EU wants to train Ukrainian army – eventually – POLITICO
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PRAGUE – EU officials want to improve their training for Ukraine’s military as it embarks on a counter-offensive – but progress at European level is proving slow.
While a number of European capitals already offer military training to Ukrainian soldiers, talks about forming an EU-level military training mission are still in their infancy.
The idea of an EU mission was discussed at an informal meeting of EU defense ministers in Prague on Tuesday. And while the majority of ministers have expressed support for the idea, there is still little clarity on the project’s format and timeline.
“Many training initiatives are underway, but the needs are enormous,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after the ministers’ discussion.
« We need to ensure consistency in these efforts », he said, « and I can say that all Member States are clearly in agreement on this – and on initiating the work necessary to define the parameters of an EU military assistance mission to Ukraine ».
The EU’s tentative progress comes as Kyiv launches a critical counteroffensive, seeking to retake Russian-held land in southern Ukraine. In addition, officials are concerned about the ongoing bombardments around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.
Noting that concrete decisions are not made in informal meetings, Borrell said preparatory work for an EU military training mission now includes « contacts with the Ukrainians » and consideration of « legal and operational » to « define a concept of crisis management which could lead to a decision on this subject.
The added value of an EU mission, according to Borrell, is the ability to pool resources.
“It is clear that some training activities that have been carried out by certain Member States are well carried out at Member State level,” he said, adding that “if France provides certain types of weapons, it provides [the] coaching. And they, better than anyone, can provide that training because those are their weapons.
Nonetheless, Borrell argued that some of Ukraine’s needs could be better met by « drawing on the capabilities of member states. » He cited several areas where EU training could be helpful: logistics; military health; and provide protection against nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
« This cannot be solved overnight, but we have to lay the foundations [for] an army that has to fight and will have to fight long enough,” he said.
Portuguese Defense Minister Helena Carreiras, whose government has already offered military training aid to Ukraine, said the EU initiative was about coordination.
« We think it’s a very good idea to promote training, » the minister said on Tuesday morning. « In a way it’s already done, we’re just trying to coordinate our efforts, » she added in response to a question from POLITICO.
Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren, whose country is also involved in training the Ukrainian army, told reporters after the discussion that she supported an EU-led mission.
« I think we’re helping Ukraine by doing this, » she said, saying it would allow the EU to « take over the coordination part, so the only thing they need to clarify are their needs ».
But the Dutch minister also acknowledged that there are « practical aspects to work on » at this stage.
« We’re not going to wait for that, » she added. « So if we can start training with Germany on demining, we’ll just start, and then later it might be one of those EU missions. »
Some ministers stressed that they wanted to see the EU act more quickly to step up its support for Ukraine, including in terms of training. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the recent discrepancy between full US military offers to Ukraine and the more modest contributions from many EU countries « raises questions ».
An EU training mission, Landsbergis added in an interview, would show « we understand the responsibility » and « share the burden » carried by transatlantic partners. A prolonged discussion, according to the Lithuanian minister, « feeds the idea that, you know, it’s too slow, too little, too late ».
However, Estonia, another country already offering training, cautioned against duplicating efforts.
A new program “must be designed in such a way that there is no overlap,” Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said in an interview, adding that it “must be synchronized with the Kingdom United Kingdom, and that bilateral programs are already in place ».
An EU official said the aim was to ensure that EU countries currently less active in helping Ukraine play a bigger role. But it remains unclear whether, even if eventually approved, the mission will involve all EU members.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, whose country has refused to supply weapons to Kyiv, took a dismissive stance on the training discussion, arguing that each member state should make its own decision.
« It should remain a national competence, » he said in response to a question from POLITICO. « I think », added the Hungarian minister, « that this should not be done at European Union level ».