Ukraine is looking forward to creating a joint military unit with two NATO member countries -- Poland and Lithuania. Would that imply that NATO is openly stepping into the Ukrainian conflict? And what kind of missions would the unit get - provided it is created? Radio VR is discussing it with Mateusz Piskorski,Head of the European Center for Geopolitical Analysis, and Kirill Koktysh,political analyst, based with MGIMO University, in Moscow, Russia.
The new unit – which the Ukrainian party initially described as a battalion, and now – as a brigade, would bear a name of UkrPolLitBrig, the press service of the Ukrainian president Petr Poroshenko revealed earlier this week.
Signing of an official document on forming the unit was scheduled for June 18. But so far, the agreement has no signatures either of the Lithuanian, or Polish partners.
Says Mateusz Piskorski, Head of the European Center for Geopolitical Analysis:
This project was already discussed before, in May. On May, 27 the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers agreed on creating such a common international brigade. At first it was supposed to be a smaller military unit. Then they decided about the brigade which will be a common Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian military unit. However, as we see now, even though the decision was already made in May, nothing is happening from the side of Poland and Lithuania which means that neither Poland nor Lithuania is ready to accept the Ukrainian proposal. Of course, rhetorically, verbally Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite have agreed with such an idea, but anyway we have no concrete, precise steps taken by both governments of Lithuania and Poland to create such a military unit. So, I suppose that this idea will come true, but only after stabilizing the situation in Ukraine, or more or less making the conflict in South-Eastern parts of the Ukraine less intense as it is now.
It is an important detail that Lithuania and Poland are NATO members, aren’t they?
Yes, Poland and Lithuania haven’t even discussed it on the governmental level. For the moment being what we do have is just some telephone calls and telephone discussions between the leaders of the countries with President Poroshenko, the last one was between him and Prime Minister Tusk. Prime Minister Tusk confirmed the Polish interest for the project, but didn’t declare any particular dates or deadlines for creating the military unit because, of course, he will meet a lot of criticism here in Poland, if he decides to realize, to bring this project to life now, at this time of intense fights in the South-Eastern part of the country. So, I guess we might say the authorities in Poland and Lithuania will be just waiting for the development of the situation. On the other hand, both Poland and Lithuania might be pushed by their so-called partners in the United States to take care of the project, but I think it will not happen before the end of this year.
You mentioned criticism. What kind of criticism? Isn't the public opinion in Poland quite supportive of the Kiev authorities?
Public opinion in Poland is not supportive at all for the Ukrainian authorities and for those political forces which came to power in Kiev and for those political forces which are now in charge of the so called anti-terrorist operations because the Polish public opinion is, of course, saved by the history of Polish-Ukrainian relations. Just a few days ago we had another anniversary of Volhynia massacre which is a very tragic experience in the history of relations between Poland and Ukraine and which is an anniversary of crimes, mass murders committed by Ukrainian nationalists.
The same nationalists, from the ideological point of view, the same people who are now in charge of suppressing the South-East. Public debate in Poland and the voices of ordinary people, other members of several parties representing the opposition in Poland found out that it is only the government on the very official level and some parliamentary parties which are really supporting the new Ukrainian authorities. They do that because they have such an order from the United States. They perfectly understand that it is not in the interests of Poland to raise and support, and strengthen the nationalist tendencies in Kiev.
So, any kind of creating common military units between Poland and Ukraine raises a lot of concern in Poland. I guess the public opinion would be far more critical towards the government than it was in the times of Polish troops stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan because there are neighbouring countries, this is a conflict which is perceived quite emotionally by several parts of the Polish society. So, I think that Donald Tusk particularly at this moment, during the political crisis in Poland would not support neo-Nazis and their political take which is supposed to be the massacre ideology of the massacre ideology of Stepan Bandera.
