Date: 26 June 2017    Author: Aleksandra Romanowska

Defense Cooperation between Poland and Ukraine: Present State and Prospects.

For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet empire and Poland and Ukraine’s recovery of independence, the same opponent has appeared in the defense doctrines of both states: the Russian Federation.

© Jacek Turczyk (PAP)

Poland and Ukraine have very similar assessments of the threats to peace in Europe and the security of their citizens — the primary source of instability and aggression is Russia: “the Russian Federation seeks to strengthen its position in the global balance of power through various methods. Among them are: violations of international law, the regular application of force and coercion in relations with other states, and attempts to destabilize Western integration structures. This poses a threat mainly to Poland and other countries in the region, but also to other countries interested in a stable international order.”[1]

The current military threat to Ukraine, according to President Petro Poroshenko, “is the armed aggression and the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine (the temporary occupation by the Russian Federation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sevastopol and military aggression by the Russian Federation in certain regions of Donetsk and Lugansk). Also, the military presence at the Ukrainian border, including the potential deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Crimea, as well as the militarization of the temporarily-occupied territory through the formation of new military units, as well as the provision of fighter jets, military vehicles and logistics. The presence of Russian troops in the Transnistrian region of Moldova could also be used to destabilize the situation in the southern regions of Ukraine.”[2]

For the first time since the fall of the Soviet empire and the recovery of Poland and Ukraine’s independence, the same opponent has appeared in the defense doctrines of both states — the Russian Federation: “We assume that until 2032 Moscow will maintain an aggressive line in foreign and security policy. This poses an immediate threat to Poland and other states of NATO’s eastern flank, due to the asymmetry of military capabilities between Russia and those states.”[3]

Defense issues for Poland and Ukraine

It is also worth noting that Poland and Ukraine similarly define the tasks of their countries in the sphere of defense: increasing defense budgets, modernizing the army, increasing its numerical strength, developing territorial defense, modernizing and developing the defense industry, and most importantly, recognizing maximum participation in NATO structures as a cornerstone of their defense policy (Poland as a full member of the alliance; Ukraine, as evidenced by recent statements by the president and the parliament of Ukraine, has resolved to overcome all obstacles on its way to membership).

These two countries and societies have used the opportunities created after the collapse of the Soviet empire and regaining independence in different ways, and due to historical reasons we can say that they are in differing phases of building independence, democracy and the armed forces: “Ukraine finds itself in the most difficult moment of its modern history. Part of its territory is occupied by Russia, while in the east there is an ongoing conflict, fueled by the aggressor. At the same time, Kiev has to undertake reforms, the burden of which is borne by society or which hit at powerful interests. We observe internal problems that will hinder the development of the Ukrainian state, including reforms of its security sector. We hope that the revival of Ukrainian identity, based on the fight against the aggressor, will help to strengthen the structures of the state.”[4]

© Jacek Turczyk (PAP)

For many years, Poland has supported the European aspirations of a large part of Ukrainian society, sometimes doubting whether the process of joining Ukraine to Europe will find a positive end in the foreseeable future. Today, when international order is questioned, when international law and human rights are violated, our actions must be firm. The defense of the borders and sovereignty of Ukraine is not only an obligation of its citizens, but also of the international community. The deliberate and consistent strategy of the West on the “Ukrainian issue” will decide more than just the future of European security. In this situation, military cooperation between Poland and Ukraine is the logical consequence of the defense concepts they’ve adopted. NATO is the most effective and promising platform for its implementation.

Cooperation within NATO

Poland consistently advocates the continuation and expansion of the open door policy for Ukraine, upheld at the NATO summit in Warsaw in July 2016. It supports the ambitious program of President Poroshenko, which assumes that the Ukrainian army will achieve NATO standards by 2020 and will strengthen its combat capabilities, which is the first step in its possible membership in the Alliance. In the coming years, however, Ukraine’s accession into NATO is not likely. Although the final declaration of the summit in Warsaw upheld the Alliance’s open door policy and condemned Russian attempts to influence Ukraine’s foreign policy, Ukraine was not among the countries listed as potential candidates for NATO membership (Georgia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The Alliance declared its intention to deepen cooperation with Ukraine in areas of common interest. Acts of aggression in the immediate region, such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the war in Donbas, undermine the existing international order and destabilize the situation in NATO member states. Increased aid for Ukrainian border security, especially along the Ukrainian-Russian border, should be an element of strengthening the Alliance’s eastern flank.

