“Our ability to continue to support and sustain Ukraine’s defense, both during the winter and in the longer term, is decisive,” they wrote in the Financial Times newspaper. “In fact, it is a matter of our common European security.”
Neither Russian nor Ukrainian troops have seized a decisive advantage in the conflict. As it drags on, concerns are mounting that public support for Ukraine's war effort has waned. Last year, EU and NATO leaders, who are among Ukraine's main backers, praised the country's battlefield gains. Now, they tend to celebrate its ability to survive against a more powerful enemy.
The prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House after the U.S. presidential election in November is also driving leaders and military officers to insist that Europe must do more to defend itself. During his last term, Trump undermined confidence among NATO allies that the U.S. would back them in a security crisis.
In their joint letter, the five leaders said it was vital to speed up arms deliveries given that the war was unlikely to end soon.
“Russia doesn’t wait for anybody, and we need to act now. If Ukraine loses, the long-term consequences and costs will be much higher for all of us," they wrote. "We Europeans have a special responsibility. Therefore, we must act. Europe’s future depends on it.”
According to EU estimates, Ukraine was firing around 4,000 to 7,000 artillery shells each day last summer, while Russia was launching more than 20,000 shells a day in its neighbor’s territory. Russia’s arms industry far outweighs Ukraine’s, and Kyiv has relied on Western help to match Moscow’s firepower.
Yet the 27-nation EU's plans to produce 1 million artillery rounds for Ukraine have fallen short, with only about a third of the target met. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday that the European defense industry should be capable of producing around 1 million shells annually by March.
But even though European defense industry production has increased by 40% since the start of the war, the shells will not arrive quickly. NATO's procurement agency says the delivery of ammunition can take anywhere from 24 to 36 months. Even the five leaders conceded that deliveries could take a year.
“What is urgent today is to provide the ammunition and weapon systems, including howitzers, tanks, UAVs and air defense, that Ukraine so urgently needs on the ground. Now,” they wrote.
EU defense ministers meeting in Brussels on Wednesday discussed ways to further boost production. They also agreed to train an additional 20,000 Ukrainians by the end of this summer, on top of the 40,000 troops who've already been taught by European military experts.
According to figures from the Keil Institute, which tracks support for Ukraine, France has been lagging far behind many of its partners. Still, on Jan. 18, France announced more planned deliveries of its Caesar artillery system to Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to travel to Ukraine in the coming weeks.
Asked Tuesday about doubts over future U.S. support for Ukraine, Macron said, “I am convinced that the next few months are decisive.” He stressed that he thinks Ukraine is mainly a European issue.
“Ukraine is on European soil. It is a European country. And if we want a peaceful and stable Europe, we need to be credible in terms of our own security and defense vis-à-vis all our neighbors,” the French leader said during a trip to Sweden.
EU leaders are set to gather over dinner later Wednesday to discuss their support for Ukraine. They have a Thursday summit scheduled on overcoming Hungary's veto of a long-term financial aid package worth 50-billion-euro ($54 billion) to help prop up Ukrainian economy.
Political infighting has also been holding up additional U.S. support for Ukraine.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine