An EU defence force for Ukraine

EU: growing pressure to deploy soldiers on Ukrainian soil. Berlin so far preferring an intervention scenario with air defence systems stationed in Poland and Romania.

BERLIN/KIEV (own report) – As Russia’s current offensive gains momentum in Ukraine, politicians in Berlin are debating the merits of deploying European soldiers on Ukrainian territory. Last week, Lithuania announced that it was ready to send military trainers to the war zone without delay and was only waiting for a request from Kiev. Estonia has said that it is prepared to demonstrate military presence of its own on Ukrainian territory as part of a hoped-for “coalition of the willing”. Its focus would be on air defence capabilities. In Germany, the direct deployment of German troops is, with the exception of a few hardliners in Berlin, not publicly advocated. This is partly due to the important state elections upcoming next autumn. However, politicians from the CDU, FDP and Greens are backing intervention proposals that envisage the stationing of air defence systems on Polish and Romanian territory that can shoot down Russian offensive weapons over Ukraine. Warnings that this step would be tantamount to entering the war are being played down. At the same time, discussions are taking place on post-ceasefire scenarios, which might see the deployment of EU or NATO troops in Ukraine.

A “coalition of the willing”

Lithuania says it is prepared to send soldiers to Ukraine immediately if necessary. This policy was spelled out last week by Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. The Lithuanian parliament has given her its approval for sending military personnel to the war zone for training purposes. This intervention only requires a request from Kiev, which has not yet been received, says Šimonytė.[1] Following France’s example, Poland and Estonia have also signalled that they do not want to rule out sending troops. Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski confirmed this last week, but kept it vague by adding, “It is good to make Putin wonder what we will do and not always reassure him that we won’t do certain things.”[2] In Estonia, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, Marko Mihkelson, called last week for consideration of the establishment of a “coalition of the willing” aimed at assisting Ukrainian armed forces on Ukrainian territory in the near future. He saw a need for allies to take on air defence tasks. Asked whether Estonia would specifically be part of such a “coalition of the willing”, he replied, “Yes, I hope so.”[3]

The dynamics of the war

In Germany, only a few members of the Bundestag have so far called for a debate on the deployment of troops to Ukraine. One of them is the CDU’s military policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter, who stated that “nothing should be officially ruled out in the dynamics of the war.” He could “imagine that a coalition of the willing would seriously consider sending non-combat troops” at a certain point in time.[4] Some think-tank analysts have been more outspoken. For instance, Nico Lange, a specialist at the Munich Security Conference, is quoted as calling for military trainers, mine-clearing personnel, border guards and even ground personnel for fighter jets to be deployed on Ukrainian territory “with immediate effect”. And Gustav Gressel, from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), argues that if Ukraine is to be supported in electronic warfare – for example in the fight against Russian jammers – with specialist high-tech equipment, this would require the deployment of one’s own soldiers with the expertise. “Only in this way” can “secret technology be seriously protected from espionage,” writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, referencing Gressel.[5]

“A breeze of Jamaican air”

Berlin politicians are guarded in expressing support for measures that could drag Germany into the fighting, not least in view of the upcoming state elections next autumn. But while they have not so far expressed open approval for troop deployment to Ukraine, broad support is emerging for the proposal to station air defence systems in Poland or Romania designed to fend off Russian attacks on Ukraine. Lange, for example, believes that a strip of land up to 70 kilometres wide could be protected in this way. The aim would be to relieve the Ukrainian armed forces and allow them to throw troops, previously tied up elsewhere, onto the front line. Kiesewetter claims that NATO soldiers shooting down Russian drones or missiles from Polish or Romanian territory would not be an act of war. After all, he argues, the US, UK and France recently attacked Iranian drones and missiles aimed at Israel without themselves becoming a party to war. This argument falls down, however, in view of the fact that Israel and Iran are not officially at war, and the air defence measures of the three NATO states were carried out expressly with the aim of preventing escalation into all-out war. Kiesewetter’s hawkish stance is opposed by elements within the SPD, but politicians from the CDU, FDP and the Greens – represented respectively by the colours black, yellow and green, and combining like the flag of Jamaica – are signalling approval for the proposal. This alliance has been called “a breeze of Jamaican air”, since it may presage a future coalition government.[6]

Not legally binding

It is unclear whether the proposal to protect Ukraine with air defence systems on Polish and Romanian territory is already designed to address post-war scenarios. The EU is currently in the process of negotiating a “security agreement” with Kiev. This would provide Ukraine with guarantees of assistance in the event of a renewed Russian attack in the wake of a future ceasefire deal. Nine bilateral security agreements have so far been signed, and a tenth between Ukraine and Spain was finalized last week.[7] On a grander scale, the one between Kiev and Washington is soon to be complemented by an EU-Ukraine agreement. A recent report indicates that this latest commitment to assistance will be essentially much like the security agreement between Ukraine and Germany ( reported [8]). It means that Brussels is prepared to provide Kiev with “military and civilian aid” in the event of a subsequent Russian attack, much as the West is providing today. The agreement will also commit the EU and Ukraine to consult “in the event of future aggression ... within 24 hours” to determine “the needs of Ukraine”. Like the other bilateral security agreements, however, the new agreement will not be legally binding.[9]

Like the Baltic states, only bigger

What is more, the agreement will not explicitly provide for the deployment of soldiers from EU member states to defend against a post-ceasefire renewal of Russian attacks, as Kiev would like.[10] Elsewhere, however, there have long been discussions of this military intervention, as an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung now confirms. For instance, the head of the Munich Security Conference, Christoph Heusgen, is currently in favour of making a “pledge of robust protection”.[11] Lieutenant General Heinrich Brauß, NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Policy and Force Planning from 2013 to 2018 and now active within the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), also advocates stationing NATO troops in Ukraine after a ceasefire. This approach, he says, is based on the model of the NATO brigades in the Baltic nations, but “on a larger scale”. Bundestag member Anton Hofreiter (The Greens), generally known as a hawk when it comes to arming Ukraine with military hardware, is more cautious on this issue. While he also wants effective “military guarantees” for Kiev, he is still saying that the stationing of troops to protect against possible Russian attacks should be carried out by “more neutral countries”. By contrast, FDP member of the Bundestag and NATO Parliamentary Assembly Marcus Faber advocates an “international defence force” that could be provided by the “EU or NATO”.[12]


[1] Laura Dubois: Why Lithuania is considering sending soldiers to Ukraine. 08.05.2024.

[2] Aleksandra Krzysztoszek: Polish foreign minister does not rule out sending troops to Ukraine. 06.05.2024.

[3] Lee Ferran: Estonia had discussed sending non-front line troops to Ukraine: General. 09.05.2024.

[4], [5], [6] Konrad Schuller, Michaela Wiegel: Macron und ein Hauch von Jamaika. Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung 12.05.2024.

[7] Kateryna Denisova: Zelensky: Ukraine, Spain conclude talks on security agreement text. 07.05.2024.

[8] See also: Die Dominanz in Ost- und Mitteleuropa.

[9], [10] Christoph B. Schiltz: EU einigt sich auf Sicherheitszusagen für Kiew. 11.05.2024.

[11], [12] Konrad Schuller, Michaela Wiegel: Macron und ein Hauch von Jamaika. Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung 12.05.2024.