Ukrainian Defense Minister Dmytro Salamatin said April 10 that Ukraine intends to intensify security cooperation with Belarus, specifically by "holding joint exercises, exchange visits by military delegations and sharing experience in military and technical areas." The previous day, Ukraine's Cabinet advised the Defense Ministry to participate in the battle group being formed by the Visegrad Four, which consists of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
These moves are an extension of Ukraine's longtime security strategy. Its strategic location on the borderlands between Europe and Russia has always made the country of significant security importance to both, and it has used this as leverage in economic, political and security dealings with either side.
While Ukraine does not currently face an existential security threat from Russia or Europe, both are asking it for increased security integration and cooperation, the former with the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the latter with NATO and associated western security organizations such as the Visegrad Four. Kiev has learned that placing too heavy an emphasis on cooperation with one side can have disastrous consequences; its campaign for formal NATO membership during former President Viktor Yushchenko's term did not lead to membership but did erode ties with Russia. Under current President Viktor Yanukovich, the country is officially unaligned with either side, and official membership in any security bloc is illegal.
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However, as the recent events show, this does not mean it has cut off security ties with the West or Russia. Ukraine has much to gain from expanding -- or threatening to expand -- security ties with either side. Seeking membership into the Visegrad Four battle group would both gain it technical military expertise and provide leverage in negotiations with Russia over energy prices. At the same time, increasing cooperation with Belarus (a key Russian security ally) may be incentive for Europe to lessen its pressure on Kiev over issues such as the jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and its delay in signing key EU agreements. Such a move is also a useful one for Moscow, which has long coveted Ukraine's military industrial complex.
Nevertheless, Ukraine will be careful not to take cooperation with either side too far, knowing that such a move would alienate the other and undermine its position. It is thus unlikely that Ukraine will formally join the Visegrad Four battle group in the near future, and it is not likely to cede strategic parts of its military industrial complex to Belarus or Russia. Instead, Ukraine can be expected to maintain its delicate balancing strategy between Moscow and the West as long as it can.