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EU reaches deal on military training mission in Ukraine

The EU has reached a preliminary deal to conduct a military training mission in Ukraine, the country’s foreign minister said Monday following a meeting with his EU counterparts.

The agreement comes amid U.S. warnings that Russia has decided to invade Ukraine, which is currently surrounded by up to 190,000 Russian troops.

“We reached an agreement with the EU in principle that the European Union will roll out [an] advisory training military mission in Ukraine,” Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, told reporters.

The assistance, he stressed, is not about “combat forces,” but “is a new element in the cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union.”

In addition to the military training effort, the EU on Monday approved an emergency package of €1.2 billion in financial assistance for Ukraine and is preparing sanctions that will be imposed if Russia invades.

Kuleba described the deal on a training mission as “a new page in our relations.”

That said, the EU support is quite limited in scale and surely will not eliminate the threat Ukraine’s still-developing military faces from the Russian forces and arms arrayed around its border. But it’s a step that Ukraine has been asking for in recent months.

Last year, Ukraine requested EU support in reforming its professional military education sector, diplomats said. EU officials then discussed the ask during a series of meetings between September and December. The EU External Action Service, the bloc’s diplomatic arm, later produced several options.

One option was simply to fund a mission through an already-existing €5 billion fund — separate from the regular EU budget — that is earmarked for strengthening the EU’s military presence. A more ambitious option was to launch a dedicated EU military-civilian training mission in Ukraine. The financial assistance option, in theory, is geared more toward providing equipment, while the dedicated mission would focus on training, likely involving more people.

Germany supported the first option, while the Baltic nations pushed for the second one, according to diplomats.

In typical EU fashion, the final decision is something of a compromise. For now, the plan is to boost Ukraine’s professional military education using the €5 billion fund, but officials are retaining the possibility of transforming the effort into a full-fledged mission down the line.

While the outcome is only a limited step in response to major Russian aggression, it does help meet the Ukrainian request.

During Monday’s foreign ministers’ meeting, Kuleba said he had “called on EU colleagues to grant Ukraine a European perspective.”

In an EU document on the proposals seen by POLITICO and dated February 1, officials suggested the EU could send “active-duty officers, retired military personnel, and/or civilian experts.” According to one diplomat, though, the EU will likely send only a few dozen officials at most.

In a separate development, the ministers on Monday also agreed to sanction five more officials for supporting actions and implementing policies that undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The sanctions target members of the Russian parliament elected in 2021 to represent the annexed Crimean peninsula and city of Sevastopol, as well as the top two officials from the Sevastopol electoral commission. The EU does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and of the city of Sevastopol.

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