EU agrees plan to send a million artillery shells to Ukraine

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell takes part in an EU Foreign Ministers' meeting, in Brussels, Belgium March 20, 2023. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries agreed on Monday on a plan to give 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year by digging into their own stockpiles and teaming up to buy more, officials said.

"We have reached a political consensus to send to Ukraine one million rounds of 155 mm calibre ammunition," Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers in Brussels.

"There are many, many details still to (be) solved but for me, it is most important that we conclude these negotiations and it shows me one thing: If there is a will, there is a way," said Pevkur, whose country has driven the initiative.

Not all the details were immediately available but the plan approved by the ministers was based on a proposal from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell to spend 1 billion euros on shells from stockpiles and 1 billion more on joint procurement.

At Monday's meeting, a group of 16 EU members plus Norway was expected to sign a document known as a project arrangement, setting out the terms of reference for a joint endeavour to buy 155 mm ammunition, led by the EU's European Defence Agency.

Such a move marks a significant step in EU integration as defence procurement in the European Union has largely been in the hands of individual member governments until now.

Ukraine has identified the supply of 155 mm shells as a critical need as it engages in a fierce war of attrition with invading Russian forces, in which both sides are firing thousands of artillery rounds every day.

Ukrainian and Western leaders have warned in recent weeks that Kyiv is burning through the shells more quickly than its allies can provide them, leading to a renewed push to send supplies and find ways to ramp up production.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said his country would be among those joining the joint procurement initiative, describing it as "new territory" for the EU.

He said Germany would also open its national framework contracts with the defence industry to other partners as speed was of the essence.

"Our goal has to be to ship a significant amount of munitions to Ukraine before the end of this year," he said.

(Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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