EU, UN chief discuss food security, military aid to Ukraine

A view shows a residential building damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine March 22, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union leaders held talks on Thursday with U.N. chief Antonio Guterres on global food security and sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, and were also expected to endorse a plan to supply more artillery shells to Kyiv.

Guterres' participation in the EU summit comes days after the renewal of a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey on the safe export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea that is seen as crucial to overcoming a global food crisis.

The 27 EU leaders were also due to get an update on the war from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy via video link.

Arriving for the two-day summit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: "We need to ensure that grain exports, for example from Ukraine, can continue."

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas spoke against any easing of sanctions on Moscow under the grain deal and called for a tighter price cap on Russian oil exports.

The United States has pushed back against Russian demands that Western sanctions be eased before Moscow allows Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports to continue beyond mid-May, saying there are no restrictions on Russian farm products or fertilizers.

Inside the EU, the issue of fertilizer exports is blocking more sanctions against Russia's ally Belarus. The bloc says new sanctions are needed to stop Belarus from serving as a route to bypass the existing Russia trade restrictions.

But Lithuania opposes what it calls "fertiliser oligarch" exemptions proposed to ensure Belarusian fertilisers continue flowing to third countries, arguing that that would weaken the sanctions regime overall, diplomats said.

Proponents say such carve-outs, similar to those the EU has in place under its sanctions against Russia, are necessary to ensure food security and refute Moscow's charge that EU measures - rather than Russia's invasion - are driving the global crisis.

Diplomats involved in preparing the summit were sceptical of any imminent breakthrough.


Leaders were also expected to endorse a plan - agreed by foreign ministers on Monday - to send 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year. Kyiv says it urgently needs large amounts of 155mm shells to help combat invading Russian forces.

Officials say Ukraine is burning through shells at a faster rate than its allies can produce them, prompting a renewed search for ammunition and ways to boost production.

The EU earmarked 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) for the swift supply of shells - and possibly missiles - from existing stocks and another 1 billion euros for joint orders by EU countries for more rounds.

The money will come from the European Peace Facility, an EU-run fund that had initially been envisaged at 5 billion euros in 2021-27. The EU has already added an additional 2 billion euros to provide more military aid to Ukraine.

That extra money has now been allocated to ammunition. While that will only materialise later on the battlefield, EU leaders will start discussing another top-up of 3.5 billion on Thursday.

"We are coming to the decision to supply the million rounds of ammunition that Ukraine needs," said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, adding that Europe must build up its industrial capacity in defence.($1 = 0.9212 euro)

(Additional reporting by Kate Abnett, Philip Blenkinsop, Gabriela Baczynska, Marine Strauss and Jan Strupczewski; Writing by Andrew Gray and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Gareth Jones)

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