• Sunday, 21 July 2024

No EU consensus on supplying Ukraine arms to strike Russian territory

No EU consensus on supplying Ukraine arms to strike Russian territory

Brussels, 29 May 2024 (dpa/MIA) - European Union defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday were unable to reach a consensus on whether Ukraine should be allowed to use the weapons they supply to strike targets on Russian territory.

EU countries had already agreed to collectively provide military aid to Ukraine. But while some member states are supplying arms to Kiev with minimal restrictions, others do so on the condition that they'll be used within Ukrainian territory.

But the Ukrainian government says its forces need to be able to hit targets inside Russia, because Russia is launching attacks from over the border.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a press conference after the meeting that the use of self-defensive strikes against military targets in Russian territory "is a legitimate action under international law when it is being used in a proportional manner."

"But it's also clear that it is a decision for each individual member state," he added.

"Nobody can prevent a member state to provide arms to Ukraine and let the Ukrainians use these arms to target military objectives inside the Russian territory," Borrell said. Similarly, "We cannot oblige them to do it."

Elsewhere, Macron spoke out in favour of allowing Ukraine to use Western weapons to attack Russian positions on Russian territory.

"We think that we should allow them to neutralise the military sites from which the missiles are fired and basically the military sites from which Ukraine is attacked," Macron said after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz near Berlin.

"We should not allow other targets in Russia to be hit, civilian capacities of course, or other military targets," he added.

Scholz said Ukraine had every option under international law for what it was doing. "We have to say this explicitly: it is under attack and can defend itself."

Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened Europe with "serious consequences" if Ukraine is allowed to fire long-range precision weapons supplied by the West at Russian territory.

"These NATO representatives, especially in Europe and especially in the small countries, should realise what they are playing with," Putin said in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on Tuesday at the end of a state visit.

Putin, who started the war on Ukraine more than two years ago, accused the West of continuing escalation and said NATO specialists, not Ukrainians, were controlling the modern weapons systems.

According to Putin, such authorization by Western states would amount to a direct confrontation between Russia and the West, and he made mention of Russia's strategic nuclear weapons.

EU ministers also remain divided over whether military instructors from the EU should be allowed to provide training on Ukrainian territory, or whether Ukrainian conscripts should be brought to the EU for training.

Some fear that putting "boots on the ground" in Ukraine would escalate their involvement in the war and increase the risk of direct conflict between Russia and the West.

"Some member states believe that the advantage of training people on the scenario of the war, avoiding people going back and forth has advantages," Borrell said. "Others believe that at the end, it's sending trainers, and the trainers are military."

However, the defence ministers were able to agree broad priorities for Europe's defence at the meeting on Tuesday.

Foremost among them was "EU's unwavering support to Ukraine." An EU press release said: "The EU will use all tools at its disposal."

Among these tools is an off-budget fund called the European Peace Facility, under which the EU has pledged €5 billion ($5.4 billion) worth of military aid to Ukraine. However, payments are being held up by Hungary. Each EU member state has a veto over the legislation required to begin payments.

The Dutch government announced on Tuesday that it will lead an initiative among some European countries to supply a Patriot air defence missile system to Ukraine.

"Ukraine, of course, is still under attack. Airstrikes continue," said Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren as she arrived at the defence ministers' meeting. "Patriot systems are scarce in Europe and NATO, but we are now taking a step forward, so we will supply components of Patriot systems," she said.

A press release from the Dutch Ministry of Defence said "the Netherlands has identified which countries could offer additional Patriot parts and munitions" in order to deliver a complete system to Ukraine. It does not mention which countries are involved.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said air defence is Ukraine's "most urgent need." He said EU countries are "stepping up the delivery of ammunition, air defence systems, and in particular, the most advanced ones, the Patriot systems." Stoltenberg took part in the defence ministers' meeting on Tuesday.

Also on the defence ministers' priority list is strengthening the EU's industrial capacity to produce armaments and defensive technologies. The declaration "stresses the vital need to improve access to public and private finance" for the European defence industry.

In March, the European Commission proposed a €1.5 billion plan to strengthen Europe's armaments industry, in order that it might be better equipped to defend itself and to arm Ukraine.

Photo: EPA