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Ukraine’s challenge: reform the army or perish

Ukraine’s challenge: reform the army or perish
Article by: Roman Malko
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Ukraine’s key challenge for the coming year is the modernization and reform of the army — by Ukrainians, here and now, during wartime.

“I am confident that 2015 will be a year of radical reform of the entire sphere of security and defense,” Dmytro Tymchuk, coordinator of the Information Resistance group stated recently. “It cannot be otherwise. In 2014, with the beginning of Russian aggression, the Ukrainian people and the state saw the light and realized that the army is necessary after all, despite the fact that for 23 years the country was convinced of the opposite. Above all, our sovereignty and territorial integrity depend on it. Warfare has been taking place since April, and it would be a crime not to draw conclusions. In society, among experts and in government it is now understood that the situation must change.”

There is no doubt that changes will happen — life requires it. The only question is the suitability of the steps to be taken, the political will, and adequate understanding of the situation. However, not only will is required but also a certain modification in the ideology of power. The president, as commander in chief, has been relying on the political and diplomatic process as the main strategy for resolving the conflict in the East. He has had some success, but because of excessive reliance on this approach and delays in strengthening the defense potential and organizing countermeasures to aggression, certain serious gaps are becoming apparent that risk defeat.

On the one hand, we are asking for help from the West, which is putting pressure on Russia while telling Ukraine not to let the situation lead to war. On the other hand, the Ukrainian government still maintains the naïve hope of reaching an agreement, even though it has been demonstrated that this is impossible. “There will be no help from the West, says Valentyn Badrak, director of the Army Research, Conversion  and Disarmament Center — especially no lethal weapons. It is possible to buy certain weapons but nothing will be given to Ukraine. The West has decided to withdraw from Ukraine and to be ready to repel aggression at the NATO borders. There is no doubt that Putin is preparing for this. If the Alliance reacts as specified in its charter, then in fact that means the start of World War III. Therefore, there is no 100% certainty that there will be any (Western) defense of Ukraine just as there is no 100% certainty that  an agreement with Putin is possible. With these givens, Ukraine has no alternative to preparing its own resistance, and the military-political leadership has to place a priority on the immediate preparation of defense forces for war and of the entire population for resistance to Russia.”

The questions that need be addressed immediately often go far beyond the military sphere, but if they are not resolved it will be impossible to hope for the successful reform of the security system. First, the population must be prepared for war, starting with the realization that we can resist Putin’s aggression. The legislation must be amended immediately to allow for the declaration of martial law. The state still has to conduct a full-scale fight against corruption because wiping it out only in the Armed Forces of Ukraine is unrealistic. This issues affects the combat readiness of the army and the viability of the country. In the Armed Forces of Ukraine people who do not have professional skills or initiative and who are unable to make independent decisions still occupy high positions. As a result, this leads to defeat and human losses.

Ukraine still has to create a new army, and the sooner the better. If the government keeps the promise given by the president to allocate 3% of GDP annually, plus another billion dollars every year for three years for upgrading, then everything will fall into place. Provided, of course, there is clear understanding of what has to be done. According to experts, national conscription and the formation of the army according to the Soviet model belong in the past. What is needed today is a 100,000-120,000 permanent professional army. Various models are being proposed, but there is general agreement on the vision, which is based on the bloody ATO experience as well as the latest developments collected in NATO standards. The primary issue is to establish standards in legislation, financial security, organizational structure, staff procedures and so on. Even if they are not perfect, they will be constantly refined under combat conditions, and there is probably nothing more effective in the world. Usually armies are prepared not for the most likely but for the most serious threats. In our case, the two coincided. The most likely and most serious threat is Russia. Russia’s aggression requires a clear preparation for resistance. Thus, the military doctrine also needs to be changed, along with the strategies for national security and defense. If we are ready to withstand Russia, we will be able to deal with any other military threat.

The activities of the volunteer battalions that have demonstrated their effectiveness need to be regulated. The methods are varied — from incorporating them into the National Guard, which should be withdrawn from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to placing them under control of the president, or bringing them  into the structure of territorial defense, which also needs to be improved. Here again, the experience of Switzerland or Lithuania is useful, while also taking account of Ukrainian realities.

We must not forget that the security sector must consider both the military measures of resistance and influence as well as the non-military ones. The first steps have been taken. An Intelligence Committee has been created, an important outpost in non-military confrontation. Additional steps must include  the development of more powerful means of deterrence, such as the creation of missile forces that rely on operational-tactical missile systems, and the reinforcement of special purpose  troops, which are currently being used somewhat haphazardly.

Another important point is the social protection of the soldiers and officers who are defending the country. There has been some progress, but the potential has not been fully realized. Experts list some twenty points for government action — from the rapid creation and implementation of a special housing program and insurance programs to the review of the pension system.

To make all this possible, it is necessary to prepare the 2015 budget for defense procurement and acquisition rapidly and realistically. According to Valentyn Badrak, “the question of the state’s procurement orders for defense, their distribution and priority, as well as the possibility of taking advantage of Western technology and the creation of joint ventures and projects, must be submitted at the deputy prime minister level by creating an appropriate structure –State Agency for the Defense Industry — that will oversee the military-industrial complex and be able to organize a public-private partnership.”

The reform of defense is not limited to the powers of the defense minister. In fact, he may have less and less influence on it. It is important to use all the resources of the state, across all verticals, starting with the president as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The country must finally switch to a special time frame  that brings us closer to a possible military confrontation with the aggressor.

“If we show willingness to fight, seriously, for a long time, until the end, Putin will retreat,” Badrak stresses. “Not because he’s afraid, but because there is already a significant change of attitudes in Russian society. Our strong resistance can bring about serious opposition in Russia. Therefore, this factor is more significant that the diplomatic and political opposition of the West.”

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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