As Ukraine Continues Its Defense Reform, Lithuania Proves a Lodestar

By: Michael Druckman and Mark Dietzen


While Ukraine’s defense and security service reform remains a top issue yet to be effectively addressed by Kyiv, neighboring Lithuania provides a strong example for the way forward.

In July, Vilnius hosted the fourth Ukraine Reforms Conference in hybrid fashion. This year’s conference built on previous conferences held in Copenhagen (2017), London (2018), and Toronto (2019).  As Ukraine’s defense and security apparati continue to come under scrutiny, most recently during US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, Lithuania has shown that transformation in these strategically vital spheres, while difficult, is achievable.

Defense reform in Ukraine is a key sector that partners in the European Union and NATO need to see addressed as part of further integration and potential membership. Yet, this is not just about modernizing forces and participation in ever more complex training exercises with allied partners. It extends further to transparency, accountability, and sustainability through improved defense procurement regulations and standards. Meanwhile, it also involves overhauling Ukraine’s bloated intelligence services.  

Continued progress in this area has taken place throughout the summer. On August 11, President Zelensky signed decree No. 348/2021 on the Communication Strategy on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration for 2021-2025.  According to the website of the Office of the President, “the document aims to establish a systemic information interaction between public agencies and Ukrainian citizens to convey to every Ukrainian the content and practical value of Ukraine’s membership in the alliance, the need to implement appropriate reforms and their connection with the Euro-Atlantic integration of our country.” 

The Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) continues to play an outsized role in supporting its counterparts in the Verkhovna Rada with practical exchanges between committees, deputies, and parliamentary staff on a variety of reform issues from energy security to defense procurement reform. The International Republican Institute (IRI) has facilitated a platform for these exchanges through its Baltic Eurasia-Inter-Parliamentary Training Institute (BEIPTI), a joint initiative of the Lithuanian Seimas, and IRI Vilnius.

Within the scope of its cooperation with Ukrainian counterparts, the Seimas has been a supporter of reform to Kyiv’s defense sector and an advocate for its aspirations for NATO membership. The Lithuanian government has, for example, encouraged Ukraine’s involvement in NATO training missions, provided support for issues related to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s human resource management, and gave advice regarding systemic changes to improve Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense.

With the 2020 determination of Ukraine’s status as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner (EOP) and as Kyiv continues to engage in deeper cooperation with NATO, Lithuania remains committed to working with Ukraine as it advances efforts to further reform its defense sector and develop its security infrastructure in line with NATO standards. 

These sentiments were recently reinforced during the Week of Parliamentary Oversight of the Security and Defense Sector, organized by the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Ukraine, the Lithuanian Seimas, the Independent Anti-Corruption Committee on Defense (NAKO), and IRI.

During the discussion, Lithuania’s Seimas Chairman of the Committee on National Security and Defense, Laurinas Kasčiūnas, underlined the value of developing consensus regarding key strategic issues. Chairman Kasčiūnas noted that this was an integral step for Lithuania in advancing its own case for NATO membership. In addition, he emphasized that the procurement process must be transparent and accountable, pointing to the Lithuanian example of how the Ministry of Defense must inform the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defense in advance of large bids. Another Lithuanian law provides for a screening mechanism applied to strategic sectors, including energy and defense, which serves as a procurement gatekeeper for strategic industries.

As Ukraine continues its efforts at defense and security reform, the Lithuanian example shows that, with commitment to a reform agenda and gradual implementation of systemic changes, a successful transformation of security infrastructure is possible, albeit a painstaking process. The recent presidential decree on the Communication Strategy on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic Integration is another step forward in clarifying benchmarks for reform. The addition of an information campaign on Ukraine’s continued trans-Atlantic course will help build a more resilient foundation for these reforms and Ukraine’s eventual membership into these structures. Close international partners such as Lithuania and institutions like IRI remain ready to support Ukraine’s reform agenda and democratic development.

Michael Druckman is director – chief of party for Ukraine and Mark Dietzen is the resident program director for Belarus at the International Republican Institute.

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