How to launch a European Lend-Lease

Ukrainian and EU flags in the front of the Presidential Palace Republic of Ukraine. Photo Ruslanas Iržikevičius

Considering the total nature and prospects of hostilities in Ukraine, military aid for us should not be situational but permanent. Since the full-scale Russian aggression began, Ukraine has been working to launch arms lend-lease with the United States and European partners.

Given the existing potential and structure of the military-industrial complex, European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, and Sweden could implement a military support program for Ukraine similar to the American one. Such a form of support would look particularly rational from the side of the entire European Union as a separate program with an appropriate funding source.

However, in the EU, unlike the United States, there has been no significant progress in this matter over the past six months.

After February 24, supplies of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine became an essential part of the debate in most EU countries. Self-imposed restrictions by some European countries to assure their citizens that “they will not be drawn into the war” actually work in favour of the aggressor.

What could a European Lend-Lease look like for Ukraine, and why such a program would be helpful for years to come for the common defence policy of the EU itself?

What has already been done at the EU level for military aid to Ukraine

Before the full-scale attack by the Russian Federation, the European Union provided only limited support to the civilian security sector of Ukraine. Military reform mainly focused on NATO and bilateral cooperation with individual EU member states.

In December 2021, the EU agreed on a new package of measures to help strengthen the capacity of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This package, created as part of the new European Peace Fund (EPF), was aimed at funding military medical units, including field hospitals, engineering units and cyber defence.

From February 2022, the European Union provides Ukraine with lethal weapons through its European Peace Fund.

As EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell noted, this was the first time in history that the EU provided lethal equipment to a third country.

Since then, five more military aid packages have been announced for Ukraine, bringing the total amount of money given to us through the European Peace Fund for both lethal and non-lethal weapons to €3 billion.

However, according to data from the Kiel Institute of the World Economy, since the end of April, European obligations regarding military aid to Ukraine have tended to decrease. Even though the war has entered a critical phase, new bilateral initiatives to provide aid to EU countries have run out.

Strong in the defence and industrial sense, European states cannot keep up with the military aid coming from the USA, Great Britain or Poland.

In recent months, specific shifts have been observed in the pan-European approach to military aid to Ukraine.

In particular, at a meeting in Prague on August 30, the defence ministers of the European Union countries agreed to start work on the scheme of the EU mission for military assistance to Ukraine against the background of wide-ranging debates on increasing defence spending and military training.

On October 17, the ministers of foreign affairs of the EU countries, at a meeting in Luxembourg, approved the decision to create a military assistance mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine).

The mission will work on the territory of the member states of the European Union and will have its operational headquarters in Brussels for general coordination at the strategic level.

The mandate of the mission will last for two years. The total amount of expenses for this period will be €106.7 million.

It is expected that up to 15,000 Ukrainian servicemen will undergo training during this time, and their number may increase later.

The mission is to begin work in mid-November.

Poland will be one of the primary countries on whose territory the Ukrainian military will be trained, which is logically explained by its geographical proximity to Ukraine.

Until now, some EU countries have trained Ukrainians as part of bilateral projects. For example, the Bundeswehr in Germany trained teams for weapons systems supplied by Berlin, such as the Panzerhaubitze2000 or the Gepard anti-aircraft system.

In addition to the planned training mission, the EU also wants to significantly expand military assistance to Ukraine in the coming months regarding arms supplies within the framework of the European Peace Fund.

Currently, the EU countries are considering increasing the budget of the fund from 5.7 billion euros to an amount within the range of 10-12 billion euros. Still, this issue has not yet been finally agreed upon.

Despite the allocation of the sixth tranche of military aid in the amount of 500 million euros, which took place on October 17, the EU is discussing providing Ukraine with a larger amount of funding for military expenses, planning to add new funds to the 3,1 billion euros already allocated to Kyiv after February 24.

In furtherance of the efforts announced at the founding summit of the European Political Community, held on October 7 in Prague, the President of France announced that his country has decided to create a special fund that will allow Ukraine, if necessary, to purchase the most necessary military equipment directly from French industry. For the implementation of this initiative, the French has the government created a special fund of 100 million euros.

So far, this is an individual initiative of the Elysee Palace. Still, the program’s launch for the production and financing of Ukraine’s acquisition of weapons from European companies is long overdue.

Reflection in the EU on the scaling of military aid to Ukraine

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the idea of ​​providing direct military support to Kyiv, including lethal weapons, became part of the public debates.

Even though the provision of such assistance is already taking place on a bilateral level, old disagreements remain in the EU between Western Europe, which shows restraint in responding to the Russian threat, and the states of Eastern Europe, whose governments perceive military aid to Ukraine as an investment in their own security.

For the countries of Eastern and Northern Europe, Russia’s war against Ukraine is not just a security crisis. For them, Russian aggression is a long-term existential threat.

On the other hand, for Berlin and Paris, the war in Ukraine looks like a much smaller threat. The efforts of the French president “not to humiliate Russia”, as well as the strategy of Berlin “not to get involved in the war” caused a lot of criticism.

While public expectations within the EU regarding support for Ukraine have increased after the discovery of mass war crimes committed by the Russian armed forces, European self-restraint in defence support for Kyiv has become a problem for several states’ domestic politics, such as Germany or Italy.

“We are at a decision point. Ukraine needs weapons to survive. Most of its defence industry has been decimated, but many of our Member States have stepped in, which is why Kyiv was preserved in March. But heavy armoury will be required in this next war phase. Tanks are needed, and we must be able to take that next step[1]“, said President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola on September 28 in Berlin.

She voiced two possible variations of assistance to Kyiv.

The first is the targeted initiative, “Leopard Tank”, to provide Ukraine with approximately 90 tanks.

The second, larger one, is the European Lend-Lease program, which will provide Ukraine with direct access to the EU arms industry.

“We know that even those (tanks) that are not battle ready can be restored relatively quickly. This could mean a modern-standard tank made available quickly. The countries that provide the tanks could be reimbursed through European funds such as the Peace Facility, and that means all will be able to contribute to the effort,” said Roberta Metsola.

“When our Member States join forces, it means that no single Member State will suffer a too significant dent in its own defence capability,” concluded the President of the European Parliament.

This proposal is correct because, during the last 8 months, the United States and Great Britain were the most operative partners of Ukraine in the defence sector. Even though the European Commission insists on larger and more regular packages of military aid to Ukraine, there is a lack of synchronicity in implementing these initiatives.

Such significant EU countries as France, Italy and Spain have so far provided little support to Ukraine compared to the Anglo-Saxon states and even Poland.

Currently, a new European defence policy and security agenda are being developed in the key capitals of EU states and the European Commission.

To ensure efficiency, a large part of the weapons that Europe currently supplies to Ukraine comes from the countries’ own stocks and is not specially manufactured. This cannot last long.

At the beginning of September, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, criticized the member states for the fact that they decided too late on the training of the Ukrainian armed forces (training mission) and also drew attention to the need for greater coordination of efforts between the EU countries in the production of ammunition and armament.

“The military stocks of most [European NATO] member states have been, I wouldn’t say exhausted, but depleted in a high proportion, because we have been providing a lot of capacity to the Ukrainians,” – Borrell said during a debate with lawmakers in the European Parliament.

“It has to be refilled. The best way of refilling is doing that together. It will be cheaper,” he concluded.

At the moment, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is the “locomotive” of reforming the EU’s common security and defence policy, which should ensure an adequate response to the war in Ukraine.

“… We delegated our security to the United States. While the cooperation with the Biden Administration is excellent, and the transatlantic relationship has never been as good as it is today – [including] our cooperation with the United States and my friend Tony Blinken [US Secretary of State]: we are in a fantastic relationship and cooperating a lot; who knows what will happen two years from now, or even in November? What would have happened if, instead of [Joe] Biden, it would have been [Donald] Trump or someone like him in the White House? What would have been the answer of the United States to the war in Ukraine?[2]” – said Borrell’s introductory speech to EU ambassadors at the annual conference held on October 10.

“The United States – take care of our security. You – China and Russia – provided the basis of our prosperity. This is a world that is no longer there,” – states the head of European diplomacy.

“Take more initiative. Be ready to be bold. Whatever we do, there are taboo-breaking decisions. We break taboos on the Ukrainian war, using the European Peace Facility to buy arms – something that at the beginning [was] “oh, that is impossible, we have never done it”. “We have never done it” is not a recipe. Maybe we have to start doing things that we have never done in the past,” – Borrell urged his colleagues.

Since the European Peace Fund is an extra-budgetary fund financed by contributions from EU member states, it is not subject to parliamentary control by the European Parliament. At the request of third countries, regional or international organizations, the EU could supply them with military equipment and create defence infrastructure at this fund’s expense.

However, the issue of increasing resources and the scope of application of funds of this fund to help Ukraine have not a common vision among all EU countries yet.

What a European Lend-Lease might look like

A separate initiative and a particular legislative act at the level of the European Union on assistance to Ukraine could resolve several issues at once.

First, it will provide EU member states with financial support to ensure the delivery of military equipment to Ukraine.

Secondly, such a program will launch the European military-industrial complex in the medium and long term.

To achieve this, the EU needs financial resources equivalent in size to the funds allocated by the United States Congress for assistance to Ukraine in the amount of 40 billion dollars during the 2022 fiscal year.

Considering the need for a significant increase in the costs of their own defence by European countries, it is unlikely that the EU countries directly will be able to quickly redistribute the funds necessary to support Ukraine’s large-scale arms program.

In addition, the banal increase in defence spending in the EU states only to spend it on replacing the equipment that will be sent to Ukraine will leave the European armed forces in the same technological condition as they were before February 24.

To alleviate this financial burden, the European Union can provide financial resources to support the receiving of aid to Ukraine. To do this, it can agree to borrow or redistribute tens of billions of euros to stimulate the European defence industry to provide modern equipment to Ukraine. This will give the European Union the financial power and flexibility to support Ukraine and strengthen its defence.

Structurally, the European Union could implement this program in one of two ways.

The first solution is “on the surface”: the EU can allocate additional amounts to finance the European Peace Fund. The European Union has already used the EPF to provide Ukraine with €3.1 billion in military aid. This money was allocated directly to EU member states, giving them the resources to replace equipment sent to Ukraine, like how the United States uses the power to withdraw its own military stocks.

So, EPF could play its role on a larger scale. The EU member state provides Ukraine with the necessary weapons and sends the European Union a bill for its replacement.

This model definitely calls for a multi-fold increase in the EPF budget. For today, the aid already provided to Ukraine has absorbed almost half of the fund’s budget of 5.7 billion euros for 2021-2027.

In addition, although the EU quickly reacted to Russia’s aggression by activating the European Peace Fund, under the current parameters, the EPF can only act within its powers – providing funds. The fund does not have the authority to purchase weapons and equipment directly or organize their delivery to Ukraine.

Once the EPF funds are released, the supplies have to be arranged by the individual member states. No structure in Brussels could be relied upon to coordinate the efforts of individual member states to meet Ukraine’s current military needs.

The European Union Advisory Mission in Ukraine (EUAM) does not have the mandate to participate in the reform of the military security sector; therefore, despite the presence in Kyiv, the mission has neither the capacity nor the competencies to cope with such a large-scale task.

EU states have spent an enormous time discussing supplies instead of implementing them. The EU could move much faster if they developed common positions on material support issues. And, since the distribution of the burden of maintenance and supply of weapons among many states facilitates efforts, common positions would make it easier for European countries to deliver the necessary military equipment to Ukraine through joint rather than individual efforts.

The second approach to the implementation of the military support initiative of Ukraine would involve giving the European Union the role of a joint procurement agent for the use of the funds allocated to the program.

Although this mechanism is more complicated than simply increasing the EPF in the Brussels bureaucracy, it has more strategic benefits. The European Union could get the resources to order a large number of weapons from European companies to replace the existing ones sent to Ukraine by EU member states.

Although it is a well-established view that the European Union as an organization is not allowed to acquire and possess military equipment, nothing in the EU’s founding treaties expressly prohibits this. In fact, there are limits on the use of the EU budget for military operations. However, under the proposed model, the EU does not conduct military or police operations in Ukraine. It will buy equipment for its members, who in turn will provide bilateral defence assistance to Ukraine.

In this case, the “institutional memory” of the EU will play a good role. The European Union has already conducted joint procurement of Covid-19 vaccines and personal protective equipment starting in 2020 to ensure that each member country has equal access to vaccines instead of competing against each other. Brussels deployed the “emergency support instrument” and successfully mobilized billions of budget resources for joint procurement on behalf of member states.

As a “pilot project”, in July this year, The European Commission proposed the creation of a short-term instrument to strengthen European defence industrial potential through joint procurement by member states. This tool is designed to meet the most urgent and critical needs for defence products that arose due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. For the implementation of the project, it is proposed to allocate 500 million euros from the EU budget for 2022-2024[3].

The joint defence procurement program will avoid competition between member states for the same products and will contribute to cost savings. This will enhance interoperability and allow the European Defense Base to adapt better its production facilities to produce the required products. The new EU instrument will support the actions of consortia consisting of at least three member states.

This will not only give European defence ministries the confidence to replace the equipment sent to Ukraine but also give them the incentive to do so since they will receive completely new systems in return (the so-called circular exchange and upgrade of weapons).

It is worth seeing how it will work in practice and then scaling it to the current needs of both Ukraine and EU member states.

According to available information, the European Commission is currently launching the European Defense Investment Program (EDIP) regulation, which will serve as a beacon for future joint development and procurement projects of common interest for the security of EU member states.

Admittedly, some states may refuse to lose control of the defence procurement process and insist that they have unique requirements for armaments.

Poland’s decision in August 2022 to purchase and later license the production of South Korean main battle tanks instead of cooperating with Germany clearly indicates how much confidence in the effectiveness of joint defence initiatives in the EU has decreased.

Today’s state of the armed forces of the EU member states (most of which are NATO members) prevents operational interoperability, creating significant logistical complications. Thus, joint procurements will help to solve the problem of different types of weapons used by European armies.

In addition, joint European procurement significantly activates the military-industrial complex of the EU countries, which means that over time, Ukraine will be able to receive more newly created weapons, which will contribute to the goals of compatibility with the armies of allied countries.

The large-scale allocation of funds should give the European defence industry the confidence to increase defence production for many years. The EU should also explore ways to help European defence companies, as they are already facing shortages of components and raw materials this year.

Decades of defence spending cuts have left Europe’s armed forces with limited supplies. This is true even for such more powerful European states in terms of defence as France and Germany.

Giving the armed forces of the EU countries confidence that they can fill this gap at the expense of a pan-European rearmament program will increase their willingness to provide military assistance to Ukraine today.

What is also important, military aid to Ukraine should not only rest on the shoulders of the United States and Great Britain. This should be a joint transatlantic contribution, especially since support for Ukraine is vital for European security in the long term.


The European Commission qualified the new massive strikes on Ukraine, carried out on October 10, as barbaric and strongly condemned the strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, and also called on Belarus not to assist Russia in the destruction of civilians in Ukraine.

“Such actions have no place in the 21st century. I strongly condemn this. We support Ukraine. Additional EU military aid is on the way,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell tweeted.

He emphasized that he was “deeply shocked by the Russian attacks on civilians in Kyiv and other cities of Ukraine.”

However, the previous indecision of many EU member states and the inability of European institutions to actively support Ukraine to strengthen its own security led to the fact that our country found itself in a weaker position than it could be in the case of permanent programs to support the defence potential.

As practice has shown, European countries that had already established close defence cooperation before the war – Poland and the Baltic states – were much more responsive to Kyiv’s calls for assistance, as were Great Britain and the United States, which led military aid to Ukraine even before the start of a full-scale war.

European countries should consider the war in Ukraine as a global challenge to their own security, similar in scale to the global financial crisis or pandemic. Considering that the post-pandemic recovery fund of the EU accumulates about 800 billion euros in the form of loans and grants, all the European military aid provided to Ukraine so far is only an insignificant part of this amount.

EU states bear substantial economic costs, limiting economic interaction with Russia. Therefore, it does not make sense for Europe to accept such substantial economic stress but not allocate an adequate amount of resources necessary to support the defence potential of Ukraine.

Instead, the EU continues to rely on the role of NATO in its defence policy, and the Alliance has not disclosed the details of the new Comprehensive Assistance Package and the financing of trust funds for Ukraine.

In fact, it is not important for Ukraine who will eventually become the agent of European Lend-Lease – the new NATO Assistance Package or the European Peace Fund.

The implementation of an effective pan-European military aid initiative for Ukraine is a test of whether the EU is able to achieve greater self-sufficiency in defence and whether its members can support each other in the security sphere.

Oleksandr Kalinichenko, a lawyer in international law, head of the ‘Notes of Atlantist’ project




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