The trilateral initiative: How Britain, Poland and Ukraine can shape a post-war Europe

On 17th February 2022, Poland, the United Kingdom (UK) and Ukraine agreed to establish a memorandum of understanding to facilitate closer and more structured cooperation between the three countries. Four initial ideas were identified for deeper collaboration: cyber and energy security, countering disinformation, and support for the Crimea Platform.

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On 17th February 2022, Poland, the United Kingdom (UK) and Ukraine agreed to establish a memorandum of understanding to facilitate closer and more structured cooperation between the three countries. Four initial ideas were identified for deeper collaboration: cyber and energy security, countering disinformation, and support for the Crimea Platform.

  •  Dr Przemysław Biskup,
  • Dr Alexander Lanoszka,
  • Maria Piechowska, James Rogers,
  • Dr Hanna Shelest
  • Dr Marcin Terlikowski
  1. 1.0 Introduction
  2. 1.1 Establishing an Expert Commission
  3. 1.2 Purpose and structure 
  4. 2.0 The trilateral initiative: The contemporary state of play
  5. 2.1 Contemporary headwinds
  6. 2.2 Resetting trilateral cooperation: Why it makes sense
  7. 3.0 A Trilateral future: Reshaping the European order
  8. 3.1 Help Ukraine establish deterrence as it seeks NATO membership
  9. 3.2 Strengthen national resilience
  10. 3.3 Consolidate defence-industrial cooperation
  11. 3.4 Prepare for a robust post-war peace 
  12. 3.5 Boost connectivity and infrastructure 
  13. 4.0 Conclusion
  14. 4.1 Recommendations
  15. Annex 1: Expert Commissioners and Authors
  16. Expert Commissioners
  17. British Commissioners 
  18. Polish Commissioners
  19. Ukrainian Commissioners
  20. About the authors
  21. Foreign Policy Council ‘Ukrainian Prism’ 
  22. Council on Geostrategy 
  23. Polish Institute of International Affairs



Executive Summary

  • Precisely one week later, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, leading to the largest invasion on European soil since the Second World War. Trilateral cooperation took place during the initial phases as Britain and Poland rushed to Ukraine’s defence, but Ukraine’s effort to resist the Russian lunge towards Kyiv and efforts to acquire membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU) witnessed the deprioritisation of the new format.
  • Last January, the Council on Geostrategy, the Polish Institute of International Affairs and the Foreign Policy Council ‘Ukrainian Prism’ established a commission of experts from the three countries to appraise and identify how trilateral relations could be rekindled in a changed geopolitical environment. In Warsaw in late February and London in June 2023, the three organisations partnered to host two conferences, the deliberations of which form the intellectual inspiration for this Report.
  • This Report appraises trilateral cooperation to date, before outlining why the format still makes sense, not only by complementing existing multilateral formats – NATO and the EU – but also by boosting the voice of countries which seek to contain Russian aggression. It also explains how trilateral cooperation between Poland, Ukraine and the UK reinforces European security at a time when the United States (US) may be experiencing domestic political upheaval, which might reduce its capacity for underwriting Ukraine and European defence.
  • After focusing on how Britain and Poland can help Ukraine expedite victory over Russia, the Report identifies five key areas where the three countries should work together in a more coordinated and structured fashion to shape a post-war Europe to their advantage. These include:
  • Helping Ukraine establish deterrence as it seeks NATO membership;
  • Strengthening the national resilience of the three states;
  • Consolidating bilateral and trilateral defence-industrial cooperation;
  • Preparing for a robust post-war peace; and,
  • Boosting connectivity and infrastructure.
  • Finally, the Report outlines 12 policy recommendations for the three governments to consider to rekindle the trilateral initiative. These recommendations are designed to build on the three nations’ shared interests and principles – most important of which is to resist Russian imperialism and uphold the right of European countries to determine their own affairs – and generate the personal and institutional connections to amplify them.
  • Reflecting the areas where coordination is most desirable, these recommendations are designed to help expedite a Ukrainian victory over Russian aggression, deter the Kremlin from future aggression, strengthen national resilience in the three countries by countering hostile discourse and disinformation, consolidate defence-industrial cooperation, ease Ukraine’s accession into NATO and the EU, draw the UK deeper in the security of the region between the Baltic and Black seas, and extend communication and energy linkages between Ukraine and other parts of Europe.
  • While the analysis and conclusions drawn in this Report are informed by the Expert Commission, the authors bear ultimate responsibility for its content.


1.0 Introduction

On 17th February 2022, the foreign secretaries and ministers of Poland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom (UK), respectively, launched a new trilateral initiative. The primary areas of focus were to include cooperation on cyber and energy security, boosting strategic communications to counter Russia’s disinformation, and support for the International Crimea Platform. The ministers also pledged to work towards a Memorandum of Cooperation to deepen strategic relations on the highest priority issues in support of Ukraine.

The announcement came as no surprise. On 18th January 2022, Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had highlighted the importance of cooperation between the three countries. Three days later, Liz Truss, then British Foreign Secretary announced in a speech at the Lowy Institute in Australia that she was exploring ‘new trilateral ties with Poland and Ukraine’. A flurry of speculative press reports followed, prompting Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, to explain the trilateral initiative’s purpose and Ukraine’s support for it in a Facebook post. He described the group as a ‘mini-alliance’ to triangulate between the Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea, uniting three European countries with a more realistic understanding of the threat posed by the Kremlin.

The trilateral initiative was born in a febrile atmosphere. British and American intelligence assessments showed that Russia was about to mount a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in an attempt to decapitate the Ukrainian government and follow through on seizing the rest of Ukraine, a process it had started with the illegitimate annexation of Crimea in 2014. Precisely one week later, Russian forces once again invaded Ukraine. Ukraine mobilised for war, and Britain, Poland, and others stepped up to help, providing political, economic, and – perhaps most importantly – military assistance. Both countries had already provided deliveries of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine days before the renewed Russian invasion.

Initially, support for Ukraine was provided mostly on a bilateral basis, but on 7th April 2022, Poland and the UK established a Joint Commission to coordinate arms transfers. The three foreign ministers – with Truss having been replaced by James Cleverly – then met on the fringe of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 22nd September 2022 for strategic consultations. 

Since then, however, the trilateral initiative appears to have withered on the vine. This is an oversight: given their strategic foresight, shared interest in the geopolitical balance between the Baltic and Black seas, and ability to provide strategic leadership in relation to European security, enhanced and coordinated cooperation between Poland, Ukraine and the UK continues to make sense.


1.1 Establishing an Expert Commission


To determine how trilateral cooperation might be rekindled to the three partners’ mutual benefit, the Council on Geostrategy, the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), and the Foreign Policy Council ‘Ukrainian Prism’ (Ukrainian Prism) initiated a research project in early 2023. We launched this project with an initial Primer, entitled ‘The trilateral initiative: Rekindling relations between Britain, Poland and Ukraine’. This was followed by the establishment of an Expert Commission to identify how trilateral cooperation might be expanded and formalised. This commission, composed of 14 eminent experts, former and current practitioners, met in Warsaw on 28th February-1st March 2023 and in London on 20th June 2023 (See: Annex 1 for a list of Expert Commissioners). The deliberations resulting from the two meetings provide the intellectual inspiration for this Report, though the authors hold ultimate responsibility for its content.


