Unfortunately, I don’t share Colonel Grant’s optimism. I don’t believe that