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Stop exporting weapons and send them to Ukraine instead, Borrell urges EU countries

Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, met with his Polish counterpart in Warsaw.
Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, met with his Polish counterpart in Warsaw. Copyright European Union, 2024.
Copyright European Union, 2024.
By Jorge Liboreiro
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Member states should temporarily halt exports of weapons to countries other than Ukraine, Josep Borrell said on Monday, asking governments to take a "political decision" and step up ammunition supplies.

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"Not only do we have to support Ukraine for as long as it takes but for whatever it takes. (It's) not just a matter of time – it's a matter of quantity and quality of our supplies," the foreign policy chief said during an official visit to Warsaw.

"And certainly we have to do more and quicker because Ukraine has to prevail."

The European Union approved in March last year a €2-billion plan to boost ammunition deliveries to Ukraine, pledging to send one million 155mm shells within 12 months to help the battered country defend itself against Russia's full-scale invasion.

But by late 2023, the bloc had provided just 330,000 rounds, despite repeated pleas from Kyiv. The number is expected to reach around 520,000 by the end of March.

The slow deliveries were initially blamed on entrenched industrial bottlenecks, supply chain disruptions and sluggish investment, a direct consequence of the peaceful years that Europe enjoyed after the end of the Cold War. 

However, according to Borrell, industrial capacity is no longer an obstacle: what is hampering deliveries to Ukraine is the fact that European companies are exporting weapons to clients that are not at war.

"An important part of our production is being exported to third countries," the chief diplomat said, without naming the destinations.

"The quickest and cheapest and (most) effective way of increasing our supply of ammunition to Ukraine is to stop exporting to third countries. And this is something that only member states can do – and this has been my request."

Borrell noted that, besides the 520,000 artillery shells projected to be donated by March, European companies were also selling weapons to Ukraine "on a commercial basis" and in "great numbers," although he did not provide figures owing to "security reasons."

"Don't believe that there's only donations. Our industry produces to donate and produces to sell – and produces to sell to others," Borrell said.

"So the best way to sell more to Ukraine, or to donate more to Ukraine, is to try to tell the others (clients) – 'please wait, you're not at war, you can wait some months' – and divert this production to Ukraine," he went on.

"This is a political decision that member states have to take."

Export controls are a highly sensitive competence that remains strictly in the hands of governments. Only in the case of sanctions can Brussels impose uniform rules. Otherwise, countries are free to allow – or ban – their national companies to export sensitive products outside of the bloc.

According to a previous estimate by the European Commission, 11 member states host factories that can produce 155mm shells: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

It's unclear how many of these countries will respond to Borrell's appeal and restrict exports, given the copious revenues the defence industry can reap in global markets.

"I completely support" Borrell's proposal, said Radosław Sikorski, Poland's foreign affairs minister, during the visit. "Ukraine is still outgunned by the Russians on the front and we need to help level the balance."

Boosting military supplies to Ukraine has become a pressing priority in Brussels in the face of the protracted legislative impasse in Washington, where President Joe Biden is pleading with Republicans to unblock further aid to Kyiv.

Borrell floated last year an ambitious €20-billion plan to provide Ukraine with "sustainable and predictable" military support but the blueprint quickly faded away. Most recently, he pitched a €5-billion top-up to the European Peace Facility, the off-budget system that partially compensates member states for their donated weapons. The idea is under intense negotiations and the outcome is expected in the coming weeks.

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