British coordinator of the project aimed at providing comfortable living conditions for Ukrainian soldiers told Censor.NET how to reform Ukraine’s Army housing, why he likes working in the tough Ukrainian reality, and how many military facilities stand idle in Ukraine.

The project aimed at creating comfortable living conditions for Ukrainian Army servicemen took off in July 2016 and is to be implemented over the course of two years. Upon its implementation, conditions of living and servicing for Ukrainian soldiers should improve. The project is implemented by the Office of Reform of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and sponsored by the United Kingdom. The project is headed by British expert, consultant, professor or Riga Business School and former British military Glen Grant. 


Over the past five years, Grant has been managing reform projects for defense agencies and secret services of Europe. He implemented reforms in countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Serbia, Chile, and Ukraine. Over his 37-year military career, Grant worked as a director and reformer of a military prison in the UK and as an employee of operating and strategic departments of the British army, the UK Defense Ministry, NATO’s aviation unit, and other staffs. Glen Grant told Censor.NET’s Chief Editor Yurii Butusov of the project he is currently leading for the Defense Ministry of Ukraine.

— Glen, please tell us why you decided to take this project of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on improvement of housing for Ukrainian servicemen?

— That’s a good question. I think it’s because from the first time that I came here I realized there was something serious to be done. I think that’s the first thing, when you realize that something actually needs doing and you can help do it.

The first time I came I went to the Crimea, it was 2010 and I was with the Navy for a week. And it was obvious after those three days that they were in complete mess. And they didn’t know what to do. No money, General Staff pulling them. The then-deputy Navy commander actually asked if we could help give them a framework of thinking.

So I produced a presentation for them on how to view the Navy for the future. We just had these quite hard discussions about effective marines. I think they’ve got 25 ships and I mean this is ridiculous, you can afford four, maybe six; four maximum with the money you’ve got. And you should stop trying to pretend that you’ve got a grand Navy, and concentrate your time, your energy, your money on the four ships and no more. Then you’ll have four ships on the sea and not 25 ships on harbor. That was quite hard discussion. We talked about lots of other things like using helicopters more, actually putting medical facilities on the ships, which they didn’t have, have doctors on the ships, not to half-train medical technicians, but actually making the ships’ proper capabilities for battle.

And that was the start of it. Once I’ve been through that, I realized there was actually lot to do, and when I started coming back, I realized there was even more to do. And I came and spoke on transformation conference and I just said: You people got to get real. There’s not enough money you got around, you’ve got to go and redesign the force with the amount of money you’ve got because the government is not going to give you any more! Just get real! And when the war started, Kabanenko [deputy defense minister since April 2014 – ed.] invited me to come and help him in the Ministry of Defense. So I came for three weeks and I had three weeks of working quite hard. The General Staff was coming in every day to check what I was doing, what I was writing.

— But the key question is why Ukraine? We were a hard task.

— Yes, of course. I’ve had hard jobs all the way through my military career; I mean that was all the time. Job after job after job was serious. My colleagues used to joke they weren’t sure whether the job that I was working on was in the news because it was my fault or I was working on it because it was in the news. So when the Office of Reform offered me the chance of coming, I jumped at it straight away and said ‘Yes, I’ll come.’ So I like a hard job, I like a difficult task.

— So let’s talk about your project. What is this project and what is its task, timing, and structure?

— Basically, the idea came from within the Office of Reform. Even earlier, it was quite clear that there was a problem with housing and a problem with the organization of delivering housing. So when we wrote the project in the summer this year, and it’s a UK-funded project, the idea was we would look at and try to reform housing at sort of four strands. The first one is looking at the tendering and contracting process, so at the actual process of buying a house. The second strand is looking at the standards for housing. Third strand is this dreaded Soviet problem of the housing queue – people have been promised their housing by law, but haven’t got them; and how to deal with that. And the fourth challenge is trying to actually create a future system that is actually going to work.

So we’re actually just coming up to the first bit of tendering and contracting. And then we are going to do standards. So the project will be a year, effectively. The idea of what to do next is due next July. We’re not giving a fixed answer on contracting and tendering because we’ve got to try these things out. What we have is we’ve taken best practice – which is not NATO, because NATO hasn’t got one, NATO only uses other peoples’ – so we’ve taken best practice and added to it ideas from Ukraine. And now when we do it we need to test it.

Tendering process, we’ve had to change it to fit in with the Prozorro system. Because when they did the first look at using Prozorro, they didn’t actually select contractors before Prozorro. So all these people were bidding, and then got disqualified afterwards, which is not exactly a very clever way of doing business.

— So which problem do you want to solve first? What are your priorities and timelines?

