Up to 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in different European member states as part of the assistance mission.
The European Union has ramped up its support to Ukraine by launching a military assistance mission for Ukrainian troops, more than eight months after Russia invaded Ukraine.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday that this mission is a direct response to Ukraine’s request for such support and said that “up to 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in different European member states” as a part of the mission.
“It is going to be a big effort in order to renew, increase, improve the capacities of the Ukrainian army,” Borrell said, adding that it would be operational in less than three months.
The mission will be led by Frenchman Vice Admiral Hervé Bléjean, and EU defense ministers also agreed to allot a fund worth 16 million euros ($16.5m) under the European Peace Facility (EPF) – an EU financial instrument to prevent conflicts and build peace – to support the mission for 24 months.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the EU’s decision to establish the training mission for Ukraine’s armed forces and told reporters in Brussels that it would complement what NATO countries already do.
“But it is important we provide more training because Ukrainians are fighting a bloody battle which is very challenging,” he told reporters at an EU defense ministers meeting in Brussels.
Harry Nedelcu, geopolitics director at Rasmussen Global leading its Ukraine Advisory Service, told Al Jazeera that while at first glance one might be tempted to point out that this military training makes little sense since Ukraine has the most “battle-hardened” army in Europe right now, it is important not to dismiss the EU’s support.
“If the EU is going to particularly focus on training new recruits and relieve Ukraine of having to train them in the midst of an ongoing war and focus its resources on the front line, then the EU’s support adds value,” he said.
“But it is also important to note that this military training mission is actually coming against the background of some EU member states – like France and Germany – under-delivering in terms of arms delivery. This is what Ukraine probably needs much more right now, apart from the training,” he said.
Both France and Germany have repeatedly been criticized by Ukraine for not sending enough weapons. Nedelcu said this EU military training assistance mission with France and Germany playing a key role, is a way for them to make up for that criticism.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels before an EU defense ministers meeting, German defense minister Christine Lambrecht said that “up to 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in Germany until June 2023, and a repair center will be established in Slovakia.”
As the war grinds on with Russian missiles continuing to hit Ukraine’s key cities, EU foreign policy chief Borrell also highlighted that while the EU will continue supplying arms to Ukraine, it is also important for the bloc to think of its own arms stock and defense capabilities .
“European armies have to share, they have to be interoperable, they have to go together as much as possible to replenish their stocks,” he told reporters.
While the bloc is considering the aspect of joint procurement of arms, Nedelcu said it could be a challenge for the EU.
“Some Eastern European countries like Poland have supplied more arms to Ukraine than others. But now, many countries – especially in Central and Eastern Europe – have realized they also need to replenish their own depleted stocks. Poland for instance has signed an agreement to purchase K2 tanks from South Korea,” Nedelcu said.
“While the Korean K2s are very capable, continuing to restore force readiness across Europe will require a lot of work. This is why the EU is seeking to pull its resources together and close the gap, in order to avoid a race to secure orders and drive prices up. However, with multiple industrial actors lobbying for their interests across EU member states, finding a joint solution suitable for everyone could be challenging,” he added.