NATO has signed a “letter of military cooperation” with Ukraine’s land forces, according to a British media report.
The letter of cooperation was signed between the Commander of NATO Allied Land Command (LANDCOM), U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Thomson, and Ukrainian Army Colonel General Serhiy Popko, Commander of Ukrainian Land Forces Command.
“This is a tremendous honor for LANDCOM. I’m impressed with your training facility and how advanced this exercise is,” Thomson said, according to the report.
“Our headquarters and staff are excited about the future of this relationship. When I visited NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), they are excited about what LANDCOM is doing with Ukraine.”
Popko agreed, said a news release.
“The document we are about to sign today is strategically important for us in terms of our future cooperation. We are truly interested in the future cooperation… that is critically essential for us.”
In a separate statement, NATO command said:
“The commanders signed the letter during the middle of a large Ukrainian training exercise, known as EXERCISE RAPID TRIDENT 2018, which focuses on the interoperability and readiness of Ukrainian ground forces with a total of 2,270 troops from 14 participating nations including nearby NATO members. The annual exercise runs from Sept. 3 to 15.”
NATO further states that the letter’s purpose is to demonstrate the intent of the military alliance to cooperate in the future with NATO’s LANDCOM and Ukrainian ground forces.
Analysis: While the announcements did not say so specifically, there is no other way to read this development as being aimed at deterring future Russian aggression — in Ukraine and beyond.
This agreement gives Ukraine some cover short of formally admitting the country into NATO, which would automatically trigger Article 5’s mutual assistance provision and put the alliance on a direct course to war with Russia.
While details of the agreement have not been discussed publicly, the fact that NATO was willing to go as far as it could to provide Ukraine with some protective cover is a bold move that puts Russian President Vladimir Putin in a precarious position.
After the Trump administration agreed to provide the Ukrainian armed forces with lethal weapons, we have to believe that any further escalation by Russian forces in Ukraine, per this agreement, would trigger additional lethal assistance of some kind, if not deployment of NATO forces outright (not likely though).
The U.S. and Britain, if not NATO, are bound by agreement to assist Ukraine in the security realm. Under the terms of the 1994 Budapest Agreement, the U.S. and Britain agreed to provide security guarantees to Ukraine in exchange for surrendering its 1,900 nuclear warheads left on its soil following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Russia was also a signatory, but Moscow has violated that agreement by providing direct military assistance to ‘separatists’ fighting the Ukrainian government. Putin knows this but calculated that he could intervene in Ukraine without any real pushback from the Obama administration and Britain.
He was right. Britain and the Obama administration responded with sanctions and non-lethal military assistance, nothing Putin couldn’t handle.
But President Trump is obviously pursuing a different Ukrainian policy. He seeks to deter further Russian aggression there and that’s what lethal aid and this letter of cooperation is meant to do.