During the Warsaw summit, the heads of state of the North Atlantic Alliance approved a comprehensive aid package for Ukraine. It provides additional support in five thematic areas: advising (including critical infrastructure protection), security and defense sector reform, education and training, de-mining and countering improvised explosive devices in Donbas, and the operation of outdated weaponry. The package complements the instruments adopted by NATO in 2014 during the Wales summit. The decision was made at the time to create special trust funds for cybersecurity, logistics and standardization, communication and command, medical rehabilitation, and the social adaptation of veterans of the war in Donbas. Many of these instruments, adopted at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014 and at the Warsaw summit in 2016, are supported by Poland financially, through personnel, and technically.

NATO supported the formation process for rapid reaction units of the Ukrainian border guard. To this end, it implemented a “train-and-equip” program, covering the training and arming of these units. Members of the Alliance have experience in this area — the United States already conducted such activities for Georgia and Syria. For the purposes of the program, the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine was utilized, which organizes exercises for the Ukrainian armed forces at the training ground in Jaworow near Lviv, Ukraine, in the framework of the operations of the International Security Assistance Force, and included the participation of Polish soldiers from the 21st Podhale Rifles Brigade.

A very important initiative, particularly in terms of sharing experience and preparing Ukraine for the process of joining NATO, is the establishment of the LITPOLUKRBRIG Multinational Brigade, composed of soldiers from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. The Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian Brigade includes over 4,000 soldiers, who are stationed with their home units on a day-to-day basis. The brigade headquarters is located in Lublin, Poland. There are currently 58 Polish officers, 18 Ukrainian officers and 5 Lithuanian officers stationed here. Their term of office lasts three years, with the possibility of further extension. Poland was the first to receive the right to appoint a commander of the Multinational Brigade. This summer, Brigade soldiers will take part in the “Saber Guardian” command-and-control exercise in Bulgaria, and in September in the “Rapid Trident” exercise conducted by the United States Army in Ukraine. LITPOLUKRBRIG will also, together with the Canadian army, be the main organizer of November exercises under the codename “Maple Arch 17” at the training ground in Nowa Dęba, Poland. The key task for the Brigade is to participate in foreign stabilization operations, mainly under the aegis of the UN. “We see this brigade as a driving force that is changing our army”, said Minister of Defense of Ukraine Stepan Połtorak. According to the Polish National Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, the “multinational brigade is a sign, a symbol and a very clear signal for anyone who wants to undermine peace in Europe.”

New experiences and new assignments

After the start of the fighting in Donbas, Ukraine was interested in purchasing personal equipment for soldiers in Poland, namely modern helmets and bulletproof vests. The first deliveries were successfully completed in the summer of 2014. The supplier was “Lubawa S.A.”. On December 19, 2014 in Kiev, the Polish company entered into an agreement on “Strategic Cooperation” with the Ukrainian state armaments company UKROBORONPROM. Its main goal is to introduce products offered by “Lubawa S.A.” into the Ukrainian market, based on multi-year government contracts.

The entrance of “WB Electronics” into the Ukrainian market, a producer of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and observation systems, capable of operating day and night, was very important for military operations in eastern Ukraine. It’s difficult to imagine any modern armed conflict without drones, transmitting battlefield images in real time, that allow for command, effective coordination, and guiding artillery fire. Contracts signed by “WB Electronics”, the largest Polish private armaments company, significantly improved the equipment of unmanned systems in Ukrainian units.

Ukraine is interested in the participation of Polish companies in modernizing military equipment that doesn’t meet NATO standards. Ukrainian tanks should be equipped with state-of-the-art fire control systems, target tracking, observation capability in various conditions, and especially communications. Poland has experience in modernizing T-72 tanks. Their new version is known as PT-91 Twardy (“Resilient”). Polish companies can also solicit contracts for advanced command and communication equipment in artillery, reconnaissance and infantry units.

