The European Union‘s $2 billion project to arm Ukraine and replenish member states’ long-neglected military stockpiles should be considered only an opening move in a much longer-term confrontation with Russia, Estonia’s prime minister warned.
Kaja Kallas, who has been among the EU‘s leading advocates for arming Ukraine and expanding European military capabilities, told Newsweek in an exclusive interview in Tallinn that the commitment to send 1 million artillery shells to Kyiv over the next 12 months is “not enough.”
“From the proposal, or thought, to actual decision it took five weeks, which is very fast for the European Union,” Kallas said. “I’m really glad that everybody came on board with this. Now, it’s the question of execution.”
“I would be happier if countries would move faster,” said the prime minister, who recently won reelection on a platform of expanded support for Kyiv and increased national military spending. “But it’s positive that the joint procurement is going on. Is it enough? It’s for one year. I think it’s not enough. We have to be prepared to build on that.”
The EU procurement drive will look to expand the continent’s defense industrial base, the capacity of which has dwindled through several decades of peace punctuated by low intensity conflicts.
The return of major war to Europe leaves EU capitals facing a choice to give up the so-called “peace dividends” that Europeans have enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, when the collapse of the Soviet Union convinced many that high defense spending was no longer necessary.
European defense firms remain world-leading but are unable to meet the demands of a full-scale mechanized war. As Russian troops inched forward in eastern Ukraine this winter, Moscow’s forces were reportedly firing more artillery shells in one day than the EU was collectively capable of producing in one month.
Ukrainian troops, meanwhile, have reportedly been rationing shells ahead of Kyiv’s planned spring counteroffensive, such is the supply pressure the defenders face. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this week welcomed the EU plan to expand deliveries, though he added that the short-term need is pressing.
“We discussed a key issue: the speed of procurement and delivery of these munitions,” he said in Kyiv, referring to his meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “The need for them on the battlefield is already present.”
European Commission industry chief Thierry Breton has called on European defense companies to get into “war economy mode” to meet the needs of Ukraine’s hungry guns and restock empty European warehouses. The European Commission this month put forward plans to expand shell production capacity to 1 million per year at a cost of some $550 million.
“In Europe, we still have a real production capacity. It’s there,” Breton said this month. “What we need to do now is to bring up capacity.”
Kallas told Newsweek that the responsibility for more ammunition “goes both ways” between governments and contractors.
“On one side, the defense industry needs orders and demand,” she said, “and the other side is that we can give them these guarantees that we will buy.”
Industry concerns are clear.
“I need orders. Without orders, I won’t produce anything,” Armin Papperger, CEO of German arms giant Rheinmetall, told Bloomberg in March. “Any shortage of ammunition won’t be the defense industry’s fault.”
And as Jan Pie, chief executive of the Aerospace, Security and Defence Industries Association of Europe, told Politico: “You can’t just pour money down into the system and expect production will increase in some way. There is a huge administrative challenge.”
Meanwhile, the politics of procurement are already causing tensions with Kyiv. Intra-EU disputes over whether to allow procurement from non-EU nations prompted Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba to declare last month: “The inability of the EU to implement its own decision on the joint procurement of ammunition for Ukraine is frustrating.”
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