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Will Lithuania and Ukraine join anti-Russian “mini-NATO”?

Dalia Grybauskaite and Petro Poroshenko. Photo: ntv.ru

On July 17, in Kaunas, Lithuania, twenty Ukrainian military were given certificates of completion of the international military instructors' courses. This fact has once again proven Lithuania’s official policy of helping the Kiev Junta. Lithuania most than other EU countries supported the new Ukrainian authorities at all stages, and even directly involved in the strengthening of Ukraine’s armed forces.  

Vilnius and Kiev  - soul mates

Lithuania organized the five-day training course for Ukrainian officers with the help of NATO. “This course has pulled together NCOs of the young generation serving as military instructors across all services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” says Chief of the NCO School of the Lithuanian Armed Forces School Sergeant Major Bronius Basalykas. He said experienced Lithuanian instructors that graduated from similar courses in other NATO countries trained the Ukrainian guests. The course syllabus was compiled to enhance the knowledge and skills Ukrainian military instructors needed to have to arrange theoretic and practical exercises for military personnel, he explained.

Generally, Vilnius seeks to ensure comprehensive and versatile training for Kiev’s army – Lithuanians are training warriors of the new “ally” in the territory of Ukraine too. Earlier this month, four instructors from the Lithuanian Grand Duke Kęstutis Motorized Infantry Battalion left for Ukraine.  “Our military in Ukraine together with the allies, instructors of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade will be training the military of the National Guard of Ukraine to act independently and as part of a detachment,” said Commander of the Lithuanian Land Force Major General Almantas Leika. Later in autumn, Ukrainian military will participate in the NATO Exercise Maple Arch 2015 in the territory of Lithuania and study the peculiarities of the current armed conflicts.  “In addition, during the exercise, the methods of counteraction to the bellicose propaganda as well as cooperation with the local population and Mass Media during conflicts will be discussed. Ukrainian and Canadian specialists with relevant experience in the information field of peacekeeping and stabilizing operations will have the key function at that stage of the training,” said Viktoria Kushnir, a representative of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. Simultaneously, Lithuania regularly receives and restores health of the wounded participants of the so-called anti-terrorist operation (ATO).

In addition, there are also arms supplies. It is noteworthy that even NATO countries have certain disagreements over that issue. So far, the NATO countries – formally – supplied Kiev with non-lethal weapons. Many European countries - Germany, France, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Hungary, and Poland oppose export of weapons to Ukraine. Even the White House still fails to show a certain stand on the issue. In this light, Vilnius has become the only NATO country to announce – yet last year – about its readiness to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine.  In November 2014, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite held negotiations with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko. On the heels of the meeting, Poroshenko said: “We have agreed on delivery of specific elements of specific weapons for our armed forces.” He did not specified then what types of weapons Kiev will receive. The president said: “In addition, we have agreed to increase the number of the military we can send to Lithuania from the ATO zone to fifty people.” Gybauskaite, in turn, said, “Lithuania is ready to share its experience in all fields, including in the defense one. We will support the military and ensure their training.”

Earlier this year, when the conflict in Donbass escalated, Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Spokesman (RNBO) Andriy Lysenko said: “Our Western allies support the Ukrainian army. Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas reaffirmed that Lithuania provided the Ukrainian army with the munitions elements it requested.”  Olekas did not disclaim the statement saying: "These are the military necessities, as President Petro Poroshenko put it nicely – munitions elements that the Ukrainian army needs." However, the Lithuanian minister did not specify what weapons were supplied to Kiev. He just said Lithuania supports Ukraine and will continue rendering assistance to it.  “We have received the first lot of warm clothes, boots and equipment from Canada and are expecting another two planes with aid. We have received assistance from Poland and other partners too,” the president said. 

What after all does Lithuania supply to Ukraine? It is quite fair a question, considering that Lithuania is a small country and cannot have big arsenal. Naturally, there are suspicions that other countries use the Lithuanian “channel,” as they so far prefer concealing their involvement in arming the regime that bombards and shells at towns in Donbass. These suspicions were confirmed at the highest level when in February Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “As to the possible arms supply to Ukraine, first, by our data, these weapons are being supplied already. And there is nothing unusual in that.”  Actually, the Donbass self-defense forced have repeatedly seized from the punitive battalion officers grenade launchers, pistol guns, automatic rifles, machine guns and ammunition made in Poland, Germany and USA.  Then, in February, Oleg Gladkovsky, the first deputy chief of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council confirmed the reports that his country received lethal weapons – he did not said what particular types -  from other countries.

Did they supply lethal weapons?

It appears that Vilnius tried to brush away the suspicious and changed the subject quite suddenly.  On May 28, Artūras Paulauskas, Chair of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defense, said his country has no possibilities to supply Kiev with large lots of weapons. “"Our potential here is not very big, however, we have other ways – more of humanitarian and intellectual help. Our support in the shape of weapons is very minimal and is likely to stay this way," said Paulauskas.

Defense Minister of Ukraine, in turn, poured out his thanks saying,  “Lithuania has been providing help since the first days – both political and humanitarian, we received certain weaponry elements and material aid from Lithuania, our injured soldiers received treatment in your hospitals and our officials attended training in your country. There are things to learn in Lithuania, and the experience we unfortunately gained during the fighting will probably benefit something to your forces, as well. Our cooperation is highly useful and necessary," said Ukraine's Defense Minister Colonel General Stepan Poltorak.

Later on June 22, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius actually disowned the statements of his colleagues hinting that his country had not embarked on arms supply to Kiev yet. Butkevičius said the arms supply will become possible only after the State Council for Defense officially permits it. So far, he said, no meeting of the Council is planned. Asked if Vilnius will coordinate the issue of arms supply with the neighbor countries, the prime minister just spoke in generalities.

This is how he responded to Lithuanian Ambassador Marius Janukonis’ statement to Ukraine’s TV 5 saying that Vilnius is ready to arm Junta. “The political will exists, and Lithuania's top leadership has announced it in public. Some steps have already been taken, and we will continue the steps, including those in the direction of arms supply to Ukraine. I cannot elaborate but we're ready," said Janukonis.

The military cooperation of Kiev and Vilnius must be considered in a broader context. Last September, in Warsaw, the defense ministers of Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania signed an agreement on joint military brigade “to participate in the peacekeeping operations and boost cooperation in the region.” This idea emerged yet in 2007, but only now, it has reached a stage when it can be implemented. They promise to use the detachment named LITPOLUKRBRIG under the aegis of UN and EU, while its units will remain in the territories of their permanent deployment in Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine, and will be subordinate to the Command of the joint brigade in the period of drills and missions. Its headquarters is in Lublin: there is already the Polish part of the Command comprising about 50 officers that cooperate with several dozens of officers from Ukraine and Lithuania. The 4,500-strong brigade will become combat-effective in two years. It will comprise troopers, artillery, engineers, sappers, platoons of radiation, chemical and biological  protection, and others.

Experts say a certain “mini-NATO” of three countries is being created (by the way, Lithuania, having no borders with Ukraine, may border with it via Poland) – a kind of military alliance aimed against Russia, indeed. It is characteristic that Lithuania most than other countries showed enthusiasm with the idea of the joint battalion. The Lithuanian Defense Ministry accepted that negotiations for establishment of the brigade were held at the level of experts regularly. Recently, Defense Minister of Ukraine Stepan Poltorak said: “We have achieved certain results in our trilateral cooperation with Lithuania and Poland. We are completing the technical agreement on the joint brigade. We have agreed to sign the agreement in Kiev in late July and even increase the brigade. Joint drills will be conducted with Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine by the end of the year and at the beginning of the next year.”

Oleksandr Turchynov, Secretary of Ukraine’s Council for National Security and Defense said: “We are sure that such integrated general military detachment will ensure a platform for development of reforms of our armed forces on the basis of the acknowledged standards of the leading democratic countries.”

Hence, the contours of the “rammer” of the three most anti-Russian countries that NATO may use against Russia’s borders are taking shape.

Vyacheslav Samoilov, EADaily analyst in the Baltic region

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