— The timelines are very simple, which is December for standards and tenders, February for the queue, July for the paper.

— Do you have your own staff?

— I’ve got three construction engineers, a diplomat, a finance person, and a lawyer. And they are all Ukrainian. The donor is UK. I work through Pricewaterhouse here, who then work through Pricewaterhouse who run them. I send a summary to Pricewaterhouse in London in a bigger format about the project, about how the project of this state is existing in Ukraine and how it’s going and what the challenges are. Because they want to learn about projects so that they can design projects better in the future.

But going back to your question on what are my ambitions. It’s not so easy to look at this, because the problem is not actually a problem of housing; it’s two problems. It’s a problem of finance, money, and the availability of money, the priority of money, from different part of the organization on one end. And it’s a social problem at the other end. Starting at the finance end, housing is not inside the defense budget. It’s inside the defense budget in terms of someone writes it in, but it’s not inside in terms of allocation. So it comes out of the government, the Cabinet, and they talk about it and say ‘You can have this much money.’ This much money, historically, has not met the demands of housing in the defense forces. Two areas: first of all, it’s not met the demands of the queue, which is now 44,000 people strong, with an annual allocation of money effectively paying 2,000; and the queue grows at 2,000, so it means the people are waiting 21 years. Some of those die actually before they ever get to get to the end of the queue.

The second problem is the actual social aspect which is the reward for a soldier as an alternative for the queue. We’re not looking at housing options because … let me have a housing option, you got to have a housing organization, you got to have all these other things. Whereas a financial solution - which is what they do in, for example, in Britain, in America, in other countries – it is an entitlement. The entitlement is financial and it grows by length of service. So, you’ve got a certain amount of money if you served for 16 years; if you served for 25, you get a bit more, if you serve for 40, you get more again. What we would want to do is to utilize public money and then put that into national bank savings accounts, accrue interest, compound interest so the money grows. Another possibility is that the soldier himself can put some of his money into those accounts and grow it faster and bigger. So that would be a possibility when we say: after a certain amount of time, let’s say, 10 years, the soldier gets public money which grows over time.

— Sounds like a complex social project aimed at creation of social conditions for professional soldiers and officers. 

 — It is a complex social project involving policy decisions. We will try and help with what laws need to be changed. Let me come back to the housing bit for the soldiers because this is the serious issue. This is big money. This is money that is not currently in the budget. Remember, the housing budget that the government is doing is only covering the queue. It is not covering the build and all the build requirements. So there is some money put for this. But when you’re talking about over 400 garrisons at the moment, scattered barracks all over the place, more airfields and ports than can be afforded, more stores than can be afforded — the whole thing is actually too large to be just maintained within the current funding. So there has to be at some stage a really hard, brutal policy made to look at this and decide what is affordable. Because currently it’s not affordable — you can’t maintain it. My staff have been and looked at the barracks and they’ve just… There are people living in places that you would not put a dog in, to be blunt. The poor Navy guys that come from the Crimea for two years on live in the barracks that are not actually suitable. And I feel for the Navy commander, because he’s got a social problem, not a housing problem.

So what we will recommend is that there is a longer-term view taken than just a war; that we don’t put in barracks out to form a Maginot line because I think that that would not be clever; that we actually try and consolidate barracks, garrisons around a set of principles. The first principle being command and support. In other words, to have the store and the command headquarters and the stores for clothing and the things like that actually central in the barracks so that you don’t have to get in the lorry and drive for two hours to bring someone a uniform.

The base should be effectively centralized. So for example, let’s just say, if you’ve got three, two brigades or one brigade in one place, you only need one big restaurant. It’s one set of cooks or one set of cooking equipment, or maybe two. One heating system. One petrol pump. One set of fuel. All these things, you put them together, and the money savings are huge because you’ve just got much more control over where the money is.

After the war, you’re looking at five garrisons, maybe six, seven if you count the Navy. There has to be some thought put into this because then you’re saving on medical facilities, you can centralize training, you can centralize education. It’s a concept.

— Very ambitious, very ambitious.

— If you’re not ambitious, you spend the money and then you have to spend it again. You can only spend money once. Money is primary.

— I agree. But in Ukrainian conditions…

— It only takes a bit of thinking about and some planning. If I just said ‘Keep scattering barracks all over the place,’ than it would be dishonest. Best practice is to co-locate units, organizations — then you have one gymnasium, then you have all these things that you can put together. Which means that the social conditions for the soldiers improve dramatically. The social conditions for the wives improve dramatically. And the morale of the soldiers climbs. Then, when a soldier goes on operations, his wife is in a cocooned environment where she’s safe, where she has access to medical, she has access to a midwife, access to all these things; and access to the families officer who will make sure her organization is fixed in the garrison, makes sure her building is fixed and it’s not broken. She doesn’t have to wait 10 months for someone to come because there’s an organization that’s designed to care for her, him, them. But you can’t do that if you got 400 barracks. It’s impossible. It just eats people, it eats money.

