Ahen EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell proposed a new training mission for Ukraine at the end of August, the enthusiasm of many member states was limited. Several of them have long been training soldiers on the weapon systems they supply to the country. Berlin also reacted cautiously. The defense minister offered to train twenty Ukrainians in explosive ordnance disposal – nationally. Nevertheless, the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was commissioned to develop a concept. He used that. Just a month and a half later, the EU foreign ministers decided on a new training mission in Luxembourg on Monday. Not just any, but the largest in the European Union to date.
Initially, the Military Support Mission for Ukraine, EUMAM for short, is to train around 12,000 soldiers from the army and from territorial defense, as well as 2,800 special forces. This is how it was negotiated with Kyiv, explained an EU official. The Ukrainian government officially asked for the deployment at the end of September. As was heard in Brussels, it was initially about nine brigades, each with 2,000 soldiers, i.e. a total of 18,000 forces.
5,000 Ukrainians are to be trained in Germany
However, even with the concept that has now been decided, there still seems to be room for improvement. The mission is scheduled to last two years, but the majority of the soldiers are to be trained in the next few months. Training is scheduled to begin in mid-November.
The strategic goal, according to the mandate, is to “improve the military capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces for regeneration and effective operations” so that the country can defend its territorial integrity. Some of the soldiers will be recruits to replace the dead and injured. But it is also about training military leaders at all levels in warfare, from platoon to brigade. In addition, soldiers should receive special training as paramedics or in the operation of weapon systems.
Germany has offered the EU to train a full combat brigade of up to 5,000 soldiers by next spring. The army’s combat training center in Letzlingen is to play a central role in this. Since the beginning of the war, Germany has trained 800 Ukrainians on the Gepard anti-aircraft vehicle, the 2000 self-propelled howitzer and the MARS multiple rocket launcher. That was purely bilateral. For the new mission, however, a headquarters subordinate to the EU will be created.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Luxembourg that “we should go through the winter together as Europeans, and that other places in Ukraine can be liberated at the same time”. Before the meeting, the command structures had been wrestled with. Poland claimed leadership of the operation.
In the end, however, Berlin prevailed with a decentralized structure led by French Vice Admiral Hervé Bléjean, director of the EU military staff in Brussels. In particular, Warsaw wants to train soldiers on captured Russian equipment; Polish trainers are familiar with this.
Eastern European demands rejected
Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu announced on Saturday that 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers would be trained for France. This should be done in three stages, he told the newspaper Le Parisien: first the basic training of the soldiers, then for the specific needs reported by the Ukrainians, such as logistics, and finally training on the weapons supplied by France. In Brussels, other states indicated their participation, including neutral Ireland. Denmark will participate in a Common Security and Defense Policy operation for the first time after removing a national exemption clause by referendum.
Two years ago, Foreign Representative Borrell first discussed an EU mission in Ukraine, but there was resistance. At the time, Germany pointed out the danger that this could exacerbate the conflict with Russia. A significantly slimmed-down variant – the sending of instructors to the military academy in Kyiv – did not come about because of the outbreak of the war. As the debate began again, there were voices from Eastern Europe calling for a mission to Ukraine itself. Berlin and many other states are convinced that this would not only endanger the trainers, but also potentially turn them into a war party. On a mission outside the country, you don’t see that danger.
However, there were two other complications that had to be resolved with the new mandate. The EU treaty actually only provides for military operations outside of the Union area. An exception is now being made because of the “extraordinary circumstances arising from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” as the mandate states.
On the other hand, the mission is financed from several pots. The total budget for two years was estimated at 106.7 million euros. However, only a small part of this will come from the regular EU budget. It must not be used for direct military aid. Instead, the member states are tapping into the so-called peace facility, a special fund from which states that have supplied Kyiv with weapons have already received money.
The foreign ministers approved a further tranche of 500 million euros for this purpose on Monday. This brings military support to Ukraine from EU funds to a total of 3.1 billion euros. For the first time, the maintenance and repair of previously donated equipment can now also be financed from this. Borrell saw the decision as an expression of the will to continue to support Ukraine with determination, especially in view of the most recent Russian attacks on Kyiv.