Allies plan military training in Ukraine


While NATO suspends ties with Russia, dissuading it from further aggressive behaviour in Ukraine, Kiev is planning to host joint military drills with European and Alliance countries.

By Paul Ciocoiu and Alex Statko for Southeast European Times in Bucharest and Kiev -- 04/04/14


Ukrainian soldiers check vehicles near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine. The country plans to reinforce its border to increase security and prevent possible provocations from Russia. [AFP]

NATO's joint military drills in Ukraine, coupled with its decision to suspend "all practical civilian and military co-operation" with Russia, is evidence of the Allies' resolve in supporting Ukraine's territorial integrity, analysts said.

On Tuesday (April 1st), NATO's 28 member states closed ranks to increase pressure on Russia to follow international law, engaging it in a dialogue that leads to a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine's internationally recognised borders. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia's annexation of Crimea was the gravest threat to European security for a generation.

"In the current situation, the Alliance has already taken steps to demonstrate solidarity and strengthen its ability to anticipate and respond quickly to any challenges to Alliance security. We will continue to provide appropriate reinforcement and visible assurance of NATO's cohesion and commitment to deterrence and collective defence against any threat of aggression to the Alliance," NATO's foreign affairs ministers said in a statement.

Analysts said the suspension of military and civil co-operation between NATO and Russia, in the context of the events in Ukraine and Crimea's annexation represent a gesture designed to discourage the Russian state's new behaviour in the international arena.

"This decision can be also translated into a signal of the international community that there is a red line that Russia had better not cross because things might become unbearable," Constantin Corneanu, president of the Gheorghe Bratianu European Association of Geopolitical and Strategic Studies, told SETimes.

The main priority of allies is "to work to de-escalate the situation and to call upon Russia to take clear steps in that respect," Catherine Ashton, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, said in Brussels.

Russia is believed to have tens of thousands of troops deployed to Ukraine's eastern boundary. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said some Russian troops near the Ukrainian border will return to permanent bases after completing military drills and that NATO is exaggerating the importance of Russian troop movements on the border of eastern Ukraine.

"There are no restrictions on the movements of military units within the territory of the Russian Federation," Lavrov told news conference in Moscow on Wednesday (April 3rd), adding that Moscow has asked NATO questions about the alliance's activities in eastern Europe.

The allies demonstrated their commitment to Ukraine, intensifying co-operation in the framework of the partnership and agreeing to implement immediate and longer-term measures in order to strengthen Ukraine's ability to reinforce its borders and increase security.

"An independent, sovereign, and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and respect for human rights, minorities, and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security," NATO said in a statement.

High-level diplomats said the meeting in Brussels underlined the Alliance's unity. The meeting on Tuesday also sought to consolidate relations with NATO's Eastern partners, especially Moldova, which has embarked on a pro-European course.

"NATO's solidarity and cohesion, but also the allies' firm commitment toward the principle of collective defence, remain essential," Romania's Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean said in a statement to SETimes. "In the current security context, there's a need for an ampler reflection on the future of the NATO-Russia relations."

Meanwhile, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Tuesday approved the initiative to host joint military drills with European and NATO countries on its territory.

According to Ukraine's Defence Ministry, military exercises will be held from May to November. Analysts said the presence of foreign soldiers in Ukraine may serve as a protecting shield from Russian provocations during presidential elections on May 25th and further legitimate formation of new Ukrainian authorities.

"The Ukrainian Parliament's recent decision can be understood as a further proof both NATO and EU want the existence of the integral Ukrainian state and do not accept the idea of a division of the country, as some media scenarios put it," Corneanu said.

Dmitry Tymchuk, director of the Centre of Military and Political Research in Kiev, said these exercises with NATO will play a key role as a "control factor" for Russians. "[J]oint military exercises have the great military political importance now," Tymchuk told SETimes.

About 5,000 foreign and Ukrainian soldiers will participate in upcoming joint military exercises with NATO, Ukraine's acting Defence Minister Mikhail Koval told parliament.

"The main aim of exercises is to prepare soldiers to take part in international peace and stability operations, humanitarian and search operations, and operations for defending our country," Koval said.

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Ukraine also asked NATO for military technical assistance, but it doesn't mean Ukraine asks for weapons, specified the country's Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrii Deshchytsia.

"We have enough weapons here in Ukraine," Deshchytsia told SETimes. "We need only technical equipment to defend Ukraine, national and border guards need it. These are radars and other equipment to defend our borders."

The list of equipment was handed to the NATO headquarters and will be sent to all member states.

What steps should the allies and Ukrainian government take to increase security in Ukraine? Share your thoughts in comments.

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