Food security, ammunition in focus as EU leaders discuss Ukraine war with UN chief

Food security, ammunition in focus as EU leaders discuss Ukraine war with UN chief

23 Mar    Finance News, PMN Business, REU

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BRUSSELS — European Union leaders will discuss the war in Ukraine with U.N. chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday, including food security and sanctions, and also endorse a plan to ramp up the supply of artillery shells to Kyiv, diplomats and officials said.

Guterres will be a guest at an EU summit in Brussels, days after the renewal of a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey on the safe export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

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That will be discussed over lunch with Guterres before the U.N. secretary-general takes his leave and EU leaders get an update on the war from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy via video link, officials said.

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“We will, as always, reaffirm our unwavering commitment to assist Ukraine,” declared Charles Michel, president of the European Council of EU leaders.

The leaders will give their blessing to a plan – agreed by foreign ministers on Monday – to send 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year by digging into stocks and making a landmark move into joint procurement.

Washington pushed back on Russian demands that Western sanctions be eased before it allows Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports beyond mid-May, saying there were no restrictions on Russian agricultural products or fertilizer.

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Inside the EU, the issue of fertilizer exports was also blocking more sanctions against Kremlin ally Belarus. The bloc says new sanctions are needed to stop Belarus from serving as a circumvention route for existing Russia trade restrictions.

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But Lithuania was against what it dubbed “fertilizer oligarchs” exemptions proposed to ensure fertilizers from Belarus continue flowing to third countries, saying that would weaken the sanctions regime overall, diplomats said.

Proponents said such carve-outs, similar to those the EU has in place under its sanctions against Russia, were necessary to ensure food security and refute accusations from Moscow that EU measures were driving a global food crisis.

Diplomats involved in preparing the summit of the 27 national EU leaders were skeptical of an imminent breakthrough.

“Nobody wants abuse and no-one wants the pockets of oligarchs to be filled with money, but sometimes there are justified requests from third countries,” said one senior EU diplomat, explaining the exemption would cover some potassium exports. “But so far there is no sign of movement.”

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AMMUNITION

Beyond food security and sanctions, the leaders will also discuss bringing those responsible for the 13-month war to justice, as well as providing more military aid to Ukraine.

Zelenskiy’s government has told its Western allies that it urgently needs large amounts of 155mm shells as it fights a fierce war of attrition with invading Russian forces.

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Officials have warned that Ukraine is burning through shells at a faster rate than its allies can produce them, prompting a renewed search for ammunition and ways to boost production.

The EU devised a scheme earmarking 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) for the swift supply of shells – and possibly missiles – from existing stocks and another 1 billion euros for joint orders by EU countries for more rounds.

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The money will come from the European Peace Facility, an EU-run fund that has already provided billions of euros for military aid to Ukraine. Leaders at the summit may begin a discussion on a further top-up to the fund, diplomats said.

“We will need to take measures to boost the manufacturing capacity of the European defense industry,” Michel said in his letter inviting fellow EU leaders to the summit.

($1 = 0.9212 euro) (Reporting by Kate Abnett, Philip Blenkinsop, Gabriela Baczynska, Andrew Gray and Jan Strupczewski; Writing by Andrew Gray and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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