Mission (not) impossible: Russia and Ukraine look to bolster military cooperation

Seaborne assault troops board The Yamal large landing craft in the Bay of Sevastopol, Black Sea Fleet base. (RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko)
In a dramatic departure from their more turbulent past, Moscow and Kiev are looking at a number of ways to beef up their bilateral military cooperation.

"A number of practical steps have been taken recently for bringing more closely together the defence ministries of our two countries," Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Friday, at the opening of the fourth meeting of the subcommittee on security under the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission.

"We are interested in a closer cooperation with the Ukrainian Defence Ministry."

The Ukrainian side seemed equally interested in intensifying their level of military cooperation with Russia.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Mikhail Yezhel responded that, "our meetings have become traditional. Changes for the better have taken place, which is especially important. I hope concrete decisions will be made on the results of the meeting."

Relations between Moscow and Kiev have warmed significantly since Viktor Yanukovych was elected Ukraine's president last year. On April 21, 2010, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and Yanukovych hammered out a mutually beneficial deal extending the lease on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea.

The lease agreement extends Russian naval presence in the port of Sevastopol for 25 years after the current lease expires in 2017, and may be further extended by another five years.

The deal also granted Ukraine a 30 per cent cut in gas prices it receives from Russia.

More than anything, however, the deal represented Ukraine’s move away from the pro-Western stance of former President Viktor Yushchenko, who vowed that Russia would be evicted from its Crimean base for its Black Sea Fleet once the current deal expires in 2017.

Yushchenko, however, failed to heed the call of his constituents, who were clearly more interested in working with Russia, with whom Kiev shares a strong historical and cultural bond, as opposed to NATO forces, where there is none.

In the midst of this bilateral revival, Russia’s top military commander sited some of the major issues that he and his Ukrainian counterpart discussed during their meeting in Moscow on Friday.

"We discussed twelve issues,” Serdyukov stated, in terse, no-nonsense military style.“They deal with army officers' education, use of the 31st [designation of testing center, based on the territory of Ukraine] and NITKA firing ranges, military and military-technological cooperation [mutual use of a ground testing and training complex for pilots in the Crimea], the use of Ukrainian capacities to dispose of outdated ammunition owned by the [Russian] Black Sea Fleet, as well as the use of Ukrainian ship repair and shipbuilding plants in the interests of the Black Sea Fleet.”

The fourth meeting of the subcommittee "will make it possible to expand cooperation of the defence ministries of the two countries,” the Russian Defense Minister told reporters, stressing that both sides have been working towards that goal.

“We have been working at a high pace since the resumption of the work of the subcommittee,” Serdyukov said. “The resolutions adopted before are being put into effect. The most important thing is that we came to realise the need for closer cooperation."

According to the press service of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, the parties will also discuss an interstate agreement on cooperation in fighting piracy.

The subcommittee for security under the Russian-Ukrainian Interstate Commission was created in 2005. Its first meeting was held in Kiev on December 7, 2006, and the second – in Moscow on July 6, 2007.

Following these meetings, Kiev's proposals on holding meetings of the subcommittee were rejected because of the changing dynamics in Russian-Ukrainian relations.

Relations between Moscow and Kiev sunk to their lowest point in August 2009, whenMedvedev accused Yushchenko of "anti-Russian" behavior, cancelling the dispatch of Moscow's new ambassador to Kiev.

"In the face of the anti-Russian course of the Ukrainian leadership I have decided to delay sending of our new ambassador to Ukraine," Medvedev said. "His arrival will depend on the real direction of relations between Russia and Ukraine."

Meetings of the subcommittee were resumed once the political climate in Ukraine made an about face in 2010.

On July 15, 2010, Yanukovich signed a decree on the foundations of Ukraine's domestic and foreign policy, which declares the country's non-bloc status and renunciation of the prospects for accession to NATO as a full-fledged member.

Robert Bridge, RT