May 21. 2024. 5:27

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Arms for Ukraine: US politicians, British bureaucrats and EU ministers all need to end delays


EU foreign and defence ministers are expected to debate what more they can do to help Ukraine, after the the American House of Representatives finally approved a massive package of military assistance for Kyiv. But the political delays in Washington have been matched by bureaucratic hold-ups affecting funds pledged by several EU states to a fund administered by their NATO ally, the United Kingdom, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

‘Better late than never’ sums up the weary, if grateful, response of President Volodymyr Zelensky for the $61 billion package of military assistance for Ukraine. He said that the aid could save thousands of lives, an implicit rebuke intended to remind American politicians of the price in blood that his country has paid for months of delays in Congress.

‘Better never late’ was his real message. Yet at least the American aid should now start flowing within days. But it’s been revealed that more than half of a £900m military fund for Ukraine run by the British Ministry of Defence has been held up by bureaucratic delays in handing out contracts.

The UK-led International Fund for Ukraine has received donations from nine countries, including Norway (£119 million), the Netherlands (£110 million), Denmark (£133 million), Sweden (£26 million) and Lithuania (£5 million). Described as ‘a flexible low-bureaucracy fund’ it also attracted money from Iceland (£3 million), Australia (£26 million) and New Zealand (£4 million).

By far the largest amount, £500 million, came from the UK itself but its defence ministry has only spent £404 million, leaving all the other countries’ contributions completely unused. The delay is blamed on the requirement to individually assess each of the companies bidding to manufacture the weapons and equipment, with hundreds of tenders received.

“The UK government is on a go-slow in getting crucial new kit into the hands of Ukrainians”, the opposition Labour Party’s Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey said. “Speeding it up would have our Labour backing”, he added, reiterating his party’s support for the Ukrainian cause.

A defence ministry spokesperson said that the UK-led International Fund for Ukraine “is delivering weapons on a regular basis to meet Ukraine’s most pressing needs – including air defence capabilities, drones and mine clearance equipment – with more than £900m pledged so far by nine countries.

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“Thousands of responses have been received from industry to International Fund for Ukraine requirements, each of which have had to be individually reviewed. We make no excuses for having made sure this was done properly and in a way that most effectively helps Ukraine”.

Meanwhile, the US vote has prompted messages from several EU leaders that it should be a signal for Europe to also do more for Ukraine.

"Hope this vote encourages all allies to look through their warehouses and do more," Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on X.

"Now is also the time to remember that the EU now have to increase our own production of armaments, ammunition and supplies to aid Ukraine on a long-term basis”, said Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský stated plainly that “our hesitation and indecision in effectively supporting Ukraine just motivate the Kremlin to further aggression that costs more lives”.

When Ukraine’s foreign and defence ministers dial in to a gathering of their EU counterparts in Luxembourg, they will hope to hear that such words will be put into action.

The delivery of air defence systems, which several European countries could send to Ukraine tomorrow if they wanted to, is perhaps the most easily achievable next step and would be an effective response to Russia’s increased bombardment of the country’s infrastructure.

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