Two NATO-sponsored parallel military exercises involving Ukrainian troops are underway on either side of the Ukrainian-Polish border. The Cossack Express-99 exercise, in progress since September 18 at the Yavoriv training grounds in the Lviv region of Ukraine, involves British and Ukrainian motorized infantry units of battalion size. The Cossack Steppe-99 exercise, which began on September 20 at the Nowa Deba training range in Poland, involves company-size motorized infantry units from Ukraine, from Poland–a country recently admitted to NATO–and from Britain. Elements of the Ukrainian-Polish joint battalion, which was created in 1996 and made its field debut last year, are participating in this exercise.
Both exercises are designed to rehearse joint actions in UN-authorized peacekeeping operations under NATO command, in a format “similar to that in the Balkans.” The British side planned the exercises and pays most of their costs.
On September 20-25, the Ukrainian navy’s flagship Hetman Sahaydachny is taking part in the NATO-sponsored exercise Black Sea Partnership-99, alongside warships from member countries of the alliance and aspiring countries. Held mostly in Turkish waters, the exercise is designed to practice two sets of tasks: joint naval operations of the member and partner countries and naval support of NATO-led peacekeeping operations on land. This exercise is immediately to be followed by a Russian-Ukrainian one (DINAU, UNIAN, PAP, September 18-21).
These pre-planned exercises, which can only irritate Moscow, coincide with the decisive phase of the Ukrainian presidential election campaign. President Leonid Kuchma’s reelection effort requires at least the benevolent neutrality of Moscow, if not its implicit endorsement, so as to deprive Ukraine’s leftist opposition of its Russian card (see the Monitor, July 9). Nevertheless, Ukraine’s participation in these exercises indicates that official Kyiv is not going out of its way to make concessions to Moscow at the expense of Ukrainian-NATO relations. As a minimal concession, Kyiv seems to discourage publicity around these exercises and has–apparently–instructed its military to provide no more than a modicum of information about its participation in them. Such discretion seems mainly designed to avoid adverse reactions in Russia’s body politic, which may in turn undermine the Russian government’s policy of going along with Kuchma’s re-election. Kuchma’s team has almost certainly calculated that the Kremlin has no alternative option in Ukraine and is highly unlikely under almost any circumstances to favor the Red forces there.
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