The EU stepped up its military support for Ukraine on Monday by launching a mission to train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers and providing 500 million euros more for weapons.
Foreign ministers from the bloc’s 27 members states are expected to sign off on the decisions at a meeting in Luxembourg and will also discuss how to respond to Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones.
“Morally politically, even militarily, Russia is losing this war. So we have to continue supporting Ukraine,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at the start of the gathering.
After almost eight months of war, Ukraine’s forces are making progress on the battlefield and Kyiv’s western backers are keen to make sure its troops have the capacity to keep fighting.
Several EU nations — including Germany and France — are already training Ukrainians to use the modern artillery systems, missile launchers and air defenses they are delivering to Kyiv.
But the EU has lagged behind in providing large-scale training to help the country’s military face off against Russia’s invading forces.
The United States, Canada and Britain have already been training thousands of troops.
The European training mission should become operational next month even if the final details are still being hammered out.
An official said the plan is initially to provide basic training to 12,000 soldiers and specialized instruction to 2,800 more.
Ukraine’s neighbor Poland is due to serve as the main hub for the mission.
“It is the way out for the Ukrainians and the way back in,” said one European diplomat.
Germany is also set to be a key staging post for training.
Programs currently run by individual member states are set to continue and could be incorporated in the EU mission later.
“I am strongly convinced that putting together the capacities of the European armies, we can offer a much better product,” Borrell said.
A diplomat said a budget of some 60 million euros per year was foreseen.
The exact amount should be agreed on Monday, along with a new tranche of 500 million euros ($486 million) in EU central funding to help cover the costs of arms sent to Ukraine.
– Iranian drones –
That new slice of money will take the overall contribution for weapons from the EU’s central coffers to three billion euros. Member states have also spent more from their own pockets.
“The budget for seven years has been spent in seven months, so come on, we really mean business,” said an EU official.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will speak to his EU counterparts by video link and is expected to repeat calls for more arms, increased financial aid and tougher sanctions against Moscow.
EU ministers are discussing the alleged use of Iranian-made drones by Moscow to hit targets in Ukraine, but no punishment is expected yet.
The issue was thrown into starker focus after kamikaze drones attacked central Kyiv on Monday.
Tehran has rejected accusations it has supplied Russia with weapons “to be used in the war in Ukraine”.
Brussels says it is conducting a probe into possible violations of a United Nations resolution and could impose sanctions.
“We will look for concrete evidence about the participation that Iran in the strongest possible terms denies,” Borrell said.
Ministers are, however, due to take action against Iran on Monday over its crackdown on the protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women.
Some 15 officials and entities, including the head of Iran’s morality police, are expected to be added to an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist, EU diplomats said.
The EU, which is currently mediating stalled efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, has lagged behind Washington on imposing sanctions on Tehran.