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Why do Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania need a joint military brigade?

September 22, 2014, 19:25 UTC+3 Litovkin Viktor
© EPA/MARCIN BIELECKI/Archive

MOSCOW, September 22. /ITAR-TASS/. The defense ministers of Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania on Friday signed in Warsaw an agreement on the establishment of a military brigade “for participation in peacekeeping operations and strengthening regional cooperation”. The brigade was named after the first letters of participating nations: LITPOLUKRBRIG (LitPolUkrBrig).

There are plans to use the brigade, up to 4,500-strong, under the UN and EU aegis. It is supposed to become fully operational in two years. Some questions arise: are NATO forces insufficient to take part in UN and EU peacekeeping operations? Why have documents to establish the brigade been signed now if the idea to join forces appeared back in 2007?

According to some experts, this is Ukraine’s first step on the way to joining NATO, one of means to become integrated into the Alliance’s structures and switch its armed forces to NATO standards.

The experience of cooperation between Ukraine and NATO dates back to the 1990s: Kiev is a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, a participant of the Partnership for Peace program and the NATO-Ukraine Commission; the KFOR (Kosovo Force) has a Polish-Ukrainian battalion.

Also, a Ukrainian mechanized brigade and a chemical defense battalion took part in operation Desert Storm in Iraq. Since 2007, Ukrainian sappers, signalers and helicopter pilots have been serving in Afghanistan under the command of Lithuanian commanders; Ukrainian troops and forces of NATO and its partners have regularly held military exercises near Lviv and in the Black Sea.

It seems Ukraine should long have mastered NATO standards. But it turns out that it is not so easy: logistical work and huge funds that the Ukrainian army lacks are required. The five billion dollars spent on the so-called antiterrorism operation in the south-east is not the money required to rebuild the army structure and form a control system, and - the main thing - to switch armaments to NATO calibers.

The transfer means not only replacement of all shooting weapons, but also establishment of a new ammunition industry. The former members of the Warsaw Pact that have joined NATO have so far failed to transfer their armaments to NATO standards, including Poland, which still produces tanks and artillery guns with “Soviet” calibers under old Soviet licenses.

Assumptions that the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade may be used to fight militias in Ukraine raise doubts as well. According to retired Major General Pavel Zolotaryov, a deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies, it is possible that it will be deployed to the separation lines of the warring parties.

But for that to be done, the UN Security Council needs to make the decision to conduct a peacekeeping operation. In other cases, NATO member countries will not jeopardize the lives of their soldiers to resolve the problems of the Ukrainian leadership.

Discussions of Kiev’s possile entry to the alliance have been delayed for to the same reason: the West does not intend to get involved in an intra-Ukrainian showdown. It’s one thing if you need to depose uncompromising president (Viktor) Yanukovych by means of a coup and it’s a different thing to be responsible for destroyed cities and spilled blood.

Besides passionate words in its support, Ukraine got no real dividends either at the NATO summit in Wales or during President(Petro) Poroshenko’s visit to Canada and the United States.

The financial support that was promised will hardly cover the Ukrainian army’s minimal demands. So the signing of the agreement on LITPOLUKRBRIG is a consolation prize for Ukraine. Kiev will apparently have to solve the remaining problems on its own.

 

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