Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Nato states begin exercise in west Ukraine, weapons deliveries

  • Two hundred troops from the US' 173rd Airborne Brigade are taking part (Photo: eur.army.mil)

Nato countries have started an annual military exercise in west Ukraine, with Kiev saying some of them have also begun delivering weapons.

The US-led exercise - “Rapid Trident” - began on Monday (15 September) in Yavoriv, near the Polish-Ukrainian border.

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According to a US statement, the 11-day drill will practice “peacekeeping and stability operations”, including “countering improvised explosive devices, convoy operations, and patrolling”.

It includes 200 US soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy.

It also includes 1,100 troops from Nato states Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, and the UK and from former Soviet republics Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Rapid Trident is taking place at the same time as “Maple Arch” - a Canadian-Polish drill involving Canandian, Lithuanian, and Polish soldiers in Poland.

Ukraine has taken part in similar events since 2006.

But this year's arrival of US soldiers comes as Ukrainian forces wage war against Russian troops and pro-Russia rebels in east Ukraine.

US military spokesman Gregory Hicks said Rapid Trident is “proof of Nato countries’ support for states who are not alliance members”.

Canada's defence minister Rob Nicholson said Maple Arch is designed to “further regional security … in the wake of the Putin regime’s [Russia’s] aggressive military actions”.

For his part, Ukrainian defence minister Valery Heletey told press in Kiev on Sunday that some Nato countries have also started delivering arms to Ukraine in line with a deal at the recent Nato summit.

“In order to stop [Russian leader] Putin, we need weapons. And they [some Nato states] have listened to me - as of today, the process of delivering arms is being realised”, he noted.

"I have no right to disclose any specific country we reached that agreement with. But the fact is that those weapons are already on the way to us - that's absolutely true, I can officially tell you”.

Ukraine and Russia agreed a ceasefire on 5 September.

But Heletey said 3,500 Russian troops are still inside Ukraine, while 25,000 more are parked on the Russia-Ukraine border.

Pro-Russia rebels at the weekend also tried to seize Donetsk airport in east Ukraine despite the peace deal, while Russia sent what it says are 220 "aid" trucks over the border to Luhansk without letting Ukraine or the Red Cross see what is inside.

Nato leaders have repeatedly said they will not get involved in fighting in Ukraine.

EU leaders have also said there is “no military solution” to the conflict.

EU trade delay

The EU last Friday in talks with Russian and Ukrainian ministers in Brussels decided to suspend the implementation of a strategic EU-Ukraine free trade pact until 2016 to appease Russian economic concerns.

Ukrainian leaders say the accord is good for their country because it means Russia will not impose trade restrictions.

It also means Ukraine can export goods to the EU at low or zero-rate tariffs while imposing duties on EU imports.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko got a bump at the weekend when three journalists at the heart of the pro-Western “Euromaidan” movement - Serhiy Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayem, and Svitlana Zalishchuk - pledged support ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

But the EU trade delay could harm his popularity.

His deputy foreign minister, Danylo Lubkivskiy, resigned over the decision, saying on Facebook that it is “the wrong signal to everyone: the aggressor, allies and, most important, Ukrainian citizens".

Opposition leader and former PM Yulia Tymoshenko said at a party conference: “There can't be a single day of applying the brakes on our path to Europe”.

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