Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Ukraine update: Zelensky seals €1bn security pact with Spain; EU nations fuming over Hungary’s weapons aid vetoes

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European Union member states are growing increasingly exasperated by Hungary’s stonewalling of more than €6.5-billion of urgently needed military aid for Ukraine as its military struggles to fend off Russian assaults.

Ukraine was preparing for a possible initial visit from French military instructors as the government asked Nato allies to help train Kyiv’s troops to fight against the Russian invasion, according to commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrskyi.

Spain pledges €1bn in military aid during Zelensky visit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sealed a security agreement with Spain that involves €1-billion in military supplies this year to aid Kyiv’s war effort. 

Spain will deliver weapons and munitions to Ukraine, including missiles for Patriot air-defence batteries deployed in the country, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said during a joint briefing in Madrid on Monday. 

“The most important thing is to help Ukraine as quickly as possible,” Sánchez said. “That is what Spain is doing.” 

Zelensky urged allies to force Russia to seek peace “by all means” as he welcomed Spain’s deliveries of Patriot equipment and ammunition. Ukraine needs at least seven more Patriot systems to ensure basic protection from Russian jets dropping an average of 3,000 glide bombs a month. 

Spain’s weapons package this year will be the largest single contingent of military aid provided to another country by Madrid, El Pais newspaper reported earlier. In addition to the missiles, it will include 19 Leopard battle tanks and other weapons manufactured in Spain, the paper said. 

The aim is to deliver the first 10 Leopards by the end of June along with the missiles and additional ammunition, El Pais added.  

Sánchez said he would push for the “broadest possible participation” of countries at next month’s summit meeting in Switzerland aimed at moving forward Ukraine’s peace blueprint. As the gathering risks being downgraded by no-shows and a rival plan, European Union officials are seeking a face-saving outcome next month. 

For the 27-member bloc, the important issue is how to progress from next month’s conference to a possible meeting in Saudi Arabia in the autumn with the participation of Russia, according to officials familiar with the discussions.   

EU nations fume over Hungary’s vetoes of Ukraine weapons aid

European Union member states are growing increasingly exasperated by Hungary’s stonewalling of more than €6.5-billion of urgently needed military aid for Ukraine as its military struggles to fend off Russian assaults.

Budapest’s intransigence prompted discussions among diplomats about how the EU fund could be shielded from Hungary’s veto when it soon receives another influx of cash from the profits of immobilised Russian assets.

“I have seven legal texts pending approval to mobilise resources to support militarily Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a news conference on Monday afternoon when asked about Hungary. “This delay can be measured in terms of human lives.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters earlier on Monday that his country was continuing to block all funding for Ukrainian weapons despite strong objections from other EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels.

“This caused a huge uproar,” Szijjarto said, adding that Hungary faced “huge pressure” to yield. He said his colleagues yelled and spoke out of turn at the meeting.

As long as Hungary continues to block the disbursement of funding for military weapons donated to Ukraine, the bloc can’t use the money to help Kyiv despite a political agreement among all 27 countries back in March to enlarge the fund with billions in additional financing.  

“We cannot accept a blockade of military aid. Agreements are made to be respected,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said on social media platform X. Belgium currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency until July, when Hungary takes over.

Hungary is blocking three separate €500-million tranches of funding from the European Peace Facility destined to help Ukraine. 

In addition, EU member states in March agreed to add €5-billion for 2024 to a weapons fund for Ukraine in an effort to reform the vehicle and ensure a steadier supply of support to Kyiv. The newly dubbed Ukraine Assistance Fund aims to meet Kyiv’s most urgent needs for artillery, specialised munitions, drones and air defence, as well as in non-lethal areas such as demining. 

Budapest’s blocks are prompting even greater anxiety as the EU fund is due to receive as much as €3-billion in cash in July from the profits of frozen Russian assets. That money, which would be used directly instead of reimbursing member states, is due to finance the purchase of weapons for Ukraine.  

Discussions were under way to try to insulate that money from Hungary’s vetoes and get it to Ukraine more quickly, according to a senior EU diplomat involved in the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Ukraine army chief ready for possible French military trainers

Ukraine was preparing for a possible initial visit from French military instructors after the government asked Nato allies to help train Kyiv’s troops to fight against the Russian invasion, according to commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrskyi.

The statement on Monday came after a phone call that the army chief and Ukraine’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, held with French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu. Syrskyi praised France for its initiative to send instructors to train Ukrainian troops, without saying when they would arrive or for how long. Paris has given no public indication yet that such a visit was imminent.

“I’ve already signed the documents that will allow the first French instructors to visit our training centres soon and familiarise themselves with their infrastructure and staff,” Syrskyi said on Telegram.

Training troops inside Ukraine has been one of the options discussed since a conference that President Emmanuel Macron convened in Paris in February, according to a French defence ministry official. France continued to work with Ukraine to understand their exact needs, the official said.

With Russia advancing on the battlefield, Ukraine has pushed the US and other Nato allies to send instructors to train its depleted forces and to deliver more weapons and ammunition. 

Macron sparked tensions with allies earlier this year when he said “nothing should be ruled out” when asked about sending Western troops to Ukraine. 

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, who was re-elected for a second term on Sunday, has said repeatedly that his country was prepared to send professional soldiers for training missions to Ukraine should Kyiv request it. Czech President Petr Pavel said in March that sending instructors would be possible, but ruled out combat troops. 

Poland to curb Russian diplomat movements due to sabotage fears

Poland has decided to curb the movement of Russian diplomats living on its territories amid rising concern over alleged sabotage operations. 

The decision stems from “the participation of the Russian state in the hybrid war against the European Union, including Poland”, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters in Brussels on Monday.

Sikorski added that the ministry would “soon” notify the Russian Federation about the steps, which would also affect its consular staff in Warsaw. 

Last week, Polish authorities announced that they were stepping up security around the Rzeszow-Jasionka airport, the main transit hub for foreign military aid to Ukraine. The announcement came just hours after a series of arrests of people allegedly involved in acts of sabotage directed from Russia.

Ukraine claims second hit on Russian missile early-warning radar

Ukraine said it attacked a Russian anti-missile early warning radar system for a second time in a week, using drones to target sites increasingly far from its border in an attempt to disrupt the Kremlin’s war machine and shake the nation’s sense of security.

The drone hit the monitoring system in Orsk, in Russia’s Orenburg region, on Sunday, an official in Ukraine’s military intelligence said, asking not to be identified. The city is about 1,800km east of Ukraine, near the border with Kazakhstan in central Asia. It’s not clear what, if any, damage the strike caused, the official said. 

Ukraine has been using its drones for months to hit Russian oil depots and refineries, seeking to damage Moscow’s biggest moneymaking industry and undermine confidence in President Vladimir Putin’s ability to protect the country. Kyiv has also targeted naval ships near Crimea in the Black Sea. 

Russia has made no official comments about the Orsk incident or an attack on a similar radar on Thursday in Armavir in the Krasnodar region. In the more recent incident, a drone “fell” near Orsk without damaging civilian facilities or causing casualties, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported on Monday. An early warning radar station is based close to the place where a drone reportedly fell, said the pro-Russian military blog Rybar, which has 1.2 million subscribers on Telegram, citing an unidentified regional government official. DM

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