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Patriots for Ukraine: Calls grow for EU countries to step up donations of air defence systems

High Representative Josep Borrell chaired the joint meeting of foreign and defence ministers in Luxembourg.
High Representative Josep Borrell chaired the joint meeting of foreign and defence ministers in Luxembourg. Copyright Alexandros Michailidis/Alexandros Michailidis
Copyright Alexandros Michailidis/Alexandros Michailidis
By Jorge LiboreiroShona Murray
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European Union countries who own air defence systems are under pressure to step up their assistance for Ukraine.

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The matter of assistance has acquired a greater sense of urgency after Russia renewed its attacks with drones and missiles against the war-battered nation, destroying critical infrastructure and residential buildings, and killing dozens of civilians.

"The figures are really appalling. The way Russia is attacking Ukraine (with) missiles, drones and guided bombs. Just on guided bombs, Ukrainians have reported 7,000 in four months, which is about 16 guided bombs a day. And this constant shelling in the east is part of Putin's strategy," Josep Borrell, the bloc's foreign policy chief, said on Monday.

"On the other hand, it's clear that Ukraine lacks weapons for self-defence and to reject the Russian aggression. The impact on the electricity system of Ukraine is very high."

Germany said this month it would send Kyiv a third Patriot battery, an advanced US-made system that can intercept incoming projectiles, and set up an initiative to encourage other countries to donate additional air defences.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy has warned Russia would soon expand its barrage of airstrikes and asked for at least seven more Patriot systems, or similar equipment, to protect the skies.

"We do not rule out that the infrastructure of our other nuclear power plants and distribution networks are also under threat from Russian terror," Zelenskyy told EU leaders last week.

"This can only be stopped by air defence – by specific systems such as Patriot, IRIS-T, SAMP-T, NASAMS… Systems that you have. They are needed in Ukraine right now – needed to stop Putin from relying on terrorist methods."

NATO also discussed the issue last week during a virtual meeting with Ukrainian representatives. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said allies have "mapped out" existing capabilities of air systems and new announcements would be made "soon."

However, no more commitments have followed Berlin's pledge.

This has increased scrutiny over Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden and Romania, the other EU countries that own Patriot systems. Besides their proven effectiveness, these systems have the advantage of being familiar to the Ukrainian army. However, they can take up to two years to be made, making them harder to replace in the short term.

Poland also has two Patriot systems but they are needed for defending the country, which shares a border with Ukraine and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

'No Patriots in Brussels'

Borrell used a joint meeting of foreign and defence ministers on Monday to pile pressure on hesitant countries and enable the release of their extra defence systems.

"The most important way of acting is providing air defence batteries and ammunition for the batteries, the interceptors," he said. "Launchers without interceptors are not useful."

The EU's chief diplomat noted that "some member states have indicated their will to make concrete contributions in terms of air defence" but, despite requests from journalists in the room, he did not name a single donor.

Instead, he insisted the matter was "mature" enough to move beyond political debates and yield tangible results.

"Everything has been said and everybody understood and everybody (is) in a position to take decisions," he said.

"I'm sorry but we don't have Patriots here in Brussels."

Meanwhile, the Patriots' owners appeared non-committal.

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Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said her country was looking into "every kind of possibility" and expressed support for Germany's new initiative. But she warned depleting the country's stocks would be "difficult."

Asked if Spain would contribute, José Manuel Albares Bueno avoided a direct answer and said Spain would "always" stand by Ukraine's side.

"We're very aware of the need for air defence systems and particularly of Patriot systems," he said. "I insist: Spain has always done everything it could."

In parallel with the German idea, some countries have pledged to contribute to a Czech project to procure 800,000 artillery shells from international suppliers and send them rapidly to Ukraine. Prague says it has collected enough money to buy 500,00 rounds.

'We have to do better'

Monday's meeting came days after the US Congress voted in favour of a bill that would release $61 billion (€57.4 billion) to provide lethal equipment to Ukraine.

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The breakthrough was met with celebratory messages from EU leaders, who have struggled to compensate for the absence of American support and fear the shortages faced by Ukraine's armed forces could further strengthen Russia's hand.

But the fact the US help is back on track does not mean the EU should sit back and dial down its efforts, ministers warned on Monday.

"At this point, we can say we dodged a historic bullet but unfortunately, many more bullets are on the way. Therefore we can be joyous for a day but we have to be prepared for the battle that's coming tomorrow. There can be no coming down, no stopping of assistance," said Lithuania's Gabrielius Landsbergis.

"Everybody has to continue to move ahead," he added. "We have to do better."

Sweden's Defence Minister, Pål Jonson, echoed the call, pointing to the evolution of the war and the small advances made by Russian troops in recent weeks.

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"We have to step up, this is absolutely crucial," Jonson told reporters. "The challenge is right now on the ground forces, the trajectory is going in the wrong direction."

This article has been updated with more information.

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