In the Spanish city of Toledo from August 30 to 31, the regular meeting of defense and foreign ministers of 27 EU countries in the so-called Gymnich format took place.
For those who don’t know: Gymnich is an informal exchange of opinions. Such meetings are held twice a year. They do not make official decisions or sign any documents, but exchange opinions and coordinate positions on current international issues. This format derives from the name of the castle in Germany where the first such gathering took place in 1974.
Ukraine and Africa were expectedly the central topics of the debate.
EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell said that «security guarantees for Ukraine in the long term (not only for the time of the conflict) and guarantees of financial assistance were discussed in detail».
The participants agreed on the expediency of setting up a new EU fund worth 20 billion euros to structure military aid to Ukraine.
It is assumed that from 2024–2027 Kiev will be allocated 5 billion euros annually for armament and training programs.
«It is necessary that support for Ukraine continues after the war. Whatever happens,» Borrell stated.
He said separate disbursements from the European Peace Facility (EPF) should be waived, support «should continue for the sake of rebuilding the country and also to provide Ukraine with security guarantees.»
I would like to remind you that Ukraine has already received 5.6 billion euros in military aid from a mechanism that is not part of the EU budget. The EPF reimburses members of the European Union for expenses related to the supply of weapons to Kiev. Such a complex structure was created due to the fact that EU legislation prohibits the use of budget funds for military aid to third countries.
The defense ministers also touched upon the progress of the EU program to supply the Ukrainian armed forces with 1 million 155 mm artillery shells. It was confirmed that it should be completed, as promised, by the end of this year.
The restless Borrell proposed to increase the capabilities of the EU military assistance mission to Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine), which was set up in October 2022. Initially, the goal was to train 20,000 UAF soldiers in using Western equipment handed over to Kiev. Now the goal is to train not 30,000 but 40,000 soldiers at European training grounds by the end of the year.
The Bundeswehr is also involved in this work. In Germany, Ukrainian envoys are being trained on Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems, PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers, Marder infantry fighting vehicles, and Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 main battle tanks. In addition, the soldiers are being trained to manage troops and organize medical care. According to the Bundeswehr, about 1,500 German instructors are involved in the trainings.
It is possible that the mission will also take on the task of training Ukrainian pilots. The leaders of the «airplane coalition», Denmark and the Netherlands, are ready to supply Kiev with F-16 fighter jets, but they will be able to get to the front no sooner than in six months. It’s all about the slow pace of training of Zelensky’s Falcons. Before they are entrusted with the aircraft, they need to be taught English so that they can understand the commands of their instructors. But things are not progressing smoothly. Brussels believes that if the European Union takes care of this directly, the «students» will get on the wing faster.
EUMAM is expected to continue its work even after the end of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
As is known, at the recent summit in Vilnius, NATO refused to provide Kiev with specific promises about the terms and conditions of its admission to the alliance. Zelensky is now forced to change course and seek bilateral agreements on security guarantees. With little luck, he’s managed to cobble together a pool of about 30 countries, including some from the EU. But so far there has been some progress only in negotiations with the US, UK and Canada. In Toledo, an attempt was made to develop a common approach on guarantees that could be put on paper in the future. But no consensus seems to have been reached.
In particular, all of Borrell’s efforts were hampered by Hungary’s special position. It was clearly voiced by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in an interview with American celebrity journalist Tucker Carlson. He spoke in favor of creating «a new architecture in Europe to ensure Ukraine’s security and sovereignty». And Russia should be a part of it. In addition, Orban opposed the admission of Ukraine to NATO.
«There is no such window of opportunity anymore. We cannot do it,» the Hungarian leader said.
They also talked about pressing problems in Africa, but somehow in passing. The European Union is going to counteract «Russian intrigues» in the Black Continent. As for Niger, the almost unanimous condemnation of the military coup by the ministers will probably be a precursor to the intervention that neighboring countries are preparing with the blessing of the United States and France.
It is not known whether it was just talk, or whether the meeting participants managed to carve out time in two Spanish days to admire the beauty of Toledo, the historic center of which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986.