Facing failure, Estonia pushes EU ammunition target for Ukraine

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MILAN — The European Union’s sluggish progress in drastically increasing ammunition supplies to Ukraine has Baltic nation Estonia nervous about some member nations’ internal politics getting in the way, according to a senior Estonian defense official.

“On our part, we are constantly pushing different nations to not give up because the timeline of deliveries is next March, so we still have a couple of months ahead of us to either fully reach it or at least get as close to it as possible,” Tuuli Duneton, undersecretary for defense policy said, told Defense News in an interview.

“I wouldn’t say I am entirely pessimistic about the EU target, but a lot remains to be done,” she added.

Estonia was a key initiator last spring of an EU plan to jointly deliver 1 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine by March 2024.

Duneton’s comments came after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Kyiv’s backers to ensure that the country has enough 155mm artillery shells to repel invading Russian forces, with companies synced to execute substantial production increases.

For now, the number of shells delivered is 300,000, according to Kuleba.

“We need to create a Euro-Atlantic common area of defense industries,” he said ahead of a meeting with his NATO counterparts in Brussels this week.

In Tallinn’s view, the diagnosis of what went wrong so far in producing the envisioned amount is more complicated than EU leaders’ initial reaction of pointing the finger at industry.

“Altogether, European nations have not in previous years placed significant orders for 155mm ammunition, and all of a sudden there is a need to put peak orders on the market right away,” Duneton said. “Simultaneously, many bigger states, the same who are struggling to fulfill NATO’s 2%, are scrambling to achieve that target while facing their own domestic issues.”

A contributing factor is the secrecy with which some governments treat Ukraine support and related domestic production increases, which makes to difficult to compare notes among member nations.

“One of the big things we struggle with in Europe, is there is little visibility on what have been the bigger orders from different nations’ to their defense industry and what they are doing. A majority of nations do not share the information,” she said.

The overall vagueness could also be due to political hedging, Duneton added, without wanting to name specific countries. “A possibility could be that they haven’t put any orders into the pipelines, in which case we must ask: Are they really willing to finance those orders? Industry cannot extend its production infinitely if they do not see orders coming in.”

The outcome of Ukraine’s defense is considered existential for Estonia, as officials there believe a victorious Moscow could target the Baltics next, Duneton said.

“It is possible that this threat perception is not as widely shared by all, as of course it always depends on where one is geographically located, but from our perspective, we need to pull all the stops to make Ukraine win,” she said.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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