Troops from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine will form a new brigade that will take part in peacekeeping missions and help Kiev increase its military abilities, the Associated Press reported Monday. The brigade is scheduled to be operational in 2017 as Eastern European states continue to worry about Russian aggression in the region.
“The multinational brigade is a sign, symbol and very clear signal to anyone who would want to undermine peace in Europe,” said Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, Defense News reported. Macierewicz said the new brigade would be comprised of 4,000 troops and would work to strengthen defense and act as a possible deterrent force in the region.
The brigade will be headquartered in Lublin, Poland, and troops will take part in joint exercises and operations, reports said. Poland and Lithuania are both members of the NATO military and political alliance and the European Union, but Ukraine is not. The government in the Ukraine capital Kiev has expressed a desire to join both organizations.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and the ensuing conflict in Eastern Ukraine have created heightened regional security concerns. Over 9,000 people have died and over 1.4 million have been displaced in Ukraine’s Donbass region while a peace accord has failed to end the war.
“We see this brigade as a driving force that will improve our army,” said Ukraine Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, according to Polish media.
The announcement comes as both the U.S. and the EU hint that economic sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea could be lifted if the conditions of the peace deal are met.
“Our common goal is to have the sanctions lifted this summer,” said French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Monday.
NATO is scheduled to meet in Warsaw in July for a summit and Polish officials are expected to again ask for the permanent presence of NATO troops on their territory. Russia has long argued that NATO has encroached on its regional sphere of influence.