EU countries agree to train Ukrainian soldiers as part of new mission

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By Alice Tidey
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at a signing ceremony on the sidelines of the EU-Ukraine Association Council at the European Council, Brussels on Sept. 5, 2022.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at a signing ceremony on the sidelines of the EU-Ukraine Association Council at the European Council, Brussels on Sept. 5, 2022.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

European Union foreign ministers signed off on Monday on a military assistance mission to train 15,000 Ukrainian personnel in various member states.

"Today we step up our support to Ukraine to defend itself from Russia’s illegal aggression. The EU Military Assistance Mission will train the Ukrainian Armed Forces so they can continue their courageous fight," said the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell in a statement.

The plans would mean both Ukrainian recruits and specialised personnel would receive training on EU soil over the coming two years.

The idea for the EU Military Assistance Mission was first floated by the bloc's High Representative Josep Borrell in a non-paper released in August following a request from Ukraine.

It is loosely based on a proposal pre-dating Russia's invasion of Ukraine to provide high-level training within the country's border which never came to fruition.

An EU diplomat described the plan as "radically new and very substantial".

Several EU countries are already providing training to Ukrainian forces on a bilateral basis although this tends to be limited to ensuring they can operate the military equipment these member states have provided the country to defend itself against Russian forces.

The EU military assistance is set to broaden the scope of the training with a clear command structure that coordinates supply and demand between Ukrainians and EU countries as well as with other partners and allies already providing Ukraine's troops with training including Canada, the UK and the US.

'Niche skill sets'

Borrell told reporters in Luxembourg on Monday morning that "it's clear (that if) the European Union armies pull together all their capacities, they can do much more than each one of their side."

"I'm strongly convinced that (by) putting together the capacities of the European armies we can offer a much better product," he added.

The operational headquarters of the mission will be within the European External Action Service (EEAS) in Brussels and the mission will be open to the participation of third states, the Council's statement also read. 

It is still unclear which EU states will offer personnel, instructors and training modules as well as how and from where the Ukrainian troops enter and leave the EU.

France's Armies Minister, Sebastien Lecornu, meanwhile announced over the weekend that the country will train some 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers.

"Ireland has niche skill sets that I think can be useful in terms of that training, particularly around, you know, managing explosives, counter IED," Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday morning.

"There are, unfortunately, many, many thousands of landmines placed across Ukraine, which I think Ireland, I hope Ireland can be part of helping to train Ukrainian military to deal with safely, he added.

The Hungarian government, which has been calling for sanctions against Russia to be scrapped and has struck a deal with Gazprom to receive more Russian gas, has confirmed that it will not offer any training to Ukrainian troops.

"Hungary was the only one not to vote on this proposal. It used the option of constructive abstention," Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told reporters, adding: "We don't participate in this training mission, we don't send trainers, we don't contribute to the costs of the operation."

Austria, which has a policy of military neutrality, is also not expected to take part.

'Long-term planning and training'

A senior EU official said that the mission is needs-based and that the type of training offered will adapt as the conflict evolves. The number of Ukrainian troops receiving training could also increase. 

The UK, for instance, has already trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops since the beginning of the Russian invasion on 24 February and is providing air bases for Canada to offer its own training to another 10,000 Ukrainian troops. US training is provided in Germany. 

"We are probably, unfortunately, in the long haul when it comes to the war against Russia to stop Putin's aggression against Ukraine. Therefore, we need also long-term planning and training," Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told reporters.

"It's historical for us," he added, citing the June 1 referendum in Denmark which abolished the country's defence opt-out.

The military assistance mission is expected to cost up around €106 million over two years. 

Ministers also approved the disbursement of the sixth tranche of funds from the European Peace Facility (EPF). The additional €500 million will take the total amount given to Ukraine through the EPF — with which Kyiv procures weapons — to €3.1 billion.

New Iran sanctions

Foreign ministers also approved sanctions against 11 Iranian individuals and four entities over the violent crackdown on protests over the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old woman died after being detained by the country's strict morality police for not wearing her veil properly.

Those targeted with asset freezes and travel bans include the head of the country's so-called "morality police", Mohammad Rostam, and Hajahmad Mirzaei, who oversees the Tehran office, as well as Issa Zarepour, the Iranian Minister of information and communications technology, "for his responsibility in the internet shutdown," the Council said.

Earlier in the day, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had stressed that ministers would name "those who are responsible for the deaths of people, especially women, who did nothing but fight for their rights."

"It is a first specific sanctions package with regard to this brutal human rights violation. If this violence continues, then more will follow, or more will follow in view of what is happening there," she added.

Ministers also discussed the EU's policy on China as well as the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan following the countries' meeting with Borrell and French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month during which they agreed to an EU monitoring mission for the first time.