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James Rogers: Time to take trilateral cooperation to the next level

February 16, 2023 10:57 PM 4 min read
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) hold a news conference at an army camp on Feb 8., 2023, in Dorset, England. (Photo Peter Nicholls-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in our op-ed section are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of the Kyiv Independent.

A year ago today, on Feb. 17, 2022, the trilateral initiative between Poland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom (U.K.) was announced. In a joint statement, the foreign ministers and secretaries of the three nations pledged to deepen cooperation on shared geopolitical objectives.

Initial areas of cooperation for the trilateral focused on collaboration over cyber and energy security, countering disinformation, and support for the International Crimea Platform, an initiative created by Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, to apply pressure on the Kremlin to relinquish control over the Ukrainian territory.

Priorities for the relationship have evidently since changed.

A week after this announcement, Russia renewed its offensive against Ukraine, derailing the progress of this so-called “mini-alliance.”

The U.K. and Poland moved quickly to provide the most extensive levels of support Ukraine has since received within Europe. Their military assistance and political initiatives have been critical to Ukraine as it has battled against the full might of the Russian army, much to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chagrin.

On April 7, 2022, the trilateral began to take a new shape. Less than two months after the initial agreement was signed, a joint commission was established between the U.K. and Poland in which the leaders of both countries pledged to accelerate their military support.

This was the first significant demonstration of the U.K. and Poland’s deep commitment to Ukraine, setting the stage for further political, economic, and military assistance and prompting a wider international effort.

While NATO’s Ramstein donor conferences have superseded the British-Polish initiative, their foresight has proven essential in advancing Ukraine’s war effort. Despite a Ukrainian victory over Russian forces being by far the biggest priority and essential to the security and interests of all three nations, as well as to uphold the defense of Europe, the trilateral relationship ought to pursue a purpose that goes beyond this.

Beyond the current conflict and its aftermath, the trilateral initiative could pursue new aims. Initiated as early as October 2021 and launched before Russia renewed its aggression toward Ukraine, the shared geopolitical interests which existed at the outset have only grown stronger under the context of war.

In the wake of a Ukrainian victory, the trilateral initiative could serve to expedite the Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, strengthen cooperation over post-war reconstruction efforts, and push to obtain reparations from Russia for the damage inflicted through the Kremlin’s absurd war.

President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) meets with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Rzeszow, Poland, on Dec. 22, 2022. (President's Office)

First, trilateral cooperation could expedite Ukraine’s reconstruction while providing an opportunity to improve the country’s connectivity to the EU and the Three Seas Initiative by rebuilding and reforming Ukraine’s infrastructure and institutions in accordance with EU standards to ease the path to membership to both when the time comes.

Second, the trilateral could serve to extend the Euro-Atlantic security system to Ukraine in novel ways, if only in the interim, until the country joins the Atlantic alliance. Once Russian forces have been ejected from Ukrainian territory, the U.K. and Poland, Europe’s leading military powers, could provide security assurances for Ukraine, reinforced by the forward deployment of their troops, as well as those from other European allies. This would not be too dissimilar to the security guarantees the U.K. provided to Sweden and Finland in May 2022 to help deter a potential Russian attack as they sought membership in NATO.

Had the trilateral not lost the momentum it had this time last year, a formal framework of cooperation, with a memorandum of understanding, may already have been achieved between the three nations. This should still be the aim. Andrzej Duda, Rishi Sunak, and Zelensky could convene in Kyiv in Spring 2023 to once again commit to the partnership, reinforce Ukraine’s sovereignty, and begin planning for the future.

While the current context of war compels the partnership to support Ukraine, its long-term objective should be to create a framework in which all three nations are able to cooperate as equals, working towards shared geoeconomic and geopolitical goals. It has the potential to help bind Europe together: whole, sovereign, and free.

One year on from the initial agreement, efforts should once again be made to deepen cooperation between Poland, Ukraine, and the U.K. as they look to and beyond the worst war to hit Europe for generations.

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