Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine have signed a letter of intent to form a multinational military brigade. The agreement was signed by Lithuania’s and Ukraine’s ministers of defence and Poland’s vice minister of defence, Stanisław Komorowski, at NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier this week.
The joint brigade, which is to be established within two years, and is to be fully operational by 2013, is to take part in future international military and peacekeeping missions, and will be open for other countries to join. It is to be made up of about 4,500 troops and headquartered in the eastern Polish city of Lublin.
The person behind the idea is Poland’s Minister of Defence Bogdan Klich, who sees it as a way of pulling Ukraine into Euro-Atlantic structures, and also as the most important initiative in Poland’s eastern policy in the past few years. He told the Polish Press Agency, “This initiative aims to deepen cooperation with Ukraine, which is the only country out of the three participants of the brigade that is not a member of NATO nor the EU”.
Klich also told Polish Radio, “We had a Polish-Lithuanian battalion, there is a Polish-Ukrainian battalion, but we’ve never had a joint brigade. All sides need it. Ukraine needs it to get closer to European and Euro-Atlantic structures, Poland needs it for stabilizing cooperation with its immediate neighbours”.
Komorowski added, “This is proof of Polish and Lithuanian support for Ukraine, which we intend to broadly integrate with Western structures, also in the defence sphere”.
According to Klich, in the future, the brigade can be deployed to NATO, EU, or UN humanitarian support and stabilizing military missions.
The Ukraine already has a joint peacekeeping battalion with Poland, which was formed in 2000 and is currently serving in Kosovo. It has also cooperated militarily with NATO as part of the Partnership for Peace program. However, this will be the first military unit formed by two NATO countries and a former Soviet republic.
Poland has made it no secret that it wants Ukraine to join NATO and the EU, and it is at odds with Russia in that respect. However, Ukraine’s prospects of joining either institution have drastically deteriorated since the promising 2004 Orange Revolution. After a brief period of euphoria, the political situation descended into near paralysis, as President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko have become bitter enemies. In addition, the country has been severely affected by the economic crisis.
Due to Ukraine’s economic situation, and underfunded and outdated military, which places it far away from the possibility of joining NATO, the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade appears to be as much a political initiative as a military one.
Some Russian press points out that not only Russia, but some EU countries, such as Germany and Italy, are also opposed to Ukraine joining NATO, and that NATO membership is not as popular in Ukraine as EU membership is.
But realistically, the Polish-Lithuanian-Brigade is still a long way from realization. Presidential elections are to take place in Ukraine this January, and if the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych is elected the project will most likely be scrapped. If the other realistic candidate, current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is elected, the project will have a chance to go forward. But, the political and economic situation in Ukraine would also have to stabilise after the elections.
It is still a long way off before the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade can be formalized as an international agreement.