NATO in Baltics learns from Ukraine's mistakes
As Russian-backed forces wreaked havoc among disorganized, often lightly armored and mostly ad-hoc Ukrainian troops, the Baltic states watched. Now NATO allies are implementing blood-stained lessons from Ukraine.
Published at DW
Driving at hellish speeds along tank-damaged roads near Popasna, Luhansk region, the driver of the unarmored, 1970s, Soviet-built van flinched at the slightest crackle. In their front-line position, 200 meters from the separatists, an armored personnel carrier stood under a tree. "We're not sure if it's weapon fire," said a Crocs-wearing soldier who was suffering from a light concussion.
In their field base a further three kilometers away, two broken-down trucks and vans donated by volunteers stood idle for lack of spare parts. The soldiers' dwindling food and water supplies were kept up by Ukrainian and Lithuanian civilian volunteers.
This was the state of Ukraine's 54th Brigade's Logistics and Communications Battalion in August 2015. The battalion commander, Sergei Aleksandrovich, eyes red from hay fever, said wearily: "If I had at least one good ambulance, we would have saved so many more men."
Fast forward to 2017, through ceaseless training and die-hard battles, the state of the Ukrainian forces has improved. Having closely observed the painful trial-and-error process of the Ukrainians, the three Baltic states at the forefront of renewed Russia-NATO confrontation are hoping to avoid treading in the same footsteps.
Konstyantyn Melnyk, a Ukrainian ex-soldier in his 40s, headed a team of drone operators in eastern Ukraine. Now demobilized, his company in Vilnius provides unarmed drones and pilot training to Lithuania's armed forces.
"The demand and need for UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and training in Lithuania is high, especially with our experience from the war," said Konstyantyn. "Additionally, there isn't a country more supportive [of Ukraine] in the EU."
The drone procurement program has been one of the many tactical lessons drawn from the carefully observed conflict next door, aiming to fill the very same capability gaps that have inflicted a heavy cost on Ukraine.
Aside from the obvious shortfalls of the military, the dangers of catastrophic corruption, weak institutions and civil society in Ukraine became glaring in light of sweeping Russian propaganda successes during the Crimean annexation.
To help address this hybrid threat, NATO's role in the Baltics has been steadily increasing. Under the 'Enhanced Forward Presence"policy, NATO has deployed four multinational battalions to the three Baltic states and Poland.