Europe Looks Abroad to Get Ukraine Weapons With Russia Advancing

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(Bloomberg) -- France and the Netherlands backed a plan to buy ammunition outside Europe to get much-needed military equipment to Ukraine faster as Kyiv’s forces face continued Russian advances.

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The idea of purchasing hundreds of thousands of rounds from several countries was outlined by Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala at an extraordinary summit of European leaders in Paris on Monday aimed at showing support for Kyiv and underscoring Western determination to help it win against Russia. A proposal is expected in early March.

European leaders are anxious to project their commitment to Ukraine’s cause after dithering over previous aid and continued delays in funding from the US have left Kyiv’s soldiers rationing ammunition while Russia regains initiative on the battlefield. Amid efforts to secure crucial weapons, French President Emmanuel Macron even declined to rule out the idea that Europe could send troops to Ukraine at some point.

Russian troops have been advancing west of Avdiivka after Ukrainian soldiers withdrew from the town earlier this month. They seized one village Monday, according to Ukrainian military officials, and posts on social media indicated they had taken two more Tuesday.

“The Czech proposal is totally consistent with what we’ve done in terms of artillery,” Macron told a news conference after the talks. “We have asked non-EU countries to reach solutions. We will participate in this initiative. We are totally open to it. Our only target is efficiency.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters as he left the meeting that his country had agreed to contribute €100 million ($109 million) to the Prague plan and said he hoped other capitals would follow.

Asked whether the option of sending ground troops to Ukraine was raised, Macron said “everything was discussed tonight.”

“There is currently no consensus to send ground troops in an official and open way,” he said. “But in terms of dynamics, nothing can be ruled out. We will do everything we can to prevent Russia from winning the war.”

Greece’s premier, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said before the news conference that sending European NATO forces into Ukraine was “an issue that does not exist” for Greece and the great majority of his counterparts.

Asked about NATO troops being sent to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would mean the “inevitability” of conflict, and Western countries should evaluate if such a move “corresponds with their interests,” according to the Interfax news service.

Read more: North Korea Appears to Be Accelerating Military Aid to Russia

Europe’s inability to provide Ukraine with sufficient military equipment has opened a rift between eastern and western nations. The mood in diplomatic circles in the east is that should Russia ultimately win, Western Europe won’t be forgiven and the whole European integration project could be jeopardized.

France and other nations have resisted using European Union funds to buy ammunition outside the bloc, with Paris urging that money be spent instead on developing the EU’s own industries.

Fiala said his country’s proposal could be supported by 15 countries, though he didn’t name them.

“We estimate that there should be sufficient ammunition production in Europe and Ukraine in 2025, but we need to bridge the period until then,” he said as he left the summit. “The Czech initiative is a way the European states can do that.”

Russian soldiers are probing Ukrainian defenses along the front line as Ukraine faces shortages of artillery shells and troops after months of stalemate. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he expects Moscow to prepare counteroffensives as soon as the end of May.

“Ukraine needs to prioritize the building of defense lines,” which Zelenskiy ordered in November last year, Michael Kofman, a specialist on Russia and Ukraine at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Monday on the War on the Rocks podcast.

Zelenskiy said on Monday that the EU had so far only delivered 30% of the 1 million artillery shells it had promised by March. The EU already acknowledged at the end of January that it would have to delay the target by several months, just before the bloc overcame opposition from Hungary to agree a new €50 billion support package.

At the same time, more than $60 billion in additional US aid to Ukraine, the country’s main lifeline as it tries to repel Russian forces, remains stalled in Congress, where Republicans are using the issue as leverage to extract concessions on border security and immigration policy.

Czech President Petr Pavel said at the Munich Security Conference this month that his country had identified 500,000 rounds of 155mm shells and another 300,000 rounds of 122mm caliber that could be delivered within weeks if the money was made available. He didn’t name suppliers. The Defense Ministry in Prague said on Friday it’s coordinating the efforts and secured preliminary commitments from Canada and Denmark, as well as other countries that didn’t wish to be identified.

Group of Seven leaders including US President Joe Biden sought to reassure Zelenskiy of their commitment in a call on Saturday, which marked two years since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of his neighbor.

Attendees gathering in Paris also included German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, as well as officials from the US, UK and Canada.

--With assistance from Sotiris Nikas, Joao Lima, Daryna Krasnolutska and John Follain.

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