And it doesn’t happen now, so there has to be some conceptual thinking done about what is important. When you think about soldier who’s a conscript. You take him away from mom, you keep him for a year, you give him back to mom. During that year, it’s hardship – he lives with all these other people. It’s fun for a year, but it’s not fun when you’re a professional soldier. You want privacy, you want to be able to dry your clothes properly, you want to be able to wash the mud off your boots properly, not have mud all around your room because you can’t clean your boots.

One little thing — the standards in England for washing machines is one for every six soldiers. Think about that. Because if a soldier comes back from the field muddy and wet at 8 o’clock in the evening, and he’s going back out at 6 o’clock in the morning, you either have to give him lots more uniforms or you have to give him proper equipment for cleaning his clothes.

— Please answer a very important question for me: how many toilets are there in a British brigade base?

— Hundreds! I don’t know the exact figure, but it’s a much higher ratio than it is here. And it’s not just toilets, it’s sinks, showers, drying room standards – how big the drying room is, how much drying room space for each soldier, and it’s a lot.

Because when a soldier comes back with his uniform from a field after a week, he’s got like almost like two families-worth of clothing he’s got to wash. And you have to have somewhere to hang those things out. And he’s got to have a proper locker to put his clothes in. Professional soldier may have — like me when I was a professional soldier — a car, three sets of skis, his ski kit, his running kit, his other gym kit, plus his uniform, plus his going out kit, he may even have a black tie.

— Your plans sound like a model base for a model brigade of professional soldiers and officers. Do you have a real plan for yourself now?

— What do you mean by real plan? I can’t have a real plan if the military will not tell me where all the bases are. I can go on Google Maps and spend three weeks finding out, on Google Earth.

— Did they structure a brigade for you, this model brigade?

— No, but it should be a normal brigade. It’s three infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, an engineer battalion.

— In Ukrainian army, they don’t have engineer battalions.

—That’s why they are struggling at the front line. But it’s a subject of another interview.

— Yes, it’s a big problem. And for combat supply, we only have platoons, not battalions. A model base for a model brigade needs a new structure of this brigade.

— It also means that post-war, there must be some logic about the structure of the defense forces. To identify how many people should be doing what and how many things. Because that determines the garrisons, it determines how many garrisons you need, it determines how many vehicles you need, it determines everything. And if you don’t have a sense of what you need, then all you’re going to do is build houses and barracks that you don’t need later.

— You are not reformer, you’re a revolutionary!

— That’s why I’m here.

— It’s a revolution for Ukraine. New structure means new military management, new principles of selection of soldiers, new relationship between soldiers and officers, and new sergeant corps. It’s a revolution.

— And why does this come back to housing – because if you build the wrong houses, you’re just wasting money.

— You want to destroy all our military management in one project!

— Oh no, I want to improve it. If you don’t have a clear vision for each of the part of where you need to go, then what you end up with is spending money that you can’t afford later. We need to go back to first principles and get the start points right before making all these financial decisions and spend money over the next 5–10 years.

The government puts the money in building the flats and then giving them away, which is nonsense. So our recommendation would be that a decision is made about financial amount. Then financial amount is given to people. And if they want to wait for a service flat to become available, then they wait. And those service flats could be all over the country. For example, there are 900 empty buildings in Odesa. And some of those buildings are actually quite large.

— How many buildings?

— Nine hundred. Nine hundred empty military buildings in Odesa.

— Fantastic! Nine hundred?

— It’s actually more than nine hundred empty buildings. Because you are looking back at, historically, a huge Navy. So it’s not huge Navy anymore, so all these buildings were once occupied by people. Go back 30 years, how big was the defense force then? Huge. So all those barracks, most of those barracks are still around in the defense force, with someone looking after them, someone guarding them, but most of the buildings are just dying. Some of those buildings are guard rooms.

— Does the Defense Ministry have a unified base of land and houses?

— I think it’s all on paper.

— We don’t know how rich we are.

— No, but you’re rich. On Odesa, I can say it quite clearly that the land in Odesa is worth a fortune, and the danger is that it will disappear.

— Have you seen it with your own eyes?

— Yes, up and down.

— Very interesting. And these lands of the Ministry of Defense… Do you know if they have much land in Kyiv?

— Yes, I do, we know... We are not looking at the operational detail of any of those things, we only look at the concepts at the moment.

— Could you please tell us about the Navy project?

