London, Warsaw, and Kiev are preparing a trilateral pact to strengthen regional security. But Ukraine insists the defence alliance will not be an alternative to other military blocks.
The upcoming tri-lateral alliance between Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Poland was to be formalised in early February during British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss's visit to Kiev.
Truss' trip to the Eastern European country was however postponed after she tested positive for Covid-19. Until Truss arrives, experts "will not sit idly by but will continue perfecting the new format," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on February 1.
As the diplomatic chief noted, the trilateral formula is part of Ukraine's strategy of forming small alliances.
"The bottomline is that we cannot expect security and prosperity somewhere in the future when we become members of the EU and NATO," Kuleba explained.
“We need them even today. That's why we are already achieving practical strengthening by uniting friendly and close-in-spirit countries into small alliances. This will give an opportunity to create a security belt and strengthen the Baltic-Black Sea axis”.
As successful examples, Kiev often refers to the quadrilateral format of cooperation between the foreign and defence ministers of Turkiye and Ukraine, the Lublin Triangle (Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania), and the "associated trio" with Georgia and Moldova.
Truss first mentioned the idea of forming a trilateral block when she spoke in Australia on January 21. At the same time, she specified that the initiative to strengthen defence ties between Britain, Poland and Ukraine had been widely discussed during President Vladimir Zelenski's visit to the United Kingdom at the end of 2021.
The concentration of Russian troops near the borders with Ukraine, which has given rise to talk of preparations for a full-scale invasion, has not decreased over the last months.
Ukraine has, however, urged that the trilateral formula for strengthening regional security is not seen as a substitute for any other politico-military block.
“It is not an alternative to anything," the first vice speaker of Verkhovna, Rada Olexander Kornienko, pointed out.
“It is not an alternative to NATO or the EU, it is not even an alternative to another regional entity - the so-called Three Seas Initiative. This is an additional means of cooperation,” the parliamentarian stressed.
Nevertheless, Kiev does not rule out that mini-formats may prove more effective than broader ones in terms of countering a potential Russian onslaught.
"I am not saying that this is a 'three-way NATO,' but I am saying that this alliance could have a good effect, both militarily and politically," said Iryna Vereshchuk, the Minister for the Reintegration of the Non-Controlled Territories.
Such decisions are actualised by what happens near the Ukrainian borders, the minister added.
The Russian official media reacted to the news about the creation of a British-Polish-Ukrainian alliance in a predictably emotional way. On the YouTube channel "Solovyov Live”, Russian Ambassador to London, Andrei Kelin, declared that the format is "a piecing together of small triangles, for which Eastern Europe has always been famous”.
The diplomat cited the Visegrad Group (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary), which appeared in 1991, as an example, besides the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova).
"Now they’ve started to create such small triangles again: the Lublin Triangle, now this new small alliance. This one like all the other petty alliances is likely to end just in talk," the diplomat said in summary.
In order to devalue the efforts of London, Warsaw and Kiev, Kelin accused the British side of supplying the Ukrainians with discarded weapons. The accusation has now become popular amongst Russian propagandists who use it to tarnish Britain's image.
However, Moscow's accusations are understandable in this respect: London is among those Western capitals that have an autonomous view on what assistance should be supplied to Kiev. An illustration of this was the recent gesture by the Royal Air Force, whose planes, delivering anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian side, bypassed the airspace of the FRG. Tobias Ellwood, head of the British Parliament's Lower House Select Committee on Defence, later noted that this had to be done because of Berlin's ambiguous position on aid to Kiev.
Insurance against an offensive
In a conversation with TRT Russian, political scientist and economist Anders Aslund said that Britain, Poland, and Ukraine have remained slightly outside Western structures, and they have a natural interest in cooperation. "Britain compensates for its absence from the EU with a very active foreign and defence policy and by happily supporting Poland and Ukraine," the analyst said.
"Poland has a bad relationship with the EU and the US because it violates the rule of law in the EU, while at the same time it feels a military threat from Russia.”
Aslund pointed out that Kiev is grateful for any support it can get now. According to him, there are many examples of such cooperation: from the alliance between France and Germany, the Visegrad Four, the Weimar Triangle (Poland, Germany, and France), and the Nordic-Baltic Eight (Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia). So, the emergence of the British-Polish-Ukrainian formula is not surprising, the expert concluded.
As former US ambassador to Ukraine (2003-2006) and current director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic, Council John Herbst explained to TRT Russian, the initiative by London, Warsaw, and Kiev would contribute to European security by increasing the risk for Russia to launch a major offensive operation.
"Poland and Britain clearly and strongly see the threat to Ukraine and Europe from the Kremlin. Clearer than Biden can see it. But Biden's policy has also been solid," the former diplomat summarised.