1.2 Purpose and structure


This Report aims to provide fresh thinking on how the trilateral initiative might be regenerated and taken forward. Besides providing an update on the initiative’s development, it intends to explain how such a unique format of cooperation can be repurposed for a set of changed circumstances. While not overlooking Ukraine’s current plight and requirements, it will take a long-term perspective, focusing on how the three countries can work together as equal partners to deter Russia, enhance national resilience, consolidate bilateral and trilateral defence-industrial cooperation, shape European security in favour of an open international order, and boost connectivity and infrastructure. 

In terms of structure, this Report proceeds in three parts. The next section analyses the state of play in terms of the geopolitical and domestic political changes to affect the trilateral initiative during the almost two years since it was announced. The following section identifies where and how the three countries can deepen cooperation to their common benefit. And the final section explains why trilateral coordination continues to make sense, before offering ten concrete recommendations as to how Britain, Poland and Ukraine might take the initiative forward.


2.0 The trilateral initiative: The contemporary state of play


Initially, the three partners had mutually reinforcing reasons for supporting the trilateral format.

From a British standpoint, a new minilateral cooperation format with Poland and Ukraine would complement the country’s post-Brexit foreign policy, which has looked more to Central, Eastern and Northern Europe – seen in London as the new ‘centre’ – and the use of minilateral arrangements. Due to their growing strategic importance on either side of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) eastern border, His Majesty’s (HM) Government had already consolidated relations with Warsaw and Kyiv in December 2017 and October 2020, respectively. As Russia became more belligerent in mid-2021, the UK felt the need to stimulate fresh thinking and to force change across Europe on energy security, disinformation, and military power. Trilateral cooperation would draw the three countries together and multiply the effort.

For Poland, the trilateral initiative offered a new format of regional cooperation which would supplement the Lublin Triangle, the Visegrád Group, and the Bucharest Nine. It would draw the UK, a like-minded ally in NATO, nuclear power, and a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, closer into the affairs of Poland’s immediate neighbourhood and reinvigorate the bilateral relationship, particularly after Brexit. While integrated in NATO and the EU, Poland was also keen to provide an alternative mode of cooperation to non-NATO European countries to reinforce the idea that they remain free to choose their own alignments and that Russian imperialism should not re-emerge.

Finally, from a Ukrainian perspective, the trilateral was desirable as a ‘mini-alliance’ to make up for the country’s inability to secure immediate membership of NATO and the European Union (EU). It would consolidate relations with two of the most forward-leaning and militarily potent NATO allies, both of which had sought to cultivate closer bilateral relations with Kyiv over the preceding few years. Both Poland and the UK share Ukrainian views towards Russia and European security, meaning these countries were seen as trusted partners and the locomotives behind Ukraine’s deepened integration in the Euro-Atlantic order. Thus, for Ukraine, the trilateral format was both a moral choice and a pragmatic approach to building alliances.


2.1 Contemporary headwinds


The trilateral initiative was quickly overtaken by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and then further stymied by the changing political scene in London and the election campaign in Poland, which reduced, albeit temporarily, the interest of both nations in foreign affairs. In terms of the war, the British-Polish Joint Commission established to arm Ukraine was superseded by a broader effort to mobilise NATO and the EU to sanction Russia as well as to provide Ukraine with coordinated financial and military aid, including through the Ukraine Defence Contact Group (UDCG). Later, a spat broke out after Ben Wallace, then British Secretary of State for Defence, cautioned Volodomyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, over his repeated demands for a clear NATO membership timetable, while a row flared up between Kyiv and Warsaw, particularly over the export of Ukrainian agricultural products, throughout much of 2023.

Politically, there was a churn of foreign policy executives in London and Warsaw. Britain saw Truss’ appointment and swift removal as prime minister, the appointment of Rishi Sunak as her replacement, and the subsequent replacements of Wallace with Grant Shapps as defence secretary and Cleverly with Lord Cameron as foreign secretary. On becoming foreign secretary, Cameron made his first port of call Kyiv on 16th November 2023. In Poland, parliamentary elections in October 2023 led to the emergence of a new coalition government composed of Civic Coalition, Third Way and the New Left, with the appointments of Donald Tusk as prime minister and Radosław Sikorski as foreign minister on 13th December. Similarly to Cameron, Tusk made Kyiv his first foreign visit (notwithstanding a meeting of the European Council in Brussels) after becoming prime minister once again, reflecting Poland’s ongoing interest in Ukraine’s cause.

Geopolitically, the emergence of the European Political Community in 2022 established yet another European mechanism – this one including all three countries. Middle Eastern turmoil – including the Gaza war and the Houthis’ destabilisation of the Red Sea and the subsequent British and American strikes on them – diverted, albeit temporarily, attention in the media away from Ukraine. And although Ukraine has emphasised joining both NATO and the EU as its ultimate objective, the attraction of minilateralism has not subsided. Indeed, during the summer of 2023, Ukraine courted members of the Group of Seven (G7) to secure an explicit ‘Joint Declaration of Support’. This statement, from the world’s largest and most advanced industrialised democracies, condemned Russia’s ongoing offensive and pledged to provide ‘formalised’ assistance to Ukraine. In particular, G7 countries promised to provide Ukraine with ongoing security assistance and modern military equipment, increased interoperability with Euro-Atlantic partners, assistance with developing the Ukrainian defence-industrial base; training and exercising of the Ukrainian Armed Forces; intelligence sharing and cooperation; cyber defence and resilience initiatives; and the tackling of so-called ‘grey zone’ threats.


2.2 Resetting trilateral cooperation: Why it makes sense


Notwithstanding the changing political and geopolitical circumstances since February 2022, the trilateral initiative still holds enormous potential and, consequently, should be developed. Britain and Poland both mentioned it three times in their bilateral ‘2030 Strategic Partnership’ agreement of July 2023. Deeper collaboration between the three countries could help Ukraine defeat Russia, deepen Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration, and strengthen security on NATO’s eastern flank (See: Box 1). In addition, closer and more coordinated cooperation between the three countries would draw the UK into the markets of Europe between the Baltic and Black seas and consolidate transport corridors, especially north to south, which are often given insufficient attention by the EU. As such, trilateral cooperation could help forge a coalition of like-minded countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and contribute to their logistical integration.

Poland, and Ukraine have leadership potential given their geopolitical heft. Poland and Ukraine are two large states with just under 80 million people between them with coasts on either seas. Meanwhile, Poland has underway the largest rearmament programme in Europe and Ukraine is transforming into a military power, being the only European country with knowledge and experience of fighting a fully fledged war, as well as extensive experience of countering grey zone attacks from a hostile neighbour. Meanwhile, Britain holds sovereignty over three maritime nodes in Europe – the British Isles themselves, Gibraltar, and the Sovereign Bases on Cyprus – meaning that, while distant, it has interests from the Baltic to the Black seas. The UK has Europe’s largest defence budget, its most powerful navy, and a nuclear deterrent which is ‘assigned to the defence of NATO.’ Critically, the UK ‘extends’ its deterrent over its allies through the deployment of its ground and air forces, not least through NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, where it has more troops stationed in more countries than any other NATO ally. Just as Britain seeks to project power east to contain Russia, Ukraine and Poland seek to enmesh the UK in their respective regional theatres.

The three countries may not be close historical or even ‘natural’ partners, but the changing European balance of geopolitical and economic power creates a gravitational force to bind them together.  The risk of further political stasis in EU countries and the US, where some political forces appear to have deprioritised Ukraine’s victory, adds an additional incentive. Indeed, in future, the trilateral format may be needed to spring into gear to uphold a coalition of European countries to continue supporting Ukraine. Thus, the three countries’ interests, capabilities and strategic cultures increasingly are in alignment. Under these circumstances, coordinated cooperation just makes sense.


