European leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to grant Ukraine EU candidate status, but that historic decision threatens to overshadow more urgent questions about the country’s survival.
Since the Russian invasion began, Ukraine has been crying out for weapons to defend its territory. EU leaders will call for swift work on “a further increase of military support for Ukraine”, according to a draft summit communique that offers scant detail on this vital question.
The EU has already agreed to fund €2bn (£1.72bn) in military aid for Ukraine, mostly for weapons, a historic first for the bloc. But the more pressing question may be how quickly European countries make good on delivering promised weapons. After complaints of foot-dragging from Berlin, earlier this week Ukraine welcomed the first delivery of heavy weapons from Germany, with the arrival of Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers. Germany and the Netherlands are together supplying Ukraine 12 of the weapons systems, according to German diplomatic sources.
Ukraine also needs cash, as it faces financial ruin. The European Commission is working on a €9bn emergency funding proposal for Ukraine. Details on the mix of grants and loans have yet to be decided. Ukraine’s government has said the €9bn macrofinancial assistance programme sounds good, but falls well short of what is needed. Kyiv requires about $5bn (£4.1bn) a month to keep going, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last month, while he urged the bloc to provide grants, rather than loans that would add to indebtedness.
After month-long bruising negotiations over the EU’s last round of sanctions against Russia, including a 90% oil embargo, the bloc is reluctant to discuss further restrictive measures touching gas. Instead EU leaders will emphasise closing loopholes in existing sanctions: “Work will continue on sanctions, including to strengthen implementation and prevent circumvention,” states the summit conclusions.
A handful of countries, such as Poland and the Baltic states, continue to make the case for banning Russian gas. Senior EU officials, however, suggest gas sanctions are not necessary, 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 row.
EU officials are increasingly worried about what they see as the serious situation over Kaliningrad. Russia has threatened retaliation after Lithuania began checking some goods transiting its territory en route to the Russian enclave. The checks began when an EU ban on Russian steel exports recently came into force. The European Commission has said the checks are “focused, proportionate and effective” but has promised further guidance.
The EU will again accuse Russia of “weaponising food in its war against Ukraine”, as it urges Moscow to cease the blockade to Black Sea ports, notably Odesa. The EU is banking on the United Nations to negotiate an agreement with Russia to open the ports. In the meantime, it is attempting to help exporters find alternative rail and road routes out of Ukraine. While grain supplies going through so-called “solidarity lanes” have increased since April, shipping remains the fastest, cheapest option.