On July 4 Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - Visegrad Group (V4), made a statement to confirm the commitment to make further progress in defence cooperation. The recently designed structures will be used to identify areas of practical interaction and pursue specific projects in the field of defence capability development including joint projects and military equipment acquisitions. The statement says at the same time the V4 are open to cooperation with other partners outside the V4 where and when useful. This sentence evidently implies Ukraine.
The Long Term Vision V4 policy was adopted in March to coordinate defence planning and to create a joint combat unit to operate under NATO and EU auspices in response to the Ukraine crisis. In this process they support the involvement of V4 national defence industries as much as possible. The joint body would comprise 3,000 soldiers contributed by the four countries.
The V4 are particularly «vulnerable» to the Ukrainian situation to be hurt by EU sanctions against Russia and tied by the concept of «solidarity» with other EU member states. Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary all have borders with Ukraine as well as significant minorities living there, mostly in the western part of the crisis-wracked former Soviet state.
The EU battle groups usually serve for six months and then disband. The Visegrad group would do things differently: the members should use the preparations for their turn on duty (in 2016) to improve interoperability, and to create conditions for coordinated long-term planning and joint acquisitions. The V4 countries’ overall goal should be to use the battle group to instil a habit of permanent cooperation, and to provide the region with visibility.
The Visegrad battle group needs to be able to conduct a whole range of missions, from providing assistance in case of humanitarian disasters to intervening in armed conflicts. Its forces need to be able to respond to crises far beyond EU borders within ten days. That means that the defence establishments in the four countries will have to acquire arms, train and exercise adequately, using the battle group to prepare their forces for combat and rapid deployment in crisis areas and develop capabilities for current and future operations.
The V4 have similar equipment (much of it still from the Soviet era), and they will need to replace it on similar timelines. The battle group represents an opportunity for joint acquisitions, all the more if collaboration recurs regularly. It makes Ukraine a convenient partner.
The Visegrad Battle group is a flagship political project, As such, it is a strong signal that the V4 group is gaining momentum, that there is political will to invigorate it further and that all of its members take defence capabilities seriously. The battle group is the basis for a more permanent battalion-sized structure, with elements periodically assigned to both NATO and EU platforms and operations. This would reinforce the collaboration culture in the region, continuously improve intra-regional interoperability, allow the V4 to synchronize national NATO Response Force/battle group cycles and build a region wide high-readiness capability.
The current security situation in Europe underlines the group’s intention to link the V4 EU Battle group certification exercise with NATO's Trident Juncture 2015 exercise. During the Slovak chairmanship, which began on 1 July 2014, a joint plan of exercises for V4 countries should be worked out.
Ukraine military joins West
On 21 March 2014, European Union Heads of State and Government and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed the political provisions of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The agreement commits both parties to promote a gradual convergence toward the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy and European Defence Agency policies. The V4 is an important step linking Ukraine – EU military structure, which depends on and closely aligns its activities with NATO. The first step on the way is joining the Visegrad Battle group military unit.
Visegrad Group defence ministers made the decision at a meeting on June 1 before the formal meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, the Slovak TASR news agency reported. "We could discuss more forms of cooperation, not only Ukraine's participation in the military unit of the Visegrad Group, what we have agreed on," Slovakian Defence Minister Martin Glvac told reporters. For his part, Hungarian Defence Minister Csaba Hende said that they have already discussed with Ukraine the forms of its involvement in the military formation. Ukraine, in particular, proposed to provide the unit with Ukrainian helicopters and use its strategic air transport capacity.
Hungarian Defence Minister Csaba Hende said that he has already discussed with Ukraine the ways in which it could help the battle group. Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnický suggested that Ukraine should present specific proposals of how it could contribute to the joint task force.
All the defence ministers also reiterated their common interest in joining a battle group certification exercise and the NATO Trident Juncture 2015 exercise. Glváč proposed that the next meeting of V4 ministers - under the remit of the Slovak presidency - should be added to by Ukraine. «I proposed it and my suggestion was accepted», TASR quoted him as saying.
Slovakia, as the V4 President, will promote close cooperation of military intelligence services and that cooperation will be extended by Romania and the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), according to Glváč. The details should be discussed during the visit of Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak to Bratislava on June 12. Another of Glváč’s initiatives involves a meeting of V4 military intelligence heads with the Ukrainian military intelligence top officials also present.
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Having signed a political part of EU association agreement Ukraine joining CSDP which in practice makes it an associate NATO member. The Ukrainian leadership realizes well this is a responsible decision with consequences to face.