Ukraine is set to receive vital artillery ammunition within weeks after Brussels proposed reimbursing countries that provided shells from their stockpiles, according to EU officials.

All EU countries except Denmark have joined a project that paves the way for common procurement of replacement supplies, an official said.

“I think this will go fast, very fast. And I think we’re talking about a matter of days, weeks, rather than a matter of months,” the person, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Kyiv has made clear that its most pressing need as it seeks to hold off a renewed Russia offensive is for artillery ammunition — particularly 155mm howitzer rounds. The Russian military fires four times as many shells as Ukraine each day.

A proposal by the EU diplomatic service, seen by the Financial Times, suggests providing €1bn from an existing fund used to reimburse capitals for arms purchases that go to Ukraine. The EU official said the bloc’s defence agency would then “conduct a fast-track procedure for direct negotiation with a number of key industrial providers in Europe”. 

There are 12 companies in the EU producing 155mm shells and Norway also makes them, they said.

“It is positive that things are moving ahead. I am confident there will be results. But there are many issues to discuss,” said an EU diplomat.

EU defence ministers will refine the plan next week before a summit of EU leaders on March 23-24.

EU countries have struggled to provide enough to maintain Ukraine’s firing rate because their own stocks are running low and the defence industry lacks the capacity to replace it quickly. Some capitals also want money for their shells, the official said.

Ambassadors on Thursday discussed the proposal to use the European Peace Facility, a fund set up of national contributions that has financed €3.6bn worth of weapons supplied to Ukraine since last February. In the short term, capitals would be reimbursed up to 90 per cent of the price of ammunition. The reimbursement rate would then steadily drop to about 40 per cent, the current average.

In addition, a joint procurement task force would place orders for replacement ammunition. The 26 EU member states plus Norway have joined that nascent purchasing platform, which would pay for ammunition once at least three countries agree to use it.

Denmark only voted to end its opt out from the bloc’s joint defence policy last year. “The Danish Government is currently looking into possible ways for Denmark to support the scheme,” said a spokesperson.

The EU will also assist arms makers to increase production, possibly including investing in new factories.

The European Commission last year drew up a plan to invest directly in arms factories, modelled on its vaccine policy during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the EU budget cannot be used to buy weapons directly, it can be invested in industrial capacity. Brussels earmarked €500mn to help countries collaborate on arms purchases and increase “the competitiveness and efficiency” of the defence industry.

A commission spokesman confirmed it was working on a plan for ammunition supply to Ukraine. “It is the EPF that needs to be used to buy military equipment,” the spokesman said. “We have also proposed [an act] about joint procurement and developing our industrial capacity.”

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