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Cautious EU leaders mull using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine arms

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EU leaders are in Brussels on Thursday to explore new ways to support Ukraine against the full-scale Russian invasion with a plan to fund arms purchases with the proceeds of frozen Russian assets under scrutiny.

Multiple European Union leaders stressed their commitment to supporting Ukraine upon arrival to the summit but caution surrounds the plan.

Neutral Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he wants reassurances that if neutral countries endorse using the seized profits, the money will be used to rebuild Ukraine and not to arm it.

“There was originally discussion that it should be invested in reconstruction in Ukraine,” Nehammer said. “That seems like a reasonable suggestion to me.”

The plan, prepared by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, would see 90% of the appropriated revenue from frozen Russian assets go to an off-budget EU military aid fund.

The other 10% would be added to the EU budget and used to strengthen Ukraine’s industrial capacity to produce armaments of its own, according to Borrell.

Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda said that both the profits and the assets themselves “should contribute not only to reconstruction of Ukraine but also to the defence needs of Ukraine.”

However Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Luc Frieden warned “the financial stability and the credibility” of the EU needs to be protected. “You cannot just take away somebody’s asset,” he said, adding “we need to be extremely sure [of] what we are doing.”

Pressure is also building for the bloc to take a stronger stance on the Israel-Hamas war. “A ceasefire should have happened a long time ago,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

EU leaders are expected to repeat a call made by foreign ministers in February for “an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza, according to a draft statement seen by dpa. Hungary previously abstained.

Now, Austria and the Czech Republic are preventing the EU from making a joint call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, Varadkar said.

Varadkar – who announced on Wednesday that he will step down when a successor is in place – said he hopes to convince both countries to agree to call “for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire leading to a two state solution.”

Nehammer countered that the EU must recognize the sexual violence carried out by Hamas during the October 7 attacks on Israel. “There is still a discussion that I honestly cannot understand,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called again for a ceasefire to allow more humanitarian aid and the release of hostages held by Hamas. He also repeated warnings to Israel against a planned ground offensive in the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

“We need a longer-lasting ceasefire,” said the chancellor. “And we always assume that in its military activities in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government will abide by what is enshrined in international law.”

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres joined talks in Brussels and urged the EU to support a ceasefire. He warned that civilian casualties in Gaza like in Ukraine must be condemned “without double standards.”

A proposal from the commission to strengthen the EU’s armaments industry by allocating €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) to joint procurement of military equipment is also set for scrutiny.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo said there would be a debate on how to finance the plan. “It will need to be national contributions, it might be defence bonds, it might be financing by the EIB,” de Croo, referring to the European Investment Bank,

Finnish prime minister Petteri Orpo said every EU country will have to “do their share” and “we will have to use all the instruments we have.” He noted that Finland and 13 other member states had signed a letter calling for EIB financing.

Multiple EU leaders backed opening EU membership talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina, following a commission recommendation on March 12. A formal announcement is expected later.

Large farmers protests did not materialize. The last summit in February saw Brussels’ EU quarter brought to a standstill by convoys of tractors.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and President of the European Council Charles Michel, speak to media as they arrive to attend a round table meeting at the EU summit in Brussels. -/European Council/dpa

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and President of the European Council Charles Michel, speak to media as they arrive to attend a round table meeting at the EU summit in Brussels. -/European Council/dpa

A general view during the the EU summit in Brussels. -/European Council/dpa

A general view during the the EU summit in Brussels. -/European Council/dpa

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