BRUSSELS: Several European Union countries will sign a deal on Monday to join forces to buy artillery shells for Ukraine, as part of an effort to speed up and increase the supply of shells that Kiev says it urgently needs to fight a Russian invasion.
A senior EU official said many of the bloc’s 27 countries are expected to sign the so-called project arrangement, which sets out the terms of reference for the plan, but the precise number is unclear as some are still examining the proposal.
A pact to jointly procure 155mm artillery shells will be signed on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels on Monday, officials said. The first orders according to the plan could be made by the end of May.
“This arrangement was put in place very, very quickly,” the senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at a press briefing on Friday. “All (EU) member states and Norway can participate.”
Ukraine has identified its supply of 155mm shells as a critical need as it engages in a fierce war of attrition with invading Russian forces, in which both sides fire thousands of artillery rounds each day.
Ukrainian and Western leaders have warned in recent weeks that Kiev is burning through shells faster than its allies can produce them, leading to renewed pressure to send supplies and find ways to increase production.
The EU is asking for an additional 1 billion euros for ammunition for Ukraine
A major joint initiative to buy munitions would mark a significant step in EU integration, as defense procurement has largely been the preserve of the bloc’s national governments.
The project to be launched on Monday will be led by the EU’s European Defense Agency.
EU officials say the move should result in larger individual orders for arms firms, encouraging them to invest in increasing capacity and reduce competition between governments that drive up prices trying to make similar orders.
The initiative is part of a plan unveiled by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to set aside 1 billion euros ($1.07 billion) to compensate EU countries for sending grenades from their own stockpiles to Ukraine and another billion euros for joint purchases.
Stockpiles of ammunition
Diplomats said EU governments were still arguing over key details on Friday, amid disagreements over how the plan should work and a lack of clarity about the current level of ammunition in EU members’ stockpiles, which are kept secret.
EU ambassadors from member states will meet on Sunday to try to finalize the details of the overall plan so it can be approved by foreign ministers on Monday, diplomats said.
EU officials say it will be months, at least, before any grenades ordered as part of the joint procurement reach Ukraine.
But they argue that the knowledge of a major joint procurement effort should encourage member states to send more of their current supplies to Ukraine.
The money will come from the European Peace Fund, an EU-run fund that has funded 3.6 billion euros in military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022.
The ammunition stocks of many Western governments have been greatly depleted by the supply of grenades to Ukraine. EU joint procurement will also aim to complement them.