By Gabriela Baczynska and Tassilo Hummel
BRUSSELS -European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to allocate another 500 million euros ($542 million) for military aid for Ukraine, officials said, as Berlin faced more pressure over calls from Kyiv to supply it with German-made Leopard tanks.
Agreement on the seventh such tranche of aid came as the EU’s 27 foreign ministers met in Brussels after Western countries failed last week to agree on sending Ukraine battle tanks – but pledged billions worth of support.
The foreign ministers approved the 500 million euro package along with a further 45 million for “non-lethal equipment” for the EU’s military training mission for Ukraine, Swedish and Czech officials said.
“We remain steadfast in our support for the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, tweeted.
Meanwhile, several ministers said as they arrived at the meeting, in the morning, that it was key for Germany to allow Leopard tanks to be sent to Ukraine.
Germany’s Leopard tanks, fielded by armies across Europe, are widely seen as the best fit for Ukraine, but Berlin must authorise their sale and has yet to do so.
Poland said on Monday it would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine – and would send them whether or not Berlin agreed as long as other countries did too.
“At this point there are no good arguments why battle tanks cannot be provided,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said as he arrived at the Brussels meeting.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the tanks should not be held up one more day, while Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said Germany, as an “engine of Europe”, had particular responsibility to help Ukraine. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Russia could win the war if Europeans “don’t help Ukraine with what they need now”.
An EU diplomat said that this was followed by a discussion among the ministers about the tanks. “The Germans didn’t like being pushed, they warn it can be counterproductive,” the diplomat said.
As she arrived at the Brussels meeting, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock declined to elaborate on comments on Sunday when she said that Berlin would not stand in Poland’s way. She just said it was important to “do everything we can to defend Ukraine”.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrat party argues the West should avoid sudden moves that might escalate the war. But several EU allies reject that position, saying Russia is already fully committed to its 11-month-old assault on Ukraine.
As the EU works on a 10th package of sanctions against Russia, Hungary, a vocal Russia dove in the EU, signalled its opposition to more sanctions.
“All decisions that could prolong the war or lead to a potential escalation are against our interests,” said Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto. “It’s been proven that sanctions are leading Europe into a dead-end street.”
($1 = 0.9174 euro)