Informal Foreign Affairs Council (Defence): Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference
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Good afternoon to everybody,
First of all, once again, dear Minister [for Defence of Sweden], dear Pål [Jonson], I thank you for organising this informal meeting of Defence Ministers.
The Defence Ministers were devoted to Ukraine – mainly. It could not be otherwise.
We had the Ukrainian Minister of Defence, our colleague [Oleksii] Reznikov, who updated us on the military situation on the ground and explained what Ukraine’s military needs are. And we know after listening to Minister Reznikov, that the next weeks and months – but mainly weeks, we are talking about weeks - will be critical because the military situation on the ground remains very difficult, in particular in Bakhmut, where the fierce fight continues.
Then, we went to analyse what we are doing to support Ukraine and what we can do more.
By the end of this month, our [EU] Military Assistance Mission [EUMAM Ukraine] will have trained more than 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers – and by the end of the year, we expect to have trained 30,000 soldiers. And all Member States expressed their satisfaction about the results achieved by this training mission and committed to do more, especially when the battle tanks are arriving to Ukraine and the crews of these battle tanks have to be trained. Not only individually for every tank, but for all of them to be able to fight together. This will make our training mission very busy. They are already busy.
This training mission is another proof of our unshaken and determined support to continue together with Ukraine. This is a key message that I would like to send to you, to send to the public opinion, after this meeting.
After listening to Minister Reznikov, I think that there is a clear message: for Ukraine to win the peace, it needs to win the war. And that is why we have to continue supporting Ukraine: to win the peace, Ukraine needs to win the war. And the Ukrainian armed forces need our continuing support, in particular - and this was the core of what was discussed today - on artillery ammunition. It was also the message that we have heard from President [of Ukraine, Volodymyr] Zelenskyy some days ago at the European Council.
And on that, time is of [the] essence. We need to deliver more but we need to deliver faster. And to do that, I propose an approach which is based on three tracks which are complementary. One goes with the others. They cannot be considered isolated. It is not “one yes, but the others no”. The three tracks go together.
First, we need a new support package through the European Peace Facility (EPF). We need a new support package for the reimbursement of the immediate delivery of ammunitions that has to come from the national stocks - already existing or pending orders, work in progress. Any type: NATO-standard or Soviet-standard; 155-millimeters or 152-millimeters. And for this support package, I proposed to the Ministers [to mobilise] €1 billion from the European Peace Facility.
Second, we need a coordinated demand in order to procure 155-millimeters ammunitions once again through the European Defence Agency. I insisted on the idea that we need to go in a coordinated manner, to address the industry an overall package of demand, adding the demands of the Member States to refill their stocks and also to provide more to Ukraine.
The European Defence Agency (EDA), that was created by the Lisbon Treaty and is in charge of procuring this kind of things – common procurement – has set out a project for this purpose and they can use a fast-track procedure to do it quicker. If we go together, we can reduce not only unit prices, but we can also reduce the delivery time. And the European Peace Facility can support these efforts for the benefit of Ukraine, and I propose to mobilise another €1 billion for this second track.
And the third track – as I said, this is complementary – we need to increase the European defence industry’s capacity to meet a massive demand for our armies. [It is] not only for Ukraine, it is [also] for our armies. [When] our armies provide part of their stock to Ukraine, it is because they expect to be able to refill these stocks, thanks to a bigger, stronger capacity of our defence industry. And for that, we need to support a ramp up of our manufacturing capacities and to reduce production time. We are in war times, and we have to have – [I am] sorry to say – a war mentality. I would prefer to talk about peace. I would prefer very much to talk about peace negotiations. But unhappily, I have to talk about ammunition because the war continues raging, and that is what we have to do today. [We are] keeping the door open at any moment for any kind of peace negotiations, but today we have been talking about reducing time and decreasing costs of delivering ammunition.
These three tracks are mutually reinforcing and need to be conducted in parallel. There is a continuity between these three tracks.
EU Member States are encouraged to dig further in their stocks if they receive the guarantee that they can replenish their stocks, because the European defence industry will ramp up its capacities, then they will be more ready to support Ukraine.
We discussed that. I think I can say there has been a general agreement on this procedure but there are pending questions. Everything has to be discussed in detail. Everyone agreed on the urgency to move [forward] because everyone agrees on the objective which is to support Ukraine, as much as possible and as quickly as possible.
And with the support of the Swedish Presidency [of the Council of the European Union], we will continue [to work in order to reach] an agreement on a package deal at the next Jumbo meeting which
is [will take place] as soon as 20 March, when the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Ministers of Defence will – I hope – reach a concrete and formal decision on that.
To summarise: [a] three-track [approach and] €2 billion to provide quicker more ammunition for Ukraine to support the [armed forces] and resist the Russian invasion.
Then, we had a working lunch with NATO Secretary-General, [Jens] Stoltenberg, and the United Nations Under-Secretary General for [Peace] Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and we discussed foreign manipulation and interference.
