammunition to Ukraine, as quickly as possible, from existing stocks or from orders already placed, 'rerouted' to Ukraine. Endowed with 1 billion euros (*), it has already been approved by the 27, with retroactive effect from February 9 (read: [Decryption] The billion euros for urgent ammunition deliveries to Ukraine approved).

The second component, with another billion euros, aims to finance joint purchases, for the short to medium term, it is still under discussion, within the ambassadors of the 27. And an agreement is expected from 'here a few days, the beginning of May at the latest normally (read: [Confidential] The ammunition package is becoming clearer. Not without difficulties).

The third and final component, aimed at the medium term and strengthening the production capacities of European industry, has not yet been discussed. A little more complex, it must be developed by the European Commission. This is where the problem lies today. Everyone expected a proposal by the end of the month. But according to my information, Commissioner Thierry Breton's team is having a little difficulty making its voice heard within the college of commissioners. The guardians of the European budgetary 'treasure' are having their ears pulled a bit. In diplomatic terms, we are talking about a “busy” Commission agenda.

Where is the blockage? Where is the emergency?

Talk of blockage, non-compliance with the package, or even possible endangerment of Ukrainian lives (as D. Kuleba says, see box) is therefore outdated. There are difficulties in specifying the terms of the European agreement. Certainly. But we are in the very logic of the European machinery which must transcribe, in precise and legal terms, a political agreement which has not been fully specified. Ambiguity sometimes being the virtue of an agreement. The few days spent discussing in no way threaten the Ukrainian defense (and the counter-offensive in preparation) nor compromise the substance of the decision.

On the one hand, the “job” has already been done on the first part, the most important: the emergency. Deliveries have already been made for a significant amount. On the other hand, the second part (joint purchases) will not be effective for several months. Purchases must be launched in June at the earliest, by September at the latest (to be eligible for European funding). And the actual arrival of the purchased ammunition will not take place before the end of the year (at best), or rather 2024 or 2025 (the time of production in quantity). In other words, we are more in the hypothesis of the third Russian offensive or Ukrainian counter-offensive (next year) rather than the current one (the second offensive or counter-offensive). In practice, the 27 have until May 31 at the latest to approve this decision.

In the meantime, nothing prevents a State from anticipating the call and providing ammunition to Ukraine from its own budget or from triggering purchasing procedures, without delay. He will be able to benefit from the European “bonus”, if he respects the main conditions. The three main ones are already known: 1° you need several people to buy, 2° do it between Europeans and 3° buy from industries based in Europe.

A process has already been launched, within the framework of the European Defense Agency, for the purchase of 155 mm type ammunition, bringing together almost all countries (26 states out of 27 according to my last count). Other processes are underway at the national level, on the side of the Germans and the French, in particular.

Making such purchases cannot be done in 24 hours. It is necessary to define who may be interested, determine what will be purchased (what types of ammunition, in what quantities), how to do it (who will be responsible for the purchase, what will be each person's share, financial and in material delivered, the timetable delivery) and finally from whom to buy and the procedure to follow (call for tender or private contract).

As for the difficulty of buying from European industry, invoked by certain Member States (Poland in particular), to justify opening the markets, this is a false pretense. On the one hand, it seems logical that European money (2/3 provided by the German-French-Spanish-Italian quartet) should go to consolidate European industry rather than finance South Korean, Turkish or Serbian industry. Then, contrary to the often widespread idea, Europe has resources. Most states have a local industry capable of supplying munitions (NATO or ex-Soviet standard). From the Polish Dezamet to the French Nexter via the German Rheinmetall, the Italian Leonardo, the Bulgarian VMZ, the Romanian Romarm or the Finno-Norwegian Nammo, the European industrial fabric is ultimately quite rich. And it's running at full capacity. “ We don't have to be ashamed of our little muscles testifies (rightly) a diplomat.

Let us also point out that when we talk about European funding, it is not an immediate subsidy. The promised money will arrive in the pockets of national budgets… in a long time. We are indeed talking about “ repaying "the deliveries, once these" make » to Ukraine (delivery note in support). And the payment follows a more or less distant schedule. According to my information, these reimbursements could not take place before… 2025!

In other words, one more week in the discussion... does not really change the situation either politically or militaryly. However, it would be different if the discussion continued until June.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Comment: When Kuleba slips

The words of Ukrainian Minister Dmytro Kuleba criticizing the European Union for its “ inability " to implement " his own decision » can be attributed to a certain “ frustration ". But when Ukraine's chief diplomat speaks of " a test of whether the EU has strategic autonomy in making crucial new security decisions » and he adds that “for Ukraine, the cost of inaction is measured in human lives”, he is committing a serious, political error, not really commensurate with the events.

This remark demonstrates both a serious lack of knowledge of the matter. To have strategic autonomy of action, in the medium term, we must not buy from abroad, but develop production internally. Which is in line with Ukrainian interests. Without this European rear base, Ukraine will not be able to carry out its counter-offensive for long.

As for mentioning possible Ukrainian lives being threatened, it is totally derogatory, bordering on a lie, and in any case not worthy of a political leader who is asking to join the European Union. There is no Ukrainian life threatened by the few more days taken to decide on a decision that will be effective… in 2024 at best.


* The billion euros officially is in current prices and not 2018 prices as mentioned in error.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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