Box 1: Supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity

Of all the European powers, the UK and Poland have been the most insightful and proactive in relation to Russia’s intentions and aggression towards Ukraine. Not only has their support stood out in terms of its quantity, but it has also excelled in terms of its timeliness and quality. Both countries provided non-lethal assistance to Ukraine – such as the British training programme Operation Orbital – after Russia’s initial push into Ukraine in 2014 and neither government engaged with the problematic Normandy Format and Minsk agreements.

The British and Polish decisions to provide Ukraine with financial and lethal military assistance prior to the renewed Russian offensive were critical in helping to enhance Ukrainian morale and the combat power of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. From January 2022, the UK began flying Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons (NLAW) to Kyiv and releasing intelligence to reveal the Kremlin’s intentions. In the months following 24th February 2022, the two nations were at the vanguard of international efforts to provide Ukraine with defensive equipment:

  • Poland has provided in the region of 335 main battle tanks, which is more than half of all such vehicles delivered to Ukraine, as well as hundreds of infantry fighting vehicles, close to two hundred of self-propelled howitzers, numerous air defence systems, more than a dozen helicopters and fighter jets, and numerous munitions, including man-portable air defence systems and anti-tank guided missiles. Together with Germany, Poland took a leadership role in the EU Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM) in support of the Ukrainian military. Most importantly, Poland offered Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport as the main logistical hub for deliveries of armaments donated to Ukraine by other sponsors – this meant that Poland took the biggest risk of direct Russian attack, which might have had happened if Russian wanted to disrupt supplies of armaments to Ukraine.
  • Britain established Operation Interflex (the British-led multinational military operation to train and support the Armed Forces of Ukraine since July 2022 which trained more than 50,000 troops  by December 2023) and provided cover through the ‘Tallinn Pledge’ to encourage European countries to supply Ukraine with modern main battle tanks, including the Challenger 2 and Leopard 2. Later, the UK began training Ukrainian pilots to use modern fighter jets and gifted longer-range precision strike weapons to the Ukrainian Air Force, including the lethal ‘Storm Shadow’ cruise missile. The UK is also reported to have limited numbers of special forces operating in Ukraine.

In total, according to the Kiel Institute, from 24th January 2022 to 31st October 2023, British and Polish military aid to Ukraine totalled at least €6.6 billion and €3 billion, respectively – the third and sixth highest offered by Ukraine’s sponsors. Poland would rank third if refugee support costs receive consideration. Unlike many other countries, much of this assistance has also been delivered in the form of munitions and weapon systems, and not merely pledged.

However, despite these efforts, Russia has not relented. 2024 will be a critical year for Ukraine. The limits of the Ukrainian counter-offensive in summer 2023, combined with Russia’s ongoing mobilisation for war – supported by a c. ₽10.8 trillion (c. £93.4 billion) defence budget for 2024 – provides the Kremlin with the potential to intensify offensive operations against Ukraine in 2024. London and Warsaw have both declared that securing a Ukrainian victory over Russia is their most ‘immediate’, ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ priority – even critical to the security of the broader Euro-Atlantic region. Given their shared preference for a Russian failure in Ukraine, it makes sense for London, Kyiv and Warsaw to combine forces, leverage their collective strength, and work closer together to defeat Russia.


3.0 A Trilateral future: Reshaping the European order

Deepened trilateral cooperation between Poland, Ukraine, and the UK has much potential beyond wartime. Irrespective of whether Russia loses against Ukraine, the Kremlin’s proclivity for imperial aggrandisement will remain a perennial feature of its foreign policy, especially in relation to those countries which do not enjoy NATO membership. Insofar as the Russian elite continue to view Ukraine as a mere extension of their own empire, Ukrainian security will remain imperilled. Ahead of other European capitals, London and Warsaw appear to have come to understand the implications of the Kremlin’s intent and objectives. As Shapps recently warned: the ‘era of the peace dividend is over’ and that ‘we find ourselves at the dawn of a new era’, ‘moving from a post-war to a pre-war world.’ The so-called ‘postmodern’ security order has come undone; even the territorial order is not a given.

The turmoil which now marks European geopolitics comes as British and Polish leaders support Ukraine’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic order. Ukraine’s security has become critical for Europe’s own security, something unfortunately many members of NATO have only come to realise amidst Russia’s brutal attempt at a full-scale invasion. Alas, Ukrainian membership of NATO may not be achieved for a number of years and many hurdles remain for Ukraine to become fully incorporated into the EU. Yet, Ukraine is making steady progress to be part of a new security order within Europe which takes the threat posed by Russia much more seriously. Not only will Ukraine be an integral part of it, but it will have much to offer in its own right. Battle-hardened and more aware than ever of the threat to its northeast, Kyiv has the potential to become an active and prominent participant in this order as a large, populous, and resource-rich country with significant human capital, in addition to combat experience and technological development.

Obviously, the trilateral initiative will not serve as a substitute for Ukraine’s NATO or EU membership, but it has the potential to multiply their individual and bilateral efforts because Kyiv, London and Warsaw share similar views and interests. Due to Russia’s war and the resulting geopolitical changes, the situation has moved on since the three foreign secretaries and ministers signed the original agreement on 17th February 2022. Different priorities are emerging which could form the basis for deepened cooperation. These include:


  1. Helping Ukraine establish deterrence as it seeks NATO membership;
  2. Strengthening the national resilience of the three states;
  3. Consolidating bilateral and trilateral defence-industrial cooperation;
  4. Preparing for a robust post-war peace; and,
  5. Boosting connectivity and infrastructure.


In short, over the longer term, trilateral coordination between Britain, Poland, and Ukraine can help shift the balance of power in favour of a better and more secure Europe – a Europe where Ukraine will not remain an outsider and where Russia will be deterred.


3.1 Help Ukraine establish deterrence as it seeks NATO membership


Efforts to deter a future Russian attack against Ukraine would be best served by Ukraine’s membership of NATO and the establishment of some form of rotational ‘forward presence’, including British and American troops, and supported by Polish and other allied forces, on Ukrainian territory. This is why accession to NATO (and the EU) is Ukraine’s principal aspiration, a position which Poland and the UK openly support. Yet, Ukrainian membership of either organisation is not likely in the short-term. Even in the longer term Ukraine faces a number of hurdles: First, NATO, while continuing to stress its ‘open door’ policy, is unlikely to admit countries which either are at a state of war with a third power, or lack territorial integrity. Second, admission to the alliance requires unanimity among members, and as Sweden has experienced, the domestic politics or petty interests of members can get in the way. For these reasons, Ukraine may require different security arrangements until NATO membership is imminent.

EU membership may also be a long way off; the Ukrainian state requires significant reforms in terms of overcoming corruption while the economy needs reconstruction. Other EU members can also veto an application they disfavour, as France did to Britain in 1963 and 1967, respectively.

Regardless, in the interim, taking the G7’s ‘Declaration of Support’ as the starting point, Ukraine has initiated bilateral negotiations with other countries to reduce its vulnerability and deter future Russian aggression. The UK, with the January 2024 UK-Ukraine Agreement on Security Cooperation, is the first country among G7 members to formalise such assistance. But assistance can take a number of forms, including:


  • Defence guarantees, which are delivered through an alliance, either bilaterally, or multilaterally (such as NATO and its Article 5 pledge);
  • Strategic commitments, which may involve consultation clauses and the delivery of assistance in the event that one or more parties suffers an emergency or is attacked;
  • Security assurances, which may include promises of help, such as those which HM Government gave to Finland and Sweden in May 2022 as they embarked on NATO membership.


