STUTTGART, Germany — The European Union is considering a new training mission aimed at providing more predictable and additional support to Ukraine in its defense against Russia.
The proposal was announced Tuesday, as EU defense ministers gathered for an informal meeting in Prague to discuss ways to boost the bloc’s defense investment, the influence of Russian activity in Africa, and Moscow’s aggression against Kyiv.
The goal is to provide “more value added” as well as “predictable and stronger support,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said in a televised doorstop address to reporters, before entering the meeting Tuesday morning.
In a press briefing later in the day, he emphasized that while the ministers had not made any final decisions during the gathering, all member states agreed “clearly” to kickstart “the work necessary to define the parameters for an EU military assistance mission for Ukraine.”
Many member nations in the EU – as well as the United States – are already training Ukrainian troops, he noted. “But the needs are enormous, and we need to ensure the coherence of these efforts,” he added.
The bloc will move “swiftly” to support Ukraine’s needs, as directed by the country’s ministry of defense, Borrell said. “Some of the needs they explained to us today … could be better provided, pulling the capacities of the member states together and looking for the specialities of each one of them,” he added.
Officials present at the meeting were quick to deny that the proposed training mission should be seen as an aggressive move against Russia.
“A training mission outside of Ukraine is not a signal of warfighting,” Austrian Army Gen. Robert Brieger, the current chairman of the European Union Military Committee, told reporters.
The ministers also discussed efforts to boost European defense capacity, as member states deplete their stocks to keep Ukraine’s troops armed.
One such funding mechanism is the European Peace Facility (EPF), which was established in 2021 to support efforts that strengthen international security, with a current budget of about €5.7 billion (U.S. $5.72 billion).
About €2.5 billion of that has so far been reimbursed to member states to replenish their stockpiles that were sent to Ukraine, Borrell said. A decision will be made by next spring about how to support the fund if – or when – it is emptied, he added.
“The European Peace Facility has a budget of €5.7 billion, so we are far from exhausting it,” he noted.
Borrell said he and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used the meeting to encourage member states to foster joint procurement, increase defense expenditures, and buy more equipment to keep industry production lines moving.
“For that, we have set up a task force to support member states and coordinate their very short-term needs in order to refill their stocks of arms,” Borrell said. The European Commission has earmarked €500 million (U.S. $501 million) from the EU’s budget over the next two years specifically for joint procurement efforts, he added.
“We are taking concrete and historical actions to ensure that the increases in defense spending will result also in an increase of more efficient spending,” Borrell said. “It is not only about spending more, [but also] about spending better. And in order to spend better, the best way is to spend more together.”
Nathalie Loiseau, a member of the European Parliament from France who sits on the Subcommittee on Security and Defense, hailed the “great progress” the EU has made in sending equipment to Ukraine since the start of the war in February.
“Providing military equipment has been something that the European Union was not doing before,” she told reporters. “We have to stay the course and keep on being able to refurbish our own stockpiles, and provide the appropriate military equipment to Ukraine.”
Some member states readily expressed support for the proposed military training mission Tuesday.
“You would think that maybe they [the Ukrainians] could teach us a number of things,” Loiseau noted. “But they need to bring new people to the frontline, and we have to help them.”
Estonia, which is already training Ukrainian forces, is prepared to participate in the proposed mission as well, said Defense Minister Danno Pevkur in a press release following the meeting. “However, it is important that this mission would complement the weapons aid to Ukraine and go hand in hand with the already operational training activities,” he added.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.