European Union foreign ministers have agreed a two billion euro plan to raid their own arsenals and jointly purchase needed artillery shells for Ukraine, diplomats said. But the industry will struggle to cope with these future orders.
Meeting in Brussels, the EU ministers backed an initiative that aims to provide Ukraine with one million shells in the next 12 months as well as replenish EU stocks.
Ukraine has told the EU it needs 350,000 shells a month to help its troops hold back Moscow's onslaught and allow them to launch fresh counter-offensives later in the year.
"More artillery ammunition for Ukraine as fast as possible," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged in a social media post.
More artillery ammunition for Ukraine as fast as possible. This was the main focus of today’s EU Foreign Affairs Council. I anticipate the swift adoption of big decisions which will bolster Ukraine’s capabilities on the battlefield. pic.twitter.com/oQpIZDa3EJ— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 20, 2023
France's Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna insisted "we have to help Ukraine more, quicker and now."
Buying weaponry together on this scale is a major new step for the EU, which has seen long-standing efforts to work more in unison on defence propelled forward by Russia's war.
Diplomats said the plan targets sending the first one billion euro's worth of shells to Ukraine by the end of May and signing the joint contracts by the start of September.
After 12 months of eating into their stockpiles, there are questions over how much EU countries can share immediately without leaving themselves vulnerable.
The bloc has already committed a wide range of military support worth 12 billion euros to Ukraine, with 3.6 billion euros from a joint fund used to help cover the costs.
Officials say that, since the Russian invasion last February, 450 million euros from the fund have gone on supplying 350,000 shells to Ukraine.
Ukraine's consumption of ammunition currently far outstrips the amount its Western backers are manufacturing.
'War economy mode'
Brussels said EU firms need to switch to "war economy mode" after scaling back in the years following the end of the Cold War.
The industry complains that governments haven't yet signed the long-term contracts they need to invest in more production lines.
The EU is hoping that placing a mammoth joint order for 155-mm shells will incentivise companies to ramp up their output.
But there are concerns about the supplies of key components such as explosives.
"We are used to production that is for the peacetime and this time we are at war in Europe," Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said.
"This will take time of course, there is also some lack of the materials and so forth."
It has begun reaching out to 15 firms in 11 EU countries that make the ammunition to urge them to push ahead.
Brussels has said it is looking to iron out regulatory bottlenecks, ease access to financing and even provide central EU funds to help boost capacity.
But several European diplomats say the proposals remain vague and that their capitals need more reassurances that they will have an impact.