We have been gathering clear evidence of Russia’s information manipulation in the Threat report on foreign information manipulation and interference that we published on 8 February. And our cooperation in this area with the United Nations and NATO has to increase in order to fight [against] these new threats. Because the fight is today not only on the ground, conquering land, it is also conquering the mind of the people. Public opinions matter and public opinions are receiving a lot of disinformation in many of our partner countries.
Last word, because today is International Women’s Day. Women are key to the resilience and stability of societies. Their efforts are rarely recognised, but this is the day to do so. This is the day to recognise how important are women for the well-being of our societies, and for our resilience and stability.
In Ukraine and all around the world, women are also soldiers. Women are peacekeepers. Women are peacebuilders, judges, and human rights defenders.
Women continue to see their rights being challenged. The European Union and its Member States fight against that. Yesterday, we adopted a package of sanctions on nine individuals and three entities for their role in committing serious human rights violations and abuses, particularly sexual and gender-based violence.
This represents a broad approach to what is happening in the world. It covers two Taliban ministers. It covers the police in Moscow. It covers the militias in South Sudan, in Myanmar, [and] in Iran. Everywhere where violations of human rights, and of the women’s [rights] in particular, have been affected, we have been taking a list of sanctions.
I repeat, [this includes] Taliban ministers (the [Higher] Education Minister and the Minister in charge of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice). The Moscow police station responsible for arbitrary arrests. High-ranking members of the Russian armed forces whose units systematically participated in acts of sexual and gender-based violence in Ukraine. The commanders of the South Sudanese militias responsible for the widespread and systematic use of sexual and gender-based violence as a war tactic in the country. The Deputy Minister for Home Affairs in Myanmar/Burma. The Qarchak prison in Iran. The Syrian Republic Guards and the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs in Myanmar/Burma.
All of them are being sanctioned in view of their roles in [sexual and] gender-based human rights violations [and abuses].
I think it is all.
Q. If I understood things correctly, both the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the countries are supposed to try to ramp up the production of artilleries, the grenades. Isn’t there a risk, if both the EDA and the countries simultaneously try ramp up production of artilleries, that instead of sort of coordinating, there is a risk that both try to tap the same sources – so to speak – when they both go into the system? You propose that the EDA should coordinate this. If countries simultaneously also try to ramp up production, isn’t there a risk that they approach the same industries? That they sort of tap the same sources? That there is not a coordination then?
As I said – maybe I have not explained myself well – there are three pillars because there is a continuity. If I am asking a Member State to provide a part of their ammunition stockpiles to Ukraine, Member States will not be ready to do that if they are not convinced that they could refill their stocks. In order to refill their stocks, we have to make our industry more able to produce.
The first thing for the industry to be ready to produce more is to have a clear signal of demand. What is the level of demand? The level of demand would be determined by common procurement. Not only, but the second pillar will send a clear signal to the industry that yes, they have to increase their capacities because there is – let's say - a potential demand that comes up, not only for the Member States but for Ukraine.
And the third pillar, which is in the medium term, is to increase their capacity. So, I do not see the risk. On the contrary, it is a matter of giving insurance to eliminate the risk. The more the three pillars go together, the less risky it is for a Member State to be deprived of their stock of ammunition because they will be sure that the industry will be able to refill the stock.
So, the three pillars are a matter of diminishing the risk.
Q. On the second pillar, how quickly could that go? How quickly could contracts be signed – joint procurement contracts be signed? How quickly could ammunition that come as a result of that second pillar be in Ukraine and be used in the battlefield? And a related question: if Member States follow your proposal, that would mean €2 billion from the European Peace Facility used just for ammunition, which means the new ceiling that you set will be reached already. Does that mean that you will be asking for a further top-up of the European Peace Facility?
Let’s go to the second part of your question, which is the one I could answer better because I do not have a crystal ball.
Certainly, we decided the top up of €2 billion. If we use this top-up of €2 billion for ammunition to Ukraine through two procedures – I understand now the two procedures are clear, the two lines of working - then certainly, if Member States want to continue using the European Peace Facility, they will have to go for another [top-up]. But this was not the issue of today. Do not mix things because, if you put everything then at the end you decide nothing.
Today, the issue was “what do we do with the €2 billion that we have already decided? And you want to do more? Then, you will decide for more.” Certainly, if you want to do more, you will have to decide for more. But this is a high-level political decision that belongs to the leaders at the European Council [that will take place on] 23 March. They have to decide what is the level of engagement that they want to continue having, not only for Ukraine but for other conflicts in the world in which we are engaged.
How long does the second track take? Well, I am sorry I do not have the crystal ball, but I know the procedure. Member States who are willing to participate have to agree on the terms of the procedure. Once we decide the total amount, then it is a negotiation between the 15 European firms that are able to produce this kind of weaponry in order to fix a price and a time [for] delivery according to the amount that we request. Then, once the agreement has been reached, they will start producing. It is not going to be short. But the sooner we start, the better. And I do not know any other procedure that can go quicker than this one. So, I hope that, by the end of the month, we can arrange with Member States who are willing to participate.
