July 24, 2019

Ukraine and Intermarium: Possible Forms of Cooperation

Ukraine should establish cooperation with the format of the Bucharest Nine at the institutional level

 

Roman Kot

Recent events, such as the return of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, consolidation by Germany of the irreversibility of the “Nord Stream 2” project, or the resumption of Western European companies' investments in Russia, will again raise the issue of differences in points of view on the security situation in Central and Eastern Europe and, in particular, on Russia's role in the region.

This, along with the dynamics of electoral processes in the EU, shows the “old” Europe's growing willingness to compromise in relations with Russia, and if not to withdraw completely, then at least not to impose new sanctions and to restart active political dialogue with the Kremlin, which, of course, contradicts the interests of Ukraine. Naturally, this state of affairs deepens the split between the “old” and “new” members of the European Union, even though relations with Russia are far from the main reasons of disagreements within the EU.

The US President's position does not add to bringing Europe together. Because he has transformed relations with European partners into a format of pragmatic economic and business processes. Besides, an important factor contributing to disagreements within the EU is the different approaches to the Chinese initiative “Belt and Road”.

Best of all such a split is illustrated by the situation around the election of the new leadership of the European Commission. It was precisely because of the coordinated position of the Visegrad countries that they managed to avoid what Paris and Berlin had been trying to impose.

In this context, Ukraine is in a difficult situation. What could be worse than the presence of a strong, consolidated (but compromised with Russia) European Union, or its institutional weakness, which, among other things, allows to minimize the consequences of pro-Russian steps in Brussels, Paris and Berlin? A rhetorical question… Nevertheless, the emerging situation requires, above all, non-standard approaches, in order to at least minimize the consequences of the steps recently taken by Ukraine's partners.

 

Formats Available

During the events of 2014, the states of Central and Eastern Europe provided Ukraine with a lion's share of military assistance, which inter alia stopped the Russian forces' offensive in the Donbas. No less important is that most of those countries (Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) had once been members of the Warsaw Pact. Or they had been part of the Soviet Union as the Baltic States.

Despite the fact that all these states are NATO members, they still have a significant portion of Soviet-made military equipment in their arsenals. This, and also the fact that the above-mentioned states have not yet completely switched to NATO standards, makes it possible to achieve an interoperability of their armed forces with the Armed Forces of Ukraine much faster than with the Western European allies.

Within the framework of interstate cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe, there are a number of formats. Such as the Central European Initiative, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the Black Sea Naval Task Group (BLACKSEAFOR) and some others. However, the intensification of cooperation with any of them is not crucial for Ukraine in terms of current challenges or threats. As a rule, the main reason for this is Russia's participation in them or the extremely amorphous structure of the organizations and the large number of member states, which leads to their paralysis when it comes to decisions on such controversial issues as relations with Russia.

At the level of the geopolitical concept, the most successful in this context is the proposed back in the 1930s “Intermarium” project, which was supposed to unite the states of Central and Eastern Europe in order to resolve common problems. It is worth recalling that at the present stage, it has been partially implemented since 2016 in the form of two separate formats.

 

The Three Seas Initiative

The Three Seas InitiativeThe Three Seas Initiative, launched in Dubrovnik in 2016, now unites 12 states of Central and Eastern Europe — Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Estonia and Latvia.

Within the framework of the Initiative, summits are held regularly at the level of heads of state, and, with the participation of not only representatives of the countries of the Three Seas. For example, US President Donald Trump attended the summit in July 2018. Last year's summit in Bucharest, were attended by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. At the fourth summit in Ljubljana, the interest of non-regional players was confirmed — the same Jean-Claude Juncker and Rick Perry, as well as the President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, were present.

However, unlike the initial idea, the main objective of the Three Seas Initiative remains the mutual support and joining efforts to more effectively promote their interests within the EU, in particular with regard to joint transport projects on the North-South axis, energy and telecommunications, because its members are only those countries that have already joined the European Union.

Therefore, Ukraine's full participation in the Initiative is not possible even in the medium term. At the best, Kyiv may participate ad hoc in some projects. In view of this, it is not surprising that this year, the fourth summit of the Three Seas Initiative on June 6–7 in the Republic of Slovenia was almost ignored not only by the Ukrainian politicians, but also by the domestic media.

At the same time, within this format there are projects that are important for Ukraine in regard to its national security:

Gas supplies from Norway and the United States through the territory of PolandGas supplies from Norway and the United States through the territory of Poland. The project aims to diversify sources of gas supply and to integrate the gas infrastructure in the region. This will be possible due to the construction of a gas pipeline connecting the gas transportation systems of Poland, Denmark and Norway, and will enable the supply of Norwegian gas through Poland, and then to the Baltic States and Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukraine. In this regard, on June 21, Chairman of the Board of “Naftogaz of Ukraine” Andriy Kobolev said that talks were underway on the unification of the Ukrainian and Polish gas transportation systems.

The North-South Highway “Via Carpathia”The North-South Highway “Via Carpathia”. The main task of the project is to create a transport corridor from Northern Europe to the South through Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. Implementation of the project will not only improve Ukraine's ties with the countries of the Three Seas, but will also increase the mobility of NATO forces on the eastern flank.

In March 2016, Ukraine joined the project. According to the memorandum, it is planned to build the Lublin — Kholm highway and further branching along the routes: Kovel/Lutsk — Kyiv/Ternopil — Vinnytsia — Odesa. Two other branches will connect Poland, Ukraine and Romania: Lublin — Zamosc — Lviv — Ternopil — Siret — Bucharest, as well as Rzeszow — Lviv — Chernivtsi — Suceava — Bakeu — Galati. However, due to financing problems, the Ukrainian part of the project is still not completed.

 

Bucharest Nine (B9 format)

Bucharest Nine (B9 format)Since 2015, another regional structure — “Bucharest Nine” (B9), which was created at the initiative of Warsaw and Bucharest, has started to operate. It consists of Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, and works within the framework of NATO.

At the Bucharest Summit, the aforementioned states signed a joint declaration stating that “the countries of Bucharest's Nine will join their efforts to secure NATO's strong, credible, balanced military presence” in the region where it is needed.

It should be noted that one of the key factors for the creation of this initiative was Russia's aggressive policy and actions in the international arena: the occupation and annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014 and “Russia's support to separatists” in the Ukrainian Donbas.

From 2015 to 2019 seven meetings were held in Bucharest: three at the level of heads of state and heads of government, two in the format of foreign ministers and two meetings at the level of ministers of defense.

In this regard, it should be noted that among the states of the Bucharest Nine, in contrast to Western European NATO members, there are a positive dynamics in the increase of defense budgets. However, on rare occasions, plans to achieve the 2 % of GDP recommended by the Welsh NATO Summit were not met. As for some member states, there are even doubts whether they will be able to achieve the desired, at least in the medium term. Nevertheless, the leaders of the Bucharest Nine are trying to do their best to compensate for existing problems with the help of the active cooperation with the United States.

Lithuanian–Polish–Ukrainian Brigade (LITPOLUKRBRIG)As of today, Ukraine's cooperation with the countries of Bucharest Nine is limited to bilateral or tripartite initiatives. For example, in September 2014, an agreement was signed with Lithuania and Poland on the creation of a joint Lithuanian–Polish–Ukrainian Brigade (LITPOLUKRBRIG) with headquarters in the Polish Lublin, which is the ideological successor of similar Ukrainian-Polish Peace Force Battalion (UKRPOLBAT) and Lithuanian-Polish Peace Force Battalion (LITPOLBAT).

Ukraine also joins many military exercises with B9 countries, mostly under the auspices of NATO. Special attention should be paid to the annual Light Avalanche emergency response maneuvers involving the military from Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, and the Riverine-2018 — the first Ukrainian-Romanian naval and border-guard exercises that took place last year on the Danube. Besides, in 2018 Ukrainian military participated in 26 multinational maneuvers that took place outside of Ukraine — on the territory of the United Kingdom, Georgia, Estonia, Italy, Canada, Lithuania, Germany, Norway, Poland, Romania and Serbia.

In 2019, within the framework of international cooperation, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will participate in 6 multinational exercises in Ukraine and in 20 exercises outside the state.

 

Recommendations

Despite the fact that the level and number of joint exercises with the member states of the Bucharest Nine are constantly increasing, Ukraine has still not established cooperation with the B9 format at the institutional level. However, since the Bucharest Nine is a NATO-oriented structure, Ukraine's full participation in it, as in the case of the Three Seas Initiative, is impossible and inappropriate, since in this case there is likely to be a simple duplication of structures of the North Atlantic Alliance. Therefore, for Ukraine, the format of participation in summits of these two initiatives at the level of the observer state would be optimal.

The already established joint projects under the Three Seas Initiative and the Bucharest Nine should be expanded. In particular, it is expedient to multiply the positive experience of the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian Brigade in order to increase the number of joint units with the participation of representatives of other member states of Bucharest Nine, in particular, Romania, Latvia and Estonia.

Moreover, given the fact that most of the members of both structures see mainly not NATO, but the United States as a factor for ensuring stability in Central and Eastern Europe, and also given the growing disagreements between eastern and western EU member states, it would be appropriate for Ukraine to initiate creation of a framework, which would include some states of the B9 format (in particular Poland, Romania and the Baltic States), the United States and Ukraine, with the main objective of political consolidation, first of all in view of Russia's aggressive policy. Creation of such a military bloc in Eastern Europe would allow the United States to operate in the region, with less taking into consideration the positions of Western European countries, first of all Germany and France.

It's no secret that Washington listens better to the initiatives presented by groups of states, than to those put forward by individual countries, and especially as vulnerable, as today's Ukraine. Therefore, within the framework of probing the views of the partners of Ukraine on the said project on the eve of Volodymyr Zelenskyi's planned visit to the United States, it is appropriate to hold consultations with the key B9 states, in particular Poland and Romania, and to coordinate the positions on the new initiative.