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Europe faces pressing questions about tactics and strategy as the Ukraine war grinds on


An American volunteer teaching Ukrainian soldiers how to use a Javelin missile in southeastern Ukraine in April.

By Matina Stevis-Gridneff


Ukraine’s European allies are facing questions of both tactical and political importance as bloody battles in the country’s east grind on and tilt in Russia’s favor.


On the tactical front, NATO allies, and especially those in Ukraine’s vicinity, face the challenge of having tapped their own supplies to support the war effort, leaving them with depleted arsenals.


And on the political front, the question of whether the European Union will take the leap to grant Ukraine candidate status for the bloc will need to be answered before the end of the month.


The realities on the battlefield, as Ukrainian officials assess that Russia could fully encircle the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk in the Donbas region in the next two to three days, will probably influence both the decision on how to replenish arsenals and send in ammunition as well as the decision to offer Ukraine hope by granting it EU candidate status, even if technically it’s not ready for it.


“There was always a sense that, when the center of gravity shifted to the south and east, there would be the potential for greater Russian gains based on greater mass and their existing territorial acquisitions,” said Ian Lesser, a former State Department official who heads the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund.


“But it does raise more-serious longer-term questions about the nature of the conflict, Ukraine’s aims and Western aims in relation to those,” he said.


He said that accelerating the provision of longer-range weapons per Ukrainian pleas, as well as the requisite training for Ukrainian troops to operate them, would help the country hold down the front.


But several EU member countries are fretting that they have sent too much of their ammunition supplies to Ukraine and are lagging behind in restocking their arsenals. The primarily free-trade bloc, for which foreign policy and defense are not integrated, is rallying to source supplies.


EU officials said the bloc would try to tap a 9 billion euro ($9.5 billion) funding pot to jointly procure military equipment, flexing nascent muscle and trying to ease concerns that supporting Ukraine militarily was dangerously weakening defense capabilities elsewhere in Europe.


But the more strategic question of whether to grant Ukraine candidate status later this month is also a pressing matter for the country’s European allies.


On a visit to Kyiv on Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said her administration would provide an opinion on whether the EU should grant candidate status to Ukraine by the end of the week. However, the decision is ultimately a political one that EU leaders will be called to make at their summit on June 23 and 24 in Brussels.

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