Ukraine just held land military drills with US, Poland, and Lithuania

Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and the United States have held a military exercise in the Lviv region, Ukraine. The drill called “Three Swords-2021” included more than 1200 servicemen and around 200 combat vehicles from all member countries and lasted from July 12th-30th in Western Ukraine. It followed the largest water military exercise, “Sea Breeze,” between Ukraine and the United States conducted in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine. It lasted two weeks and involved 5000 soldiers, 30 ships and 40 aircraft. The exercise started amidst increased tensions between Russia and NATO on Ukraine. Recently Russia claimed that they chased a British warship out off the coast of Crimea in the Black Sea in mid-June.

Three Swords-2021 was said to “create favorable conditions for the development and effective coordination of units of partner states, in order to improve the quality and increase the level of combat capabilities.” On the other side, the Director of the Press Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova stated that “NATO consolidates its forces on the border with Russia to ‘fight back’ and increase its presence in Eastern Europe.”

The main goal of the military drills is to develop an effective partnership to counter an aggressor country if needed. For Ukraine, Russia has posed a direct threat to the country’s sovereignty by supporting separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Military exercises together with NATO are aimed to build up security on their borders and strengthen cooperation with potential allies in order to prevent violence from the aggressor. At the same time, retaliation that comes from the Russian side will only grow due to an increased presence of NATO on the border. It will give the Russian government a good justification to advance their military presence in Eastern Ukraine. Militarization on both sides has not offered a solution to the long-lasting conflict as it continues to incite both Ukraine and Russia to deploy more troops that lead to the killings of thousands of soldiers and civilians. Kyiv claims that at least 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine since it started in 2014.

Earlier in mid-June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has asked U.S. President Joe Biden for a clear answer to whether Ukraine is given permission to join NATO. “Every day we prove that we are ready to be in the alliance more than most of the countries of the European Union,” Zelenskiy said. “If we are talking about NATO and the MAP, I would really like to get (from Biden) specifics – yes or no,” Zelenskiy continued, referring to the Membership Action Plan that the candidate countries receive before they are allowed to join the alliance. However, letting Ukraine join NATO would lead to the irreversible collapse of the Russia-US relations and might launch a series of military offensives resulting in more atrocities.

The relations between Kyiv and Moscow have reached their lowest point after Russia seized Crimea and started actively supporting military actions in Eastern Ukraine on the side of the Donbas separatists in 2014. Even though the conflict is not in its active phase at the moment, Russia continues to keep and mass their troops and equipment on the border which raises tensions between the neighbors. Ukraine had been leaning towards joining NATO and finding its path into the European Union even before the active military conflict between two countries sparked. However, now the priority of joining the EU and NATO is of its utmost importance for Ukraine as it will guarantee protection from the member countries against Russian aggression.

As the majority of the Eastern European countries have joined NATO in the past 30 years, Russia sees the expansion of the alliance as a threat. While NATO membership would guarantee Ukraine its security and protection, it is hard to imagine that this move will not spark violence from the Russian side. In order to justify more military advancements, Russia could appeal to President Vladimir Putin’s favorite narrative against the “deceitful West” and accuse NATO of ‘”unlawful” enlargement. Nonetheless, the international community should take action in order to prevent the abridgment of Ukrainian sovereignty while not isolating Russia but finding more advanced diplomatic solutions to eradicate violence in the region.

Maya Belova