— Well, the Navy has got a particular problem because the guys that came back from Crimea who have not got anywhere to live and families with nowhere proper to live as well. There’s also a problem that lot of them still got flats in the Crimea.

What we’re doing with the project is we are trying to actually trial our ideas. We won’t be able to do all of them because we’re already too much into some of the Navy things to be able to break the logic flow now. But the biggest thing which we’ve done is to change the customer from being GLAVKEU [Main housing department – ed.] to being the Navy commander. His deputy will be the customer on behalf of the minister, not GLAVKEU, and it will be a program. Because it’s not only going to be building in Mykolaiv, but it’s also going to be trying to buy some flats that are already made in other places and maybe even using some of the money to rent flats. The program manager will be the deputy commander of the Navy. Now this is a huge fundamental leap in reform.

Money follows the soldier, that’s the point. Money should follow the soldier. And the money should only go to building contractors on results.

The other thing, the other difference we want is we want building to be done by project managers, not just leaving the company to do it, but to actually have an MoD-contracted project manager who oversees the whole project and says to the building contractor “That’s not good enough.” This is how everybody does it in the world.

— Project management it’s a war against Ukrainian state. It’s impossible to implement. It will destroy the entire system of feudal relations between the branches of power.

— The one thing is that if our logic set works, which I hope it will, then it will also form a model for any other procurements in the Ministry of Defense.

— Do you believe in success?

— Yes, of course I do. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

— Do you speak to the president?

— No, but I had a good chat to the Navy commander today. And that’s two of us, and two is more than nobody. And I’ve got a team that want to do things and we are working away, talking to other people.

— It’s impossible to change the system without president in our country.

— I don’t think that’s true. I think the president needs to go with the flow, and then things will change. A lot of the volunteers already are changing things without the president, all over the place. Let’s just talk about the Navy project. We did a proper needs analysis in Odesa and Mykolaiv with volunteers. We got hold of the volunteers of Odesa and said we need to look at the garrisons. We need to actually understand what is the problem, and the volunteers did it with us. We didn’t ask the president, and we came away with strong enough understanding of what to do that we said ‘You can’t build here, you have to build somewhere else’ and ‘We need to do things differently in Odesa from Mykolaiv.’ We already got support from the minister. The minister’s told me to get on with that.

— When will we be able to see the first vision of your concept?

— I’ve written quite a bit already, and there’s a lot more to be written. In a way, you’re actually seeing the first vision now because we’ve only been working at it for 15 weeks. It’s not actually long when you’re looking at garrisons, it’s quite a challenge. We sat down to look at the American housing documents and realized that to read the policy alone would probably take two of us a year each. It’s that much. I mean, we are talking books.

We are already having discussions with the National Bank, with construction companies, with another one coming with one of the big developers, so we’re actually testing our ideas against them all the time. Does this make sense? The answer is ‘Yes.’ Almost. And if it doesn’t make sense, we try and change quickly.

— What will be an approximate budget for these pilot garrisons for one brigade of four thousand people?

—  It’s impossible to identify because it depends upon what is already in place. I’m not advocating everything should be built new, I’m saying that we’ve got to use what we’ve got much more effectively, and actually look at that and say ‘You know, let’s build half new on this, and renovate the buildings,” because it’s a lot cheaper to renovate buildings than it is to build from scratch. And also you might have to say ‘OK, let’s renovate the hygiene facilities — showers, toilets, and drying rooms.’ Because if you want to keep them [soldiers in the army – ed.], toilets have got to be good, showers have got to be good, drying facilities have got to be good. Those are the bottom lines. You can live in a bedroom, but you can’t live if you have got cold shower. When you come back after a hard exercise, you step into a cold shower, you are not a happy soldier. And that’s when soldiers are going to say “That’s it. I’m leaving, I’m going.” It’s that one second, it’s that one bad thing that makes them go.

A story. One soldier who left — this is an indication of this — a guy called Steve Duggan. And Steve Duggan was a British junior biathlon champion, soldier, lance bombardier. And he needed to go away on a camp with the British team. And his boss was standing talking to two soldiers. And he said: “Bombardier Duggan has done no work over the winter because he was away skiing, I am not letting him go away on this camp.” And the other soldier said in his barrack room that evening to 20 other soldiers: “If that is how my boss treats someone with talent, I might as well leave because he will treat me worse.” And he did. He signed off the next day. He went to the office and said ‘I’m leaving the army.’ And they said ‘Why?’ And he said ‘Because my boss doesn’t care about us as human beings.’ That was it. So five-year soldier — five years wasted. And Duggan didn’t go any scores and then was dropped from the British team and never became British #1 and never got an Olympic medal, all because a commander was like that.

Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET