It is also confronted with pressures from Washington, increasing demands of further aid by president Zelensky, and difficulties to find a united EU policy to deal with the energy crisis as countries are looking inwards to shelter their own citizens and their companies from flying prices. It should not prevent the summit to agree on demands for new sanctions pushed by Poland and the Baltic states.
But, as the war goes on, the summit is expected to move beyond its ‘civilian’ comfort zone, into the military. The success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive reinforced the power of Zelensky’s message to the West that, properly armed and trained, Ukrainian forces were able to regain territories by their own. The response of the Kremlin – partial mobilisation, plus massive attacks on infrastructures without attention to civilian casualties – paved the way for further Ukrainian requests for offensive arms and air defence systems. For months, the European assistance to the war operations was largely kept at national level, with EU voting budgets to help members to fit their bills.
The basic problem is that EU treaties do not allow the use of the normal budget for military-centered operations. Hence the agreement reached on 12 October by the 27 foreign ministers, which ought to be officialised at the 21-22 summit. They decided to twist the awkwardly named “European Peace Facility” to speed up the financing of European arms deliveries to Ukraine. This off-budget instrument acts as a kind of redistribution centre, on the basis of unanimous decision of its members, which has been seldom used since its creation in march 2021. The latest proposals are in line with the founding objective – to preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security. But it cannot obliterate the fear of many members states that, doing so, EU has been entering a new era by putting itself at the front line of the war in Ukraine, and that the decision will open new questions, without solving previous ones.
For instance, questions about the implementation of the more spectacular decision to finance a military mission involved in the formation of Ukrainian soldiers and officers, starting with 15.000 men. And to offer a new 500 million euros to fund arms deliveries to Kiev. Nothing has been said about the already disputed location of this EU training site, nor about the discrepancy between the sums covered by the EU funding and the level of its reimbursements to members states. E.U has encouraged them to arm Ukraine, without anticipating the length of the war, and questioning the sustainable amount it can direct to Ukraine’s aid. Today, EU donators, which are asked to do more by Brussels and Washington, have already piled up bills far over the EU pot due to cover the reimbursements, despite an increase from its initial 500 million to 1.5 billion euros. The largest supplier of arms to Ukraine, Poland, has already submitted about 2 billion receipts and smaller donors fear that money will run out before they could be reimbursed. The level of reimbursement has gone from 85 to 46% – if they are paid at all. The additional 500 million will not solve the problem.
At the moment, no-one ventured to speak about the participation – or not – of EU members states in the search by Washington and “its allies” to trace Soviet/Russian types of weapons that Ukrainian forces can use more easily, without depleting Western arsenals. The list of countries of interests includes Cambodia, Congo, Rwanda, Mexico, Columbia, Peru and others that US state secretary Antony Blinken has been touring in his “painstaking behind the scene diplomacy” according to the New York Times. It might certainly activate further deliveries to Ukraine of arms its soldiers can used without additional training, but it also risks to increase global illegal arms trade.
In the meantime, the EU has increased the political pressure on Russia. For instance, when, on 23 September, the president of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen who had been attending the General Assembly of the UN, declared that it was not the moment to negotiate a settlement in Ukraine. Or when, on 13 October, after lecturing EU ambassadors about the feebleness of their work, Josep Borrell, the head of EU external relations office, warned Moscow that its forces would be “annihilated” by the West if it uses nuclear weaponry.