EU leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to grant Ukraine EU candidate status, but the historic decision threatens to overshadow more pressing questions about the country’s survival.
Since the start of the Russian invasion, Ukraine has been asking for weapons to defend its territory. EU leaders will call for swift work on “a further increase in military support for Ukraine”, according to a draft summit statement that offers few details on this vital issue.
The EU has already agreed to fund €2bn (£1.72bn) in military aid to Ukraine, mostly for weapons, a historic first for the bloc. But perhaps the most pressing question is how quickly European countries manage to deliver the promised weapons. After complaints from Berlin for dragging its feet, Ukraine welcomed the first delivery of heavy weapons from Germany earlier this week, with the arrival of Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers. Germany and the Netherlands together supply Ukraine with 12 weapon systems, according to German diplomatic sources.
Ukraine also needs cash as it faces financial ruin. The European Commission is working on a €9 billion emergency funding proposal for Ukraine. Details on the combination of grants and loans have yet to be decided. The Ukrainian government has said that the €9 billion macro-financial assistance package looks good, but falls far short of what is needed. Kyiv needs around $5bn (£4.1bn) a month to continue, an adviser to the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said last month as he urged the bloc to provide grants rather than loans that would increase indebtedness.
After deadly month-long negotiations over the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia, including a 90% oil embargo, the bloc is reluctant to discuss further restrictive gas measures. Instead, EU leaders will focus on closing loopholes in existing sanctions. “Work will continue on sanctions, including to strengthen implementation and prevent circumvention,” the summit conclusions state.
A handful of countries, such as Poland and the Baltic states, continue to advocate for a Russian gas ban. Senior EU officials, however, suggest the gas sanctions are unnecessary as the bloc has already decided to phase out Russian fossil fuels. Relying on the EU’s latest energy strategy, rather than proposing new sanctions, avoids a damaging internal feud.
EU officials are increasingly worried about what they see as the serious situation in Kaliningrad. Russia threatened retaliation after Lithuania began screening some goods passing through its territory en route to the Russian enclave. The checks began when an EU ban on Russian steel exports recently came into effect. The European Commission said the checks are “targeted, proportionate and effective”, but promised further guidance.
The EU will again accuse Russia of “arming food in its war against Ukraine”, while urging Moscow to end the blockade of Black Sea ports, including Odessa. The EU is counting on the UN to negotiate an agreement with Russia to open the ports. In the meantime, he is trying to help exporters find alternative rail and road routes outside Ukraine. While grain supplies passing through the so-called “solidarity lanes” have increased since April, shipping remains the fastest and cheapest option.