Kirill Koktysh, political analyst, based with MGIMO University, in Moscow, Russia:
There are several tasks that this decision can meet. First of all, the United States need to demonstrate to the East-European countries that they are not alone, and if they are not able to provide Ukraine this real aid, this aid could be provided at the costs and due to the inner resources of Lithuania and Poland. From the other side, this could be understood, like a substitute to the Eastern Partnership which actually, in my opinion, stopped working after this history with Ukraine. It is one step from the collapse. So, this probably could be a step taken to revitalize this union. And the third reason is that there are solid rumors that actually foreign private military companies have already been operating in the Ukrainian territory. So, this brigade could be the formed to get out the bodies of those foreign mercenaries who have been killed, of those who originate from Poland and Lithuania and also could be a reason for this brigade to be formed - to return the bodies of those who were killed to their motherland.
Dr.Koktysh, when we are talking about foreign mercenaries do we have any information as to where those mercenaries come from and how their relations with their government are built? The Academia private military company in the United States gets good money from the State department. Is it a similar case with other countries?
This could be a similar case. Of course, we don’t have enough information, but presumably these private companies could be donated through the American structures - there are several dozen of these in Poland, quite a lot of them - in Lithuania. So, it doesn’t matter how this money transfer could be arranged. Actually, it seems to me, that the money is American money that is going through the State department. In the current circumstances this brigade could have one more role than that we have been speaking about before. Under the circumstances during the last three days it seems that the Ukrainian government troops tend to be surrounded, they are in trap, and the Donbass militia leaders claim that they have surrounded about 7,000 of the Ukrainian soldiers and members of the three brigades. So, it means that the Ukrainian army could face a catastrophe because losing this brigade would mean leaving the rest of the Ukrainian army and losing any war spirit that is left. So, probably the involvement of Lithuania and Poland could be an attempt to save the situation and at least to claim that it is not a defeat, but probably just a retreat of the Ukrainian army.
Mr. Koktysh, the important detail is that both Poland and Lithuania are NATO members. Would that imply that NATO becomes officially involved in the Ukrainian crisis?
NATO would be happy to be officially involved in the Ukrainian crisis, but to be officially involved NATO actually needs the decision of the NATO member states, as far as this decision is not taken, that means that Polish and Lithuanian initiative would be just Polish and Lithuanian initiative with no consequences to NATO organization and with no consequences to the NATO ability to provide security guarantee to the Eastern Europe, because actually what NATO does is not protection, but setting of security guarantees. So, at this stage, as far as no decision about NATO is taken, that means that even under the pressure of the United Stated there will be private initiative of the two private countries, but not of the organization. The involvement could be quite symbolical. When the countries’ last sending the troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, if I’m not mistaken, Lithuania sent 5 soldiers, Latvia – 7, and Estonia – 3 soldiers. So, with such powerful army of the Baltic State, of course, there is a good chance for the changing of the whole development on the war stage.
Dr. Koktysh, in this comment you have mentioned a very important detail saying that 7,000 Ukrainian soldiers are now being encircled by the militia in the South-East of Ukraine. What are the possible scenarios? What could be the implications for the current Ukrainian government?
You see, there are several possibilities. Of course, they can surrender to the militia troops of Donbass. This is one scenario. The second is that they can flee to the Russian territory and there will be an attempt to end the war. That means that they will be, of course, well treated but they wouldn’t be allowed to return to the Ukrainian territory. And the third scenario is they can fight and can die because according to the messages that are going out, they have no food and no ammunition. So, it means that the Ukrainian government just forgot about them, at least is not able to do anything to help them. So, for the Ukraine consequences would be the loss of the war spirit and the loss of the Ukrainian army because 7,000 is too much. So, probably this would be a turning point of the military conflict in Donbass.
Could it have other consequences given, the protests of the Maidan activists who are already registering their disappointment with the current government in Kiev?
Probably Poroshenko’s government could be overthrown. It is quite predictable development because actually the original Maidan which started in autumn demanded social justice, quite a lot of other demands. None of them was fulfilled. They accuse the government of the so called oligarch ministers, oligarch government, but not the leftist social demands that were actually the original demands of the Maidan. So, this means that the next Maidan could start, the leftist Maidan. And Poroshenko’s government could be endangered, but actually I expect the main problem not now, but in autumn after the possible harvest is collected because actually the next Maidan would correlate with the agricultural service. So, at the end of this agricultural cycle the next Maidan would come to the peak. I doubt whether Poroshenko would be able to remain as a Ukrainian president. The military development would lead to his defeat and his loss of the potential post just in weeks, not months.