The UK-Ukraine agreement appears to be a strategic commitment, bearing some resemblance to the 1971 communique which established the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) between Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and the UK. What makes this agreement unique is that it contains a ‘consultation mechanism’ if specific conditions are met (in the case of the FPDA, an attack on Malaysia or Singapore). This is the first of its kind where a country has offered Kyiv a positive strategic commitment which may be activated at Ukraine’s request in the event of a new Russian offensive.

Moreover, the UK-Ukraine agreement is more comprehensive than the FPDA; Part VII declares that ‘in the event of future Russian armed attack against Ukraine, at the request of either of the Participants, the Participants will consult within 24 hours to determine measures needed to counter or deter the aggression.’ Though this agreement stops short of providing Ukraine with a formal defence guarantee, like NATO’s Article 5, the UK has signalled that it will take direct and decisive action to deliver military aid if Ukraine were to suffer a future attack. Accordingly, the UK-Ukraine agreement is deeper than the 2022 security assurances the UK offered Finland and Sweden and far more than the failed 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which was principally a non-aggression agreement where the three great powers – Russia, the UK, and the United States (US) (France and the PRC later provided separate pledges) – promised not to violate Ukrainian sovereignty.

Where the UK and Ukraine tread, others have followed. Several countries, including France, Canada and Germany, have since issued their own commitments. Sharing the G7’s aims, Tusk announced Poland would join the G7’s ‘Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine’ when visiting Kyiv on 22nd January 2024. While a bilateral agreement similar to the UK-Ukraine arrangement has still to be assembled, it is important to underline that Poland has already embraced and implemented many of the G7’s pledges (from providing military supplies and logistics hubs, to contributions to the multinational brigade with Ukrainian and Lithuanian elements (LITPOLUKRBRIG)). Moving forward, the trilateral initiative could help London and Warsaw multiply their effort; this may yield greater economies of scale, for example, by enhancing military coordination between the three countries, than can be provided by bilateral arrangements (See: Box 2). It could also be a valuable initiative to broaden the existing LITPOLUKRBRIG joint unit so as to involve British force elements, as well from Nordic states with which the UK shares close relations.


Box 2: Improving trilateral military interoperability

The trilateral could enhance the interoperability of the three countries’ armed forces and share lessons regarding Ukraine’s defence against Russian aggression. Although existing NATO formats allow for the engagement of additional states and capabilities, the Trilateral offers a more specific avenue for improving interoperability. 

The three countries have relatively large and complementary armed forces, which have already cooperated extensively in terms of training and logistics to assist in the Ukrainian war effort. Trilateral military cooperation, in terms of joint education programmes and training and exercises, would allow for the speedier assimilation of the lessons learned from Ukraine’s experience with the use of heavy military equipment and new battlefield technologies in a peer-on-peer armed conflict, as well as with Russian military tactics. 

Such knowledge and experience sharing would not only be advantageous in terms of Ukraine’s integration with NATO, but would also enhance the three countries’ ability to deter Russia. This could create a positive feedback loop involving NATO members which identify, study, and incorporate the lessons learned, thereby shifting NATO norms, standards, and procedures with which Ukraine will need to be aligned to achieve membership.


3.2 Strengthen national resilience


Between 2014 and 2016, the European security order was under increasing strain given Russia’s destabilisation of Ukraine, the weight of the migrant crisis, and multiple terror attacks in Western Europe, particularly in Belgium and France. Allied governments had to become more vigilant. Slowly but surely, they started to realise their populations and national systems needed to be prepared to carry out their functions in times of great stress, war included.

NATO envisages the concept of resilience as the ‘national responsibility’ of member states. Still, because of the transnational character of many security challenges, resilience enhancing capabilities have been included in cooperation packages with partner states, especially aspiring members such as Ukraine. In 2022, a clearer understanding of the transnational character of threats, and possible responses, emerged. In the Declaration following the Madrid Summit, allies stated that: ‘We will accelerate our adaptation in all domains, boosting our resilience to cyber and hybrid threats, and strengthening our interoperability’. For its part, Ukraine has been developing its approach to enhancing national resilience by considering what NATO has been doing. It adopted a National Resilience Concept in 2021, but did so in line with NATO standards. Arguably, such efforts enabled Ukraine to persevere in the face of the initial onslaught which Russia unleashed in February 2022. Nevertheless, as battle-tested Ukraine may be, and as aware that Poland and Britain are of the need to build national resilience, there are steps which these three countries can take together towards enhancing it even more.

A clear objective of the trilateral format does in fact relate to enhancing national resilience across and within the three countries. The initial agreement concluded in February 2022 explicitly mentioned cyber and energy security and countering disinformation campaigns – vectors of potential aggression typically associated with so-called ‘grey zone’ (or ‘hybrid’) activities. Those issue areas remain priorities considering how Russia goes about malicious cyber activities against Ukraine and NATO allies and continues to manipulate media coverage to obfuscate its own activities as well as to undermine public trust in national institutions. Definitely, if national resilience ultimately involves surviving attacks on one’s political institutions and pieces of critical infrastructure, then Ukraine has significant experience and expertise which it can share with Poland and the UK. The high degree of trust between the three states means the exchange of sensitive intelligence could have an effective impact on preventing sabotage and uncovering nefarious activities on the part of Russia and other adversaries. The experience of the three countries’ security services can be combined to better prepare for future threats, and not just those emanating from the Kremlin, but including those from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Iran, and North Korea, among others.

Moreover, Ukraine shows how all dimensions of state and civil power can be ‘fused’ to support a war effort. The great resilience of the Ukrainian population, particularly in areas close to the frontline, to air raids, power and water outages, shortages in supply of basic products, and so on, brings valuable lessons for NATO. Looking at best practices in Ukraine – including novelties, such as mobile phone applications indicating air raid alarms – could inform numerous NATO initiatives in the area of national resilience. Poland and the UK can work together to identify and assess lessons from Ukraine’s experience which can be later shared within the broader framework of NATO. 


3.3 Consolidate defence-industrial cooperation


Despite statements from British and Polish leaders committing their countries to assist Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’, a Ukrainian victory over Russia is far from inevitable. Irrespective of the Russian Armed Forces’ early operational blunders and inability to meet their initial strategic goals in Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated that it can reconstitute its military and mobilise its economy to support its war effort. Perhaps more crucially, Russia appears to have been more mentally prepared for a longer war than NATO allies. Thus, in addition to the problem of growing fatigue with Ukraine in many Euro-Atlantic countries, Russia is attempting to project an image that it is more willing and able to outlast their assistance, despite its weaker economic strength.

In this context, Poland and the UK share an understanding of the need to sustain Ukraine’s war effort by both continuing shipments of war material and expanding the categories of weapons and equipment supplied to address the country’s immediate war needs. Both countries also share the view that only the permanent supply of military assistance can be the basis for Ukraine’s long-term prospects. As much as all three countries do conduct their own diplomatic campaigns to sustain the unity and cohesion of the Euro-Atlantic community, they can also stand to benefit from joining their efforts to amplify the message. The UK can thus leverage its ‘special relationship’ with the US and Poland can use its EU membership to maximise their ability to shape international perceptions.

Irrespective of how the war ends or freezes, tensions will remain with Russia and so each country, as well as NATO, ought to be prepared for future armed conflict in order to deter it. Long-term defence-industrial cooperation will be necessary for ensuring deterrence for the remainder of the 2020s and beyond. Fortunately, trilateral cooperation in this area is promising precisely because a solid base for it already exists. All three countries are going about defence cooperation with one another on a bilateral basis. For its part, Ukraine has been a buyer of Polish-produced Warmate loitering attack munitions, FlyEye intelligence gathering unmanned aerial vehicles, Krab self-propelled howitzers and Rak self-propelled mortars, to say nothing of its receipt of significant amounts of Polish Soviet legacy equipment (including in excess of 1,000 items) and numerous munitions since the beginning of 2022. Ukraine has also partnered with British defence firm BAE Systems to begin the manufacture of ordnance and other equipment on Ukrainian territory.

In recent years, Poland has also cooperated with the UK on a series of programmes involving aerospace, air and missile defence, and naval capability. Notably, the UK’s MBDA is the main partner in a group behind Poland’s short-range air defence programme. Deploying the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) family, these programmes will provide Polish forces with short- to medium-range air defence capabilities integrated into the broader NAREW air defence system. Furthermore, the ‘Brimstone’ missile family is also involved in programmes intended to upgrade Polish anti-armour capabilities. The sheer value of the contracts signed to date and the prospective involvement of Polish companies in broad cooperation with their British counterparts, as well as the technology transfers involved, offer Poland a chance to become a regional hub for missile technologies. Given the unique expertise of Ukrainian industry in such technologies, including indigenously designed engines and flight control systems, defence industrial cooperation between the three countries will benefit all partners and help implement Europe’s new level of ambition regarding key capabilities.

Both Poland and Ukraine have opted for cooperation with the UK as their main partner in reconstituting their naval capabilities. In October 2020, Ukraine and the UK declared their intent to enhance the former’s maritime capabilities, with a subsequent announcement made in mid-2021 to go about, among other things, the construction of new naval bases, a new frigate project involving British defence contractor Babcock, and the co-development and co-production of a modern frigate capability. Though the war has put many of these projects on hold, Ukraine is due to receive reconfigured and recommissioned mine countermeasure vessels from the Royal Navy. These were due to arrive in Odessa in January 2024, though Turkey blocked their passage through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, citing the Montreux Convention.

In Poland, the Swordfish [Miecznik] frigate programme has also led to considerable defence-industrial cooperation with the UK. In March 2022, the Polish Ministry of Defence opted for Babcock’s Arrowhead 140 platform as the basis of the Polish Navy’s next-generation frigate; the Polish defence consortium PGZ will partner with the British firm to build and maintain the vessels. The initial contract for three warships may be followed by another five. Thales UK will provide the combat management system, sensors and radars, while MBDA UK was selected in January 2024 to fit the Sea Ceptor missile system – the maritime variant of CAMM – to the vessels. This acquisition will mean that, by the early 2030s, both the UK and Poland will operate a common class of frigate, boosting interoperability between the two powers.

This extensive bilateral defence-industrial cooperation, from missiles to naval platforms, provides a firm foundation for deeper trilateral coordination. Given the need to restore freedom of navigation in the Black Sea after the war, trilateral coordination in the maritime domain – encompassing both defence-technological and military collaboration – should be prioritised. This cooperation will entail joint training programmes, common education centres and, last but not least, joint exercises. Such programmes would serve the overarching aim of enhancing the interoperability of Ukraine’s armed forces with NATO standards and increasing the readiness of Polish and British units. This also can be the starting point to involve Ukraine, similarly to the UK, in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects, where Poland as an EU member will lead.


3.4 Prepare for a robust post-war peace


Ukraine’s resilience will always be tested as long as Russia occupies a portion of its territory. Winning the war and being in a position to enjoy the best possible peace are therefore imperative for Ukraine. From the perspective of Poland and the UK at least, anything short of a significant Ukrainian victory would leave Russia free to continue destabilising Europe. Both nations recognise the need to sustain Ukraine’s war effort by continuing shipments of war material and expanding the categories of weapons and equipment supplied to address Ukraine’s immediate war needs, especially among Euro-Atlantic allies. 

Nevertheless, they also, to varying degrees, take a longer perspective which has two components. The first is Ukraine’s 10-point Peace Formula. Receiving the support of both Poland and the UK, the most important conditions of this Peace Formula include: the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognised territory; a special tribunal which will hold Russian war criminals accountable; and making the Russian state liable for damages resulting from its invasion and subsequent occupation of Ukrainian territory. 

Officials from Poland and Britain regularly discuss their foreign policy objectives in relation to Russia’s war against Ukraine with reference to Ukraine’s Peace Formula. In August 2023, at a meeting in Jeddah, Poland and the UK suggested that they could each take leadership for one of the ten points of the Peace Formula. That Britain is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council means that such leadership could serve to promote such objectives. The trilateral initiative offers a unique format for the three countries to coordinate on how to promote the Peace Formula and to muster resources for the advancement of specific points. For example, the UK has a significant reservoir of international legal expertise which could be useful for claims made against Russia at the International Court of Justice and against specific Russian individuals at the International Criminal Court. Similarly, the Pilecki Institute has established the Raphael Lemkin Centre for Documenting Russian Crimes in Ukraine, while Poland has joined EUROJUST efforts to identify Russian war criminals. Restorative justice has long-term social value for Ukraine.

The second component involves ‘future proofing’ European security by fostering a mental shift which acknowledges that the post-war peace will look very different from the peace associated with the post-Cold War period. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, European countries reaped a ‘peace dividend’ whereby the absence of a clear external threat allowed for defence budgets to fall and military capabilities to atrophy. Despite Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the severe violation of the territorial integrity that it involved, European governments were slow to accept the return of imperialism to the European continent. Even after Russia’s brutal escalation in 2022, some NATO countries have been in practice slow to galvanise their publics to acknowledge the new geopolitical reality. The stakes are especially high considering that the US has been at times ambivalent towards European security in view of its domestic politics and orientation towards the Indo-Pacific.

Such unfavourable geopolitics stimulate a need for fresh strategic leadership within Europe. Again, the trilateral has significant potential. Poland’s national consensus on both defence and foreign policy priorities puts it in a particularly strong position to drive the debate. As Russia’s renewed offensive got underway, Poland doubled down in modernising its armed forces, amending laws to provide almost 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence from 2023. Poland is becoming a major European power in its own right; more confidence in Warsaw in terms of shaping European and global debates would be welcomed by both Kyiv and London. Britain, too, has reprioritised defence, with moderate increases to defence investment from 2020 onwards; London remains highly engaged in European security despite its exit from the EU on 31st January 2020. Poland and the UK, within and without the EU, offer a connecting glue to Ukraine not only as it goes about its own integration in Euro-Atlantic structures, but also in a way that could push for reform of the EU to enable more robust support from external powers (See: Box 3).


Box 3: The trilateral and the EU

With the British exit from the EU on 31st January 2020, Poland lost one of its closest EU allies and Ukraine lost one of the biggest advocates of its accession into the community. However, despite its own exit, the UK has continued to support Ukraine’s European integration process and there are individual cases of continued segmented cooperation between the UK and EU which exist or can be developed further, such as British participation in the Horizon Europe research programme and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Given that security and defence policy cooperation were omitted from the 2021 EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, it is worth noting that the UK Labour Party seeks a new security arrangement with the EU. Here, the trilateral may be able to act as a mechanism of coordination between the three countries to shape the European framework by empowering Poland, which remains an EU member. As its economic weight and political prominence within the EU continue to grow, Poland will gain additional capacity to shape European debates. The trilateral could be the very vehicle for augmenting this voice, not least because it offers greater speed and flexibility compared to the EU (and NATO).

One area which is ripe for reform is that, until recently, the EU has remained attracted to the notion that non-members should not enjoy the same benefit as members, even in areas where it lacks credibility and capacity, such as security and defence. Given the military strength and strategic authority of the UK and Ukraine, flanking either side of the union, Trilateral coordination could facilitate, through Poland, a change in the EU status quo. A more flexible approach would allow the UK and Ukraine to participate, more equitably, in EU defence and security cooperation, particularly in terms of procurement, thereby strengthening the bloc’s ability to contribute to defending its members and their partners from Russian aggression. Meanwhile, in their own ways, Poland and the UK could offer Ukraine knowledge and expertise on navigating the complex and sometimes fraught process of joining the EU.


Beyond the EU, the trilateral format could support Ukraine’s NATO membership as its flagship objective. A Ukraine beyond NATO would hardly be conducive to a durable post-war peace. At the political level, a strong Polish and British voice is required to build on NATO’s Vilnius Summit and assure that the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington, in June 2024, will enable Ukrainian accession. The trilateral initiative can provide a useful vector by which Ukraine can become fully integrated in, and interoperable with, NATO. In so doing, NATO’s eastern flank and the Black Sea basin would be better connected as an operational theatre. The trilateral could thus be the springboard for Ukraine’s efforts to develop a force which would be ready to plug into NATO’s force structure, missions, and exercises on the day it accedes to the alliance. It will also help to maintain pressure on Russia’s naval potential both in the Baltic and the Black seas, preventing Russia from reinforcing its position in one of those seas by transferring assets from one to the other, as it did in January 2022.

All in all, the trilateral could play a leading role in revitalising an open international order in Europe, the same order which enabled the peaceful growth and reunification of Europe after the end of the Cold War and until 24th February 2022. Britain, Poland and Ukraine are best suited to guard the fundamental right of nations – not least Moldova, whose security is also dependent on a Ukrainian victory – to choose their alliances and foreign policy orientations based on democratic decisions, not foreign interference driven by the imperial logic of predatory regimes. Without reinstating this basic principle in Europe, Russian imperialism will strengthen. Restraining Russia in Europe is perhaps the most important strategic task for the trilateral initiative in the long term.


3.5 Boost connectivity and infrastructure


The economic geography of the region between the Baltic and Black seas has been transformed over the past 20 years. Once marked with Soviet infrastructural architecture which divided and impoverished nations and oriented them eastwards, since the early 2000s the region has experienced significant infrastructure investment and modernisation. As the largest, most populous and central country, Poland has been critical to the change in connectivity within the EU. Being outside the EU, however, Ukraine has not enjoyed the same benefits, leaving the country relatively isolated in relation to its western neighbours. Ukraine remains trapped beyond the EU’s border – a technical and legal barrier – which prevents Ukrainian participation in the EU’s internal market’s four freedoms of movement and facilitates divergent technical and organisational standards concerning infrastructure (e.g., the need to adjust to the change in railway gauge). These challenges started to be tackled on the basis of the 2014 ‘European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement’ and the creation in 2016 of the ‘European Union-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area’.

However, the fact that Russia has targeted Ukraine’s critical infrastructure relentlessly since February 2022 with multiple air and artillery strikes, provides opportunity in terms of boosting connectivity and infrastructural cooperation. This is due to the need to replace destroyed or damaged infrastructure with new – preferably constructed in accordance with the EU standards – as well as the need to create high-capacity connectivity corridors between EU and NATO countries and Ukraine. Moreover, infrastructural reconstruction and modernisation is fundamental not only to Ukraine’s economic recovery, but also for growth across the region, especially as Ukraine seeks EU membership.

Although many infrastructural projects which involve Poland and Ukraine implicate the EU, the UK could also become involved. The Ukraine-UK Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement from October 2020 establishes a strong foundation on which to expand economic engagement. Accordingly, Britain could provide financing to certain projects; besides energy, where it has extensive experience in decarbonisation, it could also lend technical expertise on railway systems since, like Ukraine, the UK has a dense railway network and recent experience at building High Speed Rail (HSR). Poland can also offer assistance; it has modernised much of its communist-era infrastructure over the past twenty years. Both countries could coordinate with Ukraine to share their own experiences and transmit knowledge to Ukraine on what has, and has not, worked. Thus, the trilateral format may yet prove to be a vehicle for the identifying and evaluating particular lessons as regards to the rebuilding, modernisation and expansion of Ukrainian infrastructure.

Revitalising energy infrastructure in Ukraine is urgent, not least since Russia has attempted to inflict as much damage as possible on Ukrainian energy facilities, especially in the winter of 2022/2023. In the spring of 2022, Russia took over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which had generated a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity needs. Ukrainian wind farms, such as Dnistrovska Wind Farm, have suffered severe damage. Even prior to the full-scale invasion in 2022, Russia had engaged in cyber-attacks which targeted Ukraine’s electricity grid. Given the importance of energy security for Ukraine, the trilateral format could play a useful role. For one, it can serve as a vehicle for encouraging reforms in the Ukrainian energy sector so as to bring it into full alignment with the EU. Since the signing of the 2014 EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, Ukraine has introduced approximately 80% of the agreed reforms to the sector. However, given wartime pressures, cooperation with Poland and Britain may be useful for introducing the remaining reforms, especially in connecting the Polish and Ukrainian national electricity grids. Moreover, Ukraine has a green agenda which is well aligned with that of the EU and, for that matter, the Net Zero agenda of the UK. The three countries can participate in the research and development of green technologies which they can adopt to make their energy supplies greener and more secure.

Equally, transport connections with Poland and Ukraine’s western neighbours more generally have acquired new importance for Ukraine. Sharing five high-capacity rail border-crossing points with Ukraine (including the infrastructure for changing the gauges and/or changing the rolling-stock), Poland holds a pivotal position in furthering the integration of Ukraine’s transport system with the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s EU accession process will further stress the importance of railway modernisation and improving connectivity with EU member states, which involves boosting of trans-shipment facilities, the provisioning of specialised rolling-stock, and, ultimately, a new railway network which uses standard gauge (1,435 millimetres), which is used widely across the EU. 

The Ukrainian government announced its intent to build a new HSR (using standard gauge) between Warsaw and Kyiv as a part of its recovery and reconstruction plan. The potential for trilateral cooperation is demonstrated by the construction of a new hub airport to be located west of Warsaw and an accompanying HSR system. In January 2023, two state-owned companies – Poland’s Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (CPK) and Ukrainian Railways – signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning seeking EU funding to develop a feasibility study for possible new railways between Poland and Ukraine (including Warsaw-Lviv-Kyiv HSR). Moreover, CPK’s new hub could provide new connections to Ukraine with the rest of Central Europe and the Baltic states. Importantly, the project has a high level of business input from British companies, e.g., the design of the airport terminal and infrastructure. These actions also receive support from the US as a key ally of all three countries.

Developing such new rail networks in Ukraine in standard gauge would mark a definitive end to this country’s dependence on Soviet-era systems, thereby accelerating Ukraine’s integration into the EU’s transport network. Importantly, despite the 2022 proposal of the European Commission to extend four European Transport Corridors to the territory of Ukraine and Moldova – including the ports of Mariupol and Odesa, the process is far from completion. Moreover, since for geographical reasons the most efficient land corridors will need to go through Poland, trilateral cooperation could greatly ease their implementation and help harmonise the civilian and military applications of this infrastructure. New, interoperable HSR able to handle light intermodal freight traffic would greatly boost military mobility capacities and increase regional resilience by creating alternative transport routes along Ukraine’s north-south axis, which would also allow for uninterrupted trade flows in the case of naval blockades. It would also help decarbonise Ukrainian transport and contribute to the green transformation of the country’s economy.

Of all the regional economic initiatives of recent years, the ‘Three Seas Initiative’ (3SI) is the logical focal point for trilateral coordination. Emerging in 2015 after Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the 3SI aims to bind the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas together. It is significant insofar as while the EU has tended to prioritise east-west integration, the 3SI focuses on improving north-south connections, which have often been neglected due to the east-west axis of European integration. The 3SI includes all EU countries stretching from Estonia to Greece. It also includes Ukraine and Moldova as ‘partner-participants’, since 2022 and 2023, respectively, while Germany and the US have been invited to attend past summits as observers. Should the UK seek to become an observer of the 3SI, it could help its trilateral partners shape the regional geoeconomic agenda. This is pertinent because enhancing connectivity also reduces strategic risk. Had better transport connections existed prior to Russia’s onslaught, tensions between Ukraine and its EU partners would have been avoided with respect to agricultural exports, while the transit through neighbouring countries such as Poland would have been considerably cheaper and less cumbersome. Russia would also have had fewer means to apply pressure on the global agrifoods market, on Ukraine’s economy, and, for that matter, on Ukraine’s western neighbours.

Last but not least, maritime connectivity infrastructure is another promising field for trilateral cooperation. The British-Ukrainian agreements on strategic cooperation and naval and maritime cooperation provide for (re-)building shipyard infrastructure and subsequently warships for the Ukrainian Navy. Meanwhile Poland has recently successfully completed the construction of the ‘Baltic Pipe’ pipeline, liquid natural gas (LNG) and container terminals in Gdansk, and the canal across the Baltic Silt, and plans to construct new LNG and container terminals in Szczecin. These projects have provided Poland with up-to-date ports and maritime infrastructure development capabilities which could be shared with Ukraine, e.g., during the construction of maritime/riverine ports on the Danube and – in conjunction with the CPK project – in terms of developing intermodal transport corridors between the Baltic and the Black seas.


4.0 Conclusion

The idea for trilateral cooperation emerged in a febrile atmosphere in the run-up to Russia unleashing the most destructive war in Europe since the Second World War. Although the format served some purpose as the three countries sought to develop an initial response to the Kremlin’s offensive, other platforms soon came to supersede it. Poland and the UK saw it as an agile framework through which to provide urgent initial assistance to Ukraine while NATO allies recovered from the shock of the renewed Russian aggression, but failed to develop it. Likewise, Ukraine moved on as it prioritised building up national defensive capacity and pushed to gain admission to NATO and the EU, as the ultimate guarantors of its future security and prosperity. As it did so, Warsaw and London threw their support behind Kyiv; they concurred that Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures was the surest way to deter Russia and to ensure the defence of Europe. The trilateral initiative between Britain, Poland and Ukraine was simply overtaken by events.  

Yet, given the scale of the challenge and the necessary reforms Ukraine has to implement, Kyiv, London and Warsaw should utilise every instrument at their disposal to achieve their objectives. It is here that deepened trilateral cooperation between Britain, Poland and Ukraine has much potential, not only as a forum to stimulate political support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration, but also as a minilateral vehicle for enhanced deterrence, resilience and practical cooperation, offering greater speed and flexibility of action to complement the mass and strength which both NATO and the EU can generate. Without it, old relationships and ways of diplomatic engagement within Europe may be reestablished – relationships which failed Ukraine and the European peace prior to 2022.

If Britain, Poland and Ukraine decide not to exploit the potential of trilateral cooperation, not only would many opportunities be lost, but significant risks may emerge. First and foremost, the issue of Ukraine’s reconstruction and post-war connectivity will remain strictly under the purview of EU enlargement, which may take many years and cause severe fatigue in Ukraine. The trilateral format, with the UK on board, could help alleviate this risk. Second, as it prepares to join NATO, Ukraine may be compelled to rely only on the security commitments of the G7 and partners, which must still be operationalised on a bilateral basis through the Ukraine Defence Contact Group. The trilateral initiative – even if short of providing Polish and British security guarantees to Ukraine – could serve as a tool of operationalisation. Third, Ukraine’s relations with the US may easily risk becoming dependent on the general climate in transatlantic relations, which is contingent on election results in both the US and key European states. Poland and Britain, traditionally staunch pro-Atlanticists, could help Ukraine navigate through such turbulence.

For these reasons, it is time to rekindle the trilateral Initiative. The three heads of state and/or government – Zelenskyy, Sunak and Tusk/Duda – should meet to reset the initiative after more than two years of hiatus. At the very least, they should agree to conclude the Memorandum of Understanding the British, Polish and Ukrainian foreign secretaries/ministers determined to formulate when the trilateral was initiated in February 2022. To amplify their commitment, they could even launch an AUKUS-style pact, in terms of political clout and visibility, not only to offer additional coordinated military support for Ukraine’s defensive efforts but also to signal their resolution to shape the geopolitical architecture from the Baltic to the Black Sea – not least when it faces Russian aggression. Whatever their level of ambition, there are a range of options the three countries could adopt to carry the trilateral initiative forward.


4.1 Recommendations

  • Bring together the British, Polish and Ukrainian defence and foreign secretaries and ministers in an annual summit beginning in 2024, with the goal to draft the Memorandum of Understanding which the three governments agreed to formulate when they announced the trilateral in February 2022. Consecutive trilateral meetings will demonstrate publicly that not only are the three countries serious about cooperating with one another, but also that they, and not Russia, will shape the region’s future. The lack of sustained engagement via the trilateral was understandable given the turbulence of 2022 and 2023; now it needs to return to the top of the geopolitical agenda.
  • Establish Track 1.5 and Track 2 forms of diplomacy which involve civil society leaders, parliamentarians and business executives to ensure broad social, political and economic support for the trilateral. The trilateral is ultimately based on executive agreement and so may be vulnerable to leadership changes. By involving more stakeholders from the three countries, the trilateral can help guarantee its own long-term prospects. It will allow the countries to become more familiar with one another, so trilateral cooperation comes to be seen as normal rather than exceptional.
  • Establish a trilateral committee between the three governments to streamline and amplify Euro-Atlantic strategic commitments to Ukraine. Identify potential economies of scale which could come at the trilateral level: 
    1. Move towards the immediate joint production of ammunition, drones, and other war materiél which Ukraine needs to persevere against Russia;
    2. Move military assistance to Ukraine to a new level, particularly in terms of the most pressing and largely unaddressed gaps in Ukraine’s military capacity, such as fighter jets, additional modern armour or long-range precision fires;
    3. Launch a renewed effort to galvanise a broader coalition of Euro-Atlantic countries to step up with the requisite military and financial assistance Ukraine needs to resist intensified Russian aggression in the event that future US aid packages are suspended or reduced.
  • Form a study group to examine areas of military and defence-industrial cooperation, particularly in the areas of building interoperability of the three forces. This could include joint exercises, common education projects or forming multinational capabilities, for instance by having the UK join LITPOLUKRBRIG. In terms of defence-industrial cooperation, the work strands might include ammunition, missile, warship and drone production. The three countries are like-minded about the geostrategic challenges which the broader Euro-Atlantic community faces. Because a significant number of NATO allies are slow to appreciate the dangers they face, the three countries can take a leadership role and make good on it by expanding their defence-industrial cooperation to cover war material which Ukraine’s defensive war has highlighted as especially critical for effective defence and deterrence of Europe.
  • Establish a Trilateral Fund, which would enable the cooperation of British, Polish and Ukrainian entities from the domains of academia, policy research world, science and culture. Facilitating expert discussion and reinvigorating people-to-people contacts in the trilateral format would in longer term help establish a solid ground for political, military and economic cooperation between the three countries.
  • Set up a trilateral Centre of Excellence to track, analyse and counter Russian geopolitical narratives and ‘grey zone’ methods of warfare – including lessons learned from the pre-war and war periods. Together Britain, Poland and Ukraine have the European and global reach, knowledge, experience and capacity to explain how Russia’s political proxies, in particular, attempt to interfere in domestic affairs and shape narratives within international organisations. This centre should:
    1. Identify hostile discourse and disinformation, shine light on it, and reduce its ability to undermine the resilience of free and open nations;
    2. Challenge Russia’s discursive statecraft which is designed to promote Russia’s ‘inevitable’ victory and undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty; 
    3. Fund think tanks to craft and project narratives which explain Russia’s history and character as an imperial state, particularly amongst audiences in Africa, South America, and the Indo-Pacific. Here Poland could be particularly influential given that it lacks Britain’s colonial baggage and was itself a Soviet satellite state.
  • Expand trilateral intelligence and cyber security cooperation to cover threats arising from Russia, as well as Iran, the PRC, and North Korea. There is much intelligence sharing which exists between the three countries as Ukraine is fighting Russia. Yet it is clear the PRC, Iran, and North Korea bear some complicity in that war and that they are looking to start trouble against democracies elsewhere, if they have not already. Ukraine’s extensive experience in fighting online Russian disinformation and defending against its cyber attacks should generate extensive lessons for the UK and Poland to identify and to learn together.
  • Cooperate to secure Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures, especially NATO. Given their political will and military capability, Poland and the UK are well-placed to back Ukraine. Together the three countries should articulate Ukrainian, Polish and British perspectives in the popular discourse of those Euro-Atlantic allies whose populations are less receptive to the Ukrainian cause. The strategic implications of a Russian victory may be self-evident in Poland, the Baltic and Nordic states, and the UK, but they remain poorly understood in many other parts of NATO.
  • Impress upon members of the Euro-Atlantic the need to take collective defence seriously amid the growing authoritarian challenge. The post-Cold War period, with its associated ‘peace dividend’, fostered a set of habits which many countries within NATO find difficult to break. Poland, Ukraine, and the UK share the view that any long-lasting peace will now have to be achieved through military preparedness rather than disarmament. They thus can take discursive leadership and encourage members of the Euro-Atlantic to take collective defence and deterrence far more seriously than they had in the pre-2022 period. They could even encourage similar initiatives between other countries, such as the development of relations between France, Romania and Moldova.
  • Support UK participation in the Three Seas Initiative as an observer. British input, modelled on German or US participation, will provide a new avenue for investment and cooperation and strengthen the Atlantic connection to the region in between the Baltic and Black seas.
  • Explore the trilateral co-development of green energy technologies, including nuclear energy. Poland, Ukraine, and the UK have all made a commitment to reduce their carbon emissions and to adopt cleaner sources for their energy needs. For Ukraine, the acquisition and adoption of such technologies is all the more essential for both the post-war reconstruction and its energy security, as well as potential membership of the EU. The trilateral can be a vehicle for such collaborative research and development.
  • Improve transport connectivity between Poland and Ukraine. British and Polish investment and expertise can help create new railways and highways to accelerate Ukrainian integration into the Euro-Atlantic economic and political space. Particular attention should be given to transforming railways to standard gauge and improving connectivity across the Carpathian Mountains.


Annex 1: Expert Commissioners and Authors

Expert Commissioners

British Commissioners
  • The Rt. Hon. Baroness Neville-Jones of Hutton Roof DCMG, Member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Houses of Parliament; Minister of State for Security and Counter Terrorism (2010-2011); Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee (1993-1994); 
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Risby of Haverhill, Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy (2012-); Vice-Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group for Ukraine (2015-); Member of Parliament, West Suffolk (1997-2010); Member of Parliament, Bury St. Edmunds (1983-1997);
  • Sir Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence (2014-2017); Minister of State for Portsmouth (2014); Minister of State for Energy (2013-2014); Minister of State for Business and Enterprise (2012-2014); Member of Parliament, Sevenoaks (1997-2019), Darlington (1983-1992);
  • Prof. Richard Whitman, Professor of Politics and International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent.


Polish Commissioners
  • Dr Władysław Teofil Bartoszewski, Secretary of State, Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2023-); Member of Parliament, Polish People’s Party (2019-); Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sejm (2019-2023); Deputy Chair of the Polish-British Parliamentary Group;
  • Radosław Fogiel, Member of Parliament, Law and Justice Party (2019-); Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sejm (2023-); Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sejm (2022-2023); Chair of the Polish-British Parliamentary Group;
  • Dr Jakub Kumoch, Polish Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (2023-); Head of the International Policy Bureau, Chancellery of the President of Poland (2021-2023); Polish Ambassador to Switzerland (2016-2020) and Turkey (2020-2021);
  • Amb. Jan Piekło, Polish Ambassador to Ukraine (2016-2019); Executive Director, Poland-America-Ukraine Cooperation Initiative and the Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation ‘PAUCI’;
  • Prof. Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski, Chair, Security and Defence Council, Chancellery of the President of Poland (2021-).


Ukrainian Commissioners
  • Amb. Andrii Deshchytsia, Foreign Minister of Ukraine (2014); Ambassador of Ukraine to Poland (2014-2022);
  • Oleksiy Goncharenko, Member of Parliament, European Solidarity Faction (2014-);
  • Vadym Halaychuk, Member of Parliament, Servant of the People Party (2019-);
  • Prof. Oksana Yurynets, Professor in Foreign Economics, Lviv Polytechnic University; Member of Parliament, UDAR Party (2014-2019); Chair of the Ukrainian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (2014-2019).


At both meetings of the Expert Commission, a number of other experts and practitioners were present.

About the authors

Foreign Policy Council ‘Ukrainian Prism’
  • Dr Hanna Shelest is Programme Director for Security Studies and Global Outreach at the Foreign Policy Council ‘Ukrainian Prism’ and Editor-in-Chief of UA: Ukraine Analytica.


Council on Geostrategy
  • Dr Alexander Lanoszka is Ernest Bevin Associate Fellow in Euro-Atlantic Geopolitics at the Council on Geostrategy
  • James Rogers is Co-founder and Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy


Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Dr Przemysław Biskup is Senior Research Fellow for the European Union Programme at the Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Maria Piechowska is Senior Research Fellow for the Eastern Europe Programme at the Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Dr Marcin Terlikowski is Deputy Head of Research at the Polish Institute of International Affairs


This paper is the result of a trilateral collaboration between the Council on Geostrategy, the Polish Institute of International Affairs, and Foreign Policy Council Ukrainian Prism’. The authors would like to thank their colleagues at all organisations, as well as The Rt. Hon. Earl of Oxford and Asquith OBE and the International Renaissance Foundation for making this study possible.

This publication is partially prepared within the framework of the project “New Global Partnerships for Ukraine: Expert Diplomacy and Advocacy”. This publication was compiled with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation. Its content is the exclusive responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the International Renaissance Foundation.

Neither the Polish Institute of International Affairs nor the Council on Geostrategy received support from the International Renaissance Foundation.