This procedure is not the only one possible. There are other possibilities, I am not excluding that Member States will like to follow others on their own. But if we want to go all together with a big package that includes not only the needs of the member states, but also the needs of Ukraine, I am convinced that it is the best way of doing that. Putting together the expertise of the European Defence Agency and the expertise of the agencies of the national armies. These are pan European purpose that has to be solved and implemented with a pan European spirit. Once again, it is Team Europe. But let us use what we have. The European Defence Agency was created for doing this type of thing. They have been working on the last six months to prepare these programmes, let’s put them into practice.
Q. Given what we have heard from Ukraine, that they lack ammunition, they are even losing ground because of that, how fast can the first rounds of artillery ammunition be delivered? Given what we have heard here that you have told us yourself.
First, do not believe that we have not been providing ammunition [to Ukraine] before today. It is nothing new. Since the beginning of the war, we have been providing ammunition to Ukraine. I can give you a figure: the European Peace Facility has reimbursed to Member States about €450 million for ammunition provided to Ukraine. So do not believe that everything is new and until now, nobody was providing ammunition to Ukraine. Yes, we have started doing that since the beginning, logically.
The issue is that today that the war has become a position war, with an artillery fight and it is very consuming from the point of view of the number of shots that everyone is shooting against the other. Before that, the war was a movement war, with less consumption of artillery. Today, it is a high intensity war, with a lot of shots, tens of thousands every day. So, the needs are bigger. We have been providing [ammunition] but we have to accelerate the rhythm. Every day, there is ammunition coming from the European Member States arriving to Ukraine. Every day, there is a flow going on. The issue is that it has to be increased. More and quicker - and that is why, we are trying to push for more and quicker. But the flow has been flowing since the beginning. €450 Million in ammunition. So, when I am proposing €1 billion more, it is just double what we have already done. It is not a stratospheric figure, it is something quite usual.
Q. The first question is whether after this meeting you have a better sense of where there are enough ammunitions in Europe for this €1 billion coming from the EPF? Or whether this €1 billion, in order to provide these ammunitions very quickly for Ukraine, will also have to be used to buy ammunitions outside of the European Union? The second question is on these reports published in the New York Times [on Nord Stream]. I understand that you say “we wait for the final investigation”, I understand that. Are you afraid of the potential impact these kind of stories could have on public opinions in the moment when there is actual push? This morning, Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton was talking about the war economy, you also used a similar language. The European Union needs to change gear to do even more but in a moment where there are these kind of reports. My second question is whether you are afraid of the impact these reports could have in key countries like Germany?
It is clear that we would prefer the European defence industry to produce the ammunition that we need. Because we need a European defense industry. We need the capacity to produce by ourselves, and we do not have enough capacity because we were used to live in peace and war was something that was not in our imagination. But today, in our industrial structure, the defence industry has to develop more. And certainly, we will be asking our firms to produce and our firms will produce if we provide them with a clear horizon of what is the level of demand – as any other producer. If I am asking someone to produce more tomatoes, they will tell me how many and for how long. Well, how many and how long are the questions that we have to give answers to. So, priority to the industry, certainly.
Some Member States have been very clear on that: “we want European money to be used to create jobs in the European defense industry”. We agree on that and we will try to do it as much as we can. But if tomorrow, Member States provide ammunitions to Ukraine, taking these ammunitions from their stockpiles, I am not going to ask “where did you buy it?” I am not going to ask him “where did you buy it?’ But for the second pillar, the second track, when we go to the market and we ask the firms to produce, we will address the 15 European firms that could do it. We do not need to go look elsewhere.
And look, about the Nord Stream II, these are serious things, very serious things. First, never be afraid of the truth. I am not afraid of the truth. Any truth. But we are talking about - for the time being - speculations. Investigations on the exact circumstances are still ongoing in Sweden – maybe you can say something about it, dear Minister – in Denmark, and in Germany. And let's be serious: as long as investigations are ongoing, we cannot draw definitive conclusions. What can I say? I have to wait to have a clear understanding of what has happened. Has there been a sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline? Yes, there has been, it is clear. It means one thing. We have to be much more vigilant about the resilience of our critical infrastructure, because what has happened with the Nord Stream II may happen tomorrow with a cable of optic fiber or an electric cable supplying electricity to one country to another below the sea. And we have already taken swift actions to accelerate the work and protecting our critical infrastructure, the resilience on priority areas, and to give an answer, a response to the international threats through international cooperation, in particular with NATO.
But about what has happened with Nord Stream II, I do not know. And as [long] as the ones that could know, which are Swedish, Danish and German authorities, [have not finished their investigation] I will not take any position.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-238153