Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 18.11.2017
Ukraine is a non-aligned country that is on the cusp of joining NATO, and which is currently being invaded and partially occupied by aggressor Russia. Sweden is a non-aligned country that is on the cusp of joining NATO, and which is harassed but not yet under direct military attack by aggressor Russia. The two countries came closer together in a remarkable way this week.
Sweden is stepping up for the defence of Europe. In 2018, the Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) will most likely begin training Ukrainian armed forces at the NATO Partnership for Peace Training Centre in Yavoriv, in western Ukraine. Sweden will join the United States, Canada, and Lithuania in teaching modern combat operations to Ukrainian soldiers. In turn, Sweden will learn from Ukrainian soldiers about what combat with Russia is really like on the battlefront in Donbas.
A United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference took place in Vancouver, Canada on November 14th and 15th. At this conference, Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak held talks with Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist. The two defence ministers preliminarily agreed that Sweden would contribute servicemen and servicewomen from the Swedish Armed Forces to the training mission in Ukraine. Early next year, Minister Hultqvist will visit Kyiv and make final arrangements.
The Ukrainian armed forces are taking on two monumental tasks simultaneously. First, they are defending Europe from Russia’s invasion in Crimea and Donbas; attacks by Russia on the Luhansk, Donetsk, and Mariupol battlefronts are relentless. Second, the Ukrainian armed forces are rapidly adopting NATO standards of training, military organization and technology; Ukraine will be a member of NATO – the Bucharest NATO summit of 2008 declared as much.
By contributing to the NATO training mission to Ukraine, non-NATO member Sweden will be doing more for the North Atlantic alliance than NATO members France or Germany; France and Germany are “absent without leave” on NATO collective security efforts concerning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Domestically, the Swedish government will be making a more politically-acceptable move towards NATO than a more overt move would be, such as contributing to one of NATO’s “forward presence” battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, or Poland.
Sweden is directly threatened by Russian aggression, and knows it. Overflights of Russian military aircraft test Sweden’s air defences regularly. Russian submarines have been detected within Sweden’s territorial waters. Gotland, Sweden is 250 kilometres from Kaliningrad, Russia and Sweden knows the island is vulnerable. Being outside NATO, the Swedish government and people realize they have no guarantee that any other country will come to their defence when Sweden is attacked by Russia. They see very well that no other country fights alongside Ukraine on the battlefront in Donbas where Russia is invading Europe – and Ukraine is outside NATO, just like Sweden.
Security guarantees that Ukraine had proved to be worthless when Russia invaded, the Budapest Memorandum foremost among them. Sweden has good reason to believe that its security guarantees with friends-who-aren’t-allies will be worthless too. NATO is the most successful military alliance and organization for collective security the world has ever known. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are smaller in size and weaker militarily than Sweden, but they are more capable of securing national defence than Sweden is because they are members of NATO. The Baltic countries are in a better position because they contribute to and benefit from “all for one and one for all.”
Swedish soldiers and Ukrainian soldiers will soon be working together at a NATO training base in Ukraine. It is reasonable to ask: “Why aren’t Sweden and Ukraine in NATO already?” Russian aggression is not only threatened, but real. Putin at war has brought death and destruction and human misery on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. Non-aligned or neutral countries that are in the way of imperialist aggression get crushed; allied countries have a chance. Swedish, Ukrainian and NATO flags will soon fly together at Yavoriv. For the sake of Europe’s defence from Russian aggression, they have to be flying together at NATO headquarters in Brussels – and at the invasion battlefront in Donbas.