13 000 6I4A6 800x520Three years since the outbreak of Russia’s war on Ukraine in the Donbas, Poland remains Ukraine’s closest military and political partner.

Still, the relationship is hardly overwhelming in strength.

“Poland was the first nation to provide us military aid, in Ukraine’s darkest hours,” said Valeriy Ryabykh, an expert with the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, a Kyiv-based defense think tank. “It’s hugely questionable that we’d have been able to resist Russian invasion without this support.”


In the spring of 2014, as Russia ignited the war, Poland provided the first supplies of body armor as well as old ammunition stocks to compensate for dire shortages faced by Ukraine’s armed forces.


To this day, Poland remains among Ukraine’s biggest military aid suppliers, and a steadfast advocate of Ukraine in NATO.


“Many of the alliance policies to support Ukraine amid the war in the east were directly lobbied for by the Polish military,” says Ryabykh. “The Poles understand like no others the level of threat that Russia poses.”


Missing opportunities


But the list of Ukrainian-Polish declarations on defense cooperation is longer than the list of actions.


One unrealized project is creation of an industrial hub for the modernization of Ukraine’s stocks of T 72 tanks and other armor, which was proposed by PCO, a Polish producer of night-vision, thermal imaging and laser equipment.


Ukrainian tanks came up against modernized Russian T 72 tanks (T 72B3s) in fighting near Debaltseve in February 2015, and fared badly in night combat. So in 2016, Polish engineers proposed a modernization package for Ukrainian T 72s, to equip them with KLW 1 Asteria thermal imaging cameras.


The new venture would be based in Ukraine, with Ukrainian personnel using Polish technologies to modernize Ukrainian T 72 and T 64 tanks, BMP 1 infantry fighting vehicles and Poland’s own tanks.


Polish companies also want to join in the production of the Kvitnyk, a precision artillery shell made by Ukraine’s Progress industrial complex in Nizhyn. Poland has offered to replace Russian laser targeting units.


“In this situation, Ukraine has the capacity to produce highly precise weapons, and Poland has the advanced technologies needed for them,” Ryabykh said. “By joining these two elements, the two countries can equip their armies with the best world’s guided shells, and also enter the global weapons market.”


In another project, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said Warsaw and Kyiv were discussing plans to launch joint production of helicopters. The new helicopter project, based on Poland’s widely used PZL W 3 Sokol multipurpose helicopter, would use engines made by the Zaporizhia-based Motor Sich company, which were described by Macierewicz as excellent.


Polish-Ukraine ventures could create weapons with a high quality-to-price ratio that would be highly competitive with Russian weapons, experts believe.
But none of these cooperation projects have gotten off the ground.


Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates Ukraine’s weapons exports to Poland were worth only $8 million in 2016, when only one arms trade deal was announced: Ukraine sold 40 of its R 27R1 air-to-air missiles to Poland to arm its MiG 29 fighter jets.


And while Ukroboronprom, Ukraine’s state-run defense concern, is not legally entitled to cooperate with private-owned foreign companies, the situation is unlikely to change, experts say.


United in defense


One Ukrainian-Polish defense cooperation effort that had seen some success is Litpolukrbrig a military brigade of 4,500 troops drawn from Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine, which has its command center in Lublin in southeastern Poland.


The unit includes Ukraine’s 80th Airborne Brigade from Lviv. The brigade has participated in international military exercises such as Anaconda 2016, held in June in Nova Demba, Poland.
In December, the brigade was certified as a combat-ready unit according to NATO standards. “This composite brigade is a perfect opportunity for Ukraine to start implementing the alliance standards,” Ryabykh said. “It is they who will become the command backbone of a reformed Ukrainian army.”




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