EU To Ramp Up Arms Production, Eyes Ukraine Army Training

PRAGUE (AP) -- European Union ministers on Tuesday debated ways to ramp up weapons production, boost military training for the Ukrainian armed forces and inflict heavier costs on Russia, with no end in sight to a war that has ground on since February.

"We are depleting our stocks. We are providing so many capacities to Ukraine that we have to refill our stocks," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in the Czech capital, Prague, where he is chairing two days of talks between the bloc's defense and foreign ministers.

The aim among defense ministers is to work out how best to pool military materiel and resources, but also to bulk purchase ammunition and weapons like air defense systems which Ukraine continues to need.

They will also discuss what role the 27-nation bloc could play in training new Ukrainian recruits on European soil, as casualties mount and deplete the army of experienced soldiers while officers who might normally provide training are tied up in battle.

Several countries already provide military training on a bilateral basis but some feel that it's important to throw the EU's combined weight behind the effort. The Netherlands highlighted new demining training that it's providing with Germany.

"It would be good to put that on a more structured basis, and to ensure that the EU collectively is doing that in a structured and organized way that can last for some time," said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who is also responsible for his country's defense portfolio.

Others feel that might be too unwieldy.

"It's not maybe the quickest way. I'm not so convinced," said Luxembourg's defense minister, Francois Bausch. Austria was also cool on the idea. Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said his country stands ready to help, but that such an EU-wide mission "must be practical."

Later Tuesday, foreign ministers will discuss whether to impose further visa restrictions on Russians, in an effort to ramp up pressure on President Vladimir Putin as the war he launched six months ago inflicts heavy economic costs on European and world economies.

The EU already tightened visa restrictions on Russian officials and business people in May, but calls have mounted from, notably, Poland and the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – for a ban on tourists.

"There must be more restrictions on travel for Russian citizens," Pabriks said. "We cannot simply give bonuses to people which are supporting such presidents as Putin."

But Borrell has said that a visa ban on all Russian citizens is unlikely to garner broad EU support.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Moscow was closely following the EU visa discussions and described them as part of Western moves against Russia that are "irrational and bordering on madness."

He warned that any restrictions would directly target Russian citizens and that Moscow would respond.