Article by: Mykhailo Zhyrokhov, military expert, historian, journalist
Recent events in the Armed Forces of Ukraine are causing widespread concern. First of all, the situation on the contact line shows that Russian-backed militants are slowly strengthening their positions against the background of a total ban on return fire by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The decisions of the Trilateral Contact group in Minsk to start demining operations at the bridge near Stanytsia Luhanska and the dismantling of fortified installations mean that Ukraine’s positions are being gradually weakened in this extremely important strategic sector of the war zone.
It is already clear that the occupying authorities are not going to fulfill their obligations, but all the Russian-backed militants in Stanytsia Luhanska have received armbands from the virtually non-existent Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) on cease-fire and stabilization of the demarcation line (special group controlling the implementation of the Minsk agreements, composed of representatives from Ukraine and Russia. The Centre began its so-called activities on September 26, 2014-Ed). And that’s that! This is a typical Russian ploy, when Ukraine is ordered to declare an amnesty for all the Russian mercenaries and integrate occupied Donetsk and Luhansk, and finally allow fake “peacemakers” to operate on the Russian-Ukrainian borders.
Moreover, recent events in the front-line zone have led many military experts to the conclusion that secret agreements have been made between the new Ukrainian government and, if not with the Kremlin’s puppets, probably directly with the Kremlin itself. How else can we explain the fact that power, supplied by the Luhansk Energy Association, to nine (!) military facilities in the city of Shchastia, a key strategic defense area, was suddenly disconnected!? In the coming days, power supply will also be disconnected in Svatovo, Bilovodsk, Bilokurakino and Popasna. Given the fact that the war is still ongoing, this is either sabotage or deliberate undermining of our military capability in the Luhansk sector. There are also many rumours circulating in the military community that by the end of the year all military units will be moved further away from the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
It should be noted that the order concerning personal accountability for opening return fire in case of “provocative enemy attacks” had a very negative effect on the morale of our military personnel. Indeed, who wants to be a target, a sitting duck, without being able to retaliate? All these recent developments… plus the fact that the army is experiencing real problems with recruitment.
There is indeed a staffing problem in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, not only at the level of contract soldiers, but also at the level of officers and sergeants. So, it is with good reason that the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has announced additional recruitment of candidates in higher military institutions and military colleges! It is likely that more candidates will enroll in these courses, but will they all be quality material?
Another point: in order to fully meet Russia’s demands and avoid provoking the new president, our Ukrainian generals have decided to tackle the issue concerning partially controlled armed units operating in the war zone. Thus, the Azov National Guard regiment was quickly withdrawn from the front lines, as its command office and soldiers have always had their own ideas about implementing orders issued by the High Command.
Serious problems have also arisen in two other sectors – strategic planning and operational command. Not only did the newly appointed Chief of General Staff Ruslan Khomchak expectedly launch a shake-up in the War Office, but he also decided to completely reorganize the General Staff. We will know how it will be carried out after September 1, and real measures will be implemented no earlier than January 1, 2020. However, many officers with real combat experience currently prefer to leave military service (if allowed to do so) or transfer to combat units. This is indeed a very bad phenomenon; in fact, precious combat experience gained by five years of blood, sweat and tears, will be lost. There is no doubt that in the event of a large-scale escalation in hostilities, they will be called back to active duty, but how many kilometres of our territory will have been lost by that time?
Serious problems have also arisen – and for reasons unknown – in another important field concerning combat readiness. Supplies! First, under a fictional pretext, the government announced that they would seriously limit the purchase of bulletproof vests and clothing bags for the army. We all know that winter is at our door, so it is not at all clear what our servicemen will be wearing at the front lines. Moreover, we cannot possibly count on another volunteer movement, like in 2014.
The second important point is the court decision suspending the introduction of a new food delivery system in the army. It looks like we are returning to the difficult 1990s, when the main dish offered to conscripts was water and cabbage prepared in different combinations! How this will affect the recruitment of new soldiers and the morale of our troops is a rhetorical question.
Against the backdrop of incessant talks about the reorganization of Ukroboronprom, purchases of critically important supplies for the army have actually been cancelled. The army will not purchase any more BTR-4 armoured personnel carriers, because the “armoured steel is not suitable”, while the BTR-3DA is “much too expensive”.
On the whole, government allocations for defense have plummeted. It is not common to say this so openly, but some facts that have appeared in the media speak for themselves. Thus, the army has cancelled the purchase of digital simulators to calculate the Buk-M1 air defense system for the 96th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade in Kyiv and five digital complexes to train operators of the S-300P anti-aircraft missile system for the 38th Joint Training Centre of the Ukrainian Air Force .
It is clear that this is a special case, but if the brigade, which is directly responsible for covering the air space over our capital, and the only air defense training centre in Ukraine have been denied procurement, then you can well imagine what is happening in other sectors. According to unofficial data, the Ministry of Defense has cancelled purchases of most goods, works and services.
So, generally speaking, the trend is extremely negative. I would like to be mistaken in my predictions, but there is no doubt that Russia will definitely take advantage of such an absurd situation in a country at war and strike a major blow to all strategic Ukrainian positions.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has filed several lawsuits against the Odesa City Council, which is attempting to alienate 94.7 ha used by the Shkilny military aerodrome. The Shkilny airfield is a strategic site of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
As of August 1, 2019, the Odesa Regional Court has received six claims filed by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine to declare illegal and annul the decisions of the Odessa City Council regarding the allocation of land plots of the Shkilny military airfield to “utility companies for capital construction and to business entities for lease”.
The Pivden Air Command has repeatedly stated that the mere fact of attempting to alienate a strategic military airfield is not legal in a country at war. But, the Odesa City Council and the construction companies, which are ready build on the territory of the military airfield, apparently hold an opposite view on state security.
Why is this airfield important?
- Fighter planes, protecting Ukraine’s southern borders, are based on this territory;
- The airfield is used by the State Border Service of Ukraine, the State Emergency Service, the Ukrainian Naval Forces, and a military aviation plant;
- NATO aircraft are deployed on the airfield during international drills;
- The aerodrome regularly receives aircraft carrying wounded soldiers from the war zone.