One of the experiences of the “Ukrainian lesson” is the search for new forms of bilateral cooperation in military equipment modernization and production. One potentially interesting project is the plan to build a Polish-Ukrainian multi-role helicopter. This idea came about in discussions during the procurement of helicopters for the Polish army. The development of such a machine within the framework of Polish and Ukrainian aviation industry cooperation is feasible, though of course, one which requires considerable financial resources and time, optimally from 7 to 10 years. The prospect of modernizing the Mil Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport helicopters already owned by the Polish army is an interesting one. This could be realized with the participation of Ukrainian aircraft manufacturers producing Motor Sich engines. Also, from our point of view, the achievements of the Ukrainian defense industry in missile technology (both artillery rocket and space industry) and the design of radar and early warning systems, are promising.

© Wojciech Pacewicz (PAP)

Ukrainian partners are also paying attention to the possibility of Ukrainian-Polish cooperation in the modernization of post-Soviet military equipment in the armies of countries in Africa and Asia, Ukraine’s traditional markets for armament sales.

The search for new areas of military and technical cooperation is paralleled by the discussion of legal issues. It centers on maintaining the principles of equal access to state procurement, while not limiting the rights of private sector companies interested in defense contracting, the reduction of corruption and providing intelligence and counterintelligence protection to companies, defense systems and professionals working for both armies. The first, and not the last, attempt to summarize what was gained from the “Ukrainian lesson” in the context of Polish-Ukrainian defense cooperation, is the General Agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Government of the Republic of Poland on Cooperation in Defense Sphere”. It was signed in Warsaw on December 2, 2016, on the 25th anniversary of Poland’s recognition of Ukraine’s independence, in the presence of presidents Andrzej Duda and Petro Poroshenko. The agreement between Poland and Ukraine is the basis for further cooperation and gives a strategic impetus to the partnership between Kiev and Warsaw, in the face of contemporary security challenges in East-Central Europe. The general agreement establishes 24 areas for future cooperation, which will be implemented by the parties in various forms.

Defense Minister Macierewicz said that “the signed agreement was accompanied by a protocol which underpins the extension of the agreement between the Government of the Republic of Poland and the Government of Ukraine, concerning the supply of military equipment and technology and the provision of military and technical services. The protocol deals with industrial cooperation in the field of rocket technology, including those used in orbital systems and other technologies for land forces.”[5]

A new challenge

The “Ukrainian lesson” is Russian unconventional warfare using a whole arsenal of tools in the “gray zone”: “top-notch cybernetics and electronics, intelligence actions, disinformation campaigns, sabotage, murder, bribery and forgery”, said Dr. Michael R. Carpenter, of the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania.[6] The concept of the “gray zone” has thus far mainly concerned the economy, and in particular tax avoidance, VAT embezzlement and unbridled speculation. Russia is extending it to international politics, by initiating unconventional warfare and information operations at the limits of international law, blurring the lines between law and lawlessness, making it impossible to determine who is responsible for the consequences.

Moscow realizes that its conventional capabilities lag behind those of NATO, and that in order to gain an advantage over the traditionally stronger Western forces, it must invest in the “gray zone”, when counting on achieving its strategic goals: to undermine the North Atlantic Alliance and the values of the Western world. There is no doubt that Russia is taking actions across the spectrum: political, diplomatic and military power on a global scale. Russia is constantly testing its approach and drawing conclusions, thus improving its arsenal of tactical and technical resources in the “gray zone”. Having succeeded in Crimea, they attempted to replicate this scenario in eastern Ukraine, but they did not gain support from the local population, outside the border areas (currently occupied by the separatists), and encountered defensive operations of the Ukrainian army and the forces of the national movement born of the Maidan protests.


If we assume that Russia is trying to achieve its strategic goals in its Western policy, which it is currently testing in Ukraine by conducting warfare in the “gray zone”, at the same time denying international legal responsibility for its actions, then the condition of each European army, its preparation for a new kind of war and defense cooperation between countries, should be paramount considerations.

[1] Defense Concept of the Republic of Poland,, 24.

[2] President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko,, point 9.

[3] Defense Concept of the Republic of Poland,, 24.

[4] Defense Concept of the Republic of Poland;, 25.

[5] Ministry of National Defense;

[6] United States Senate, Hearing to Receive Testimony on Russian Influence and Unconventional Warfare Operations in the “Gray Zone”: Lessons from Ukraine, 27_03-29-17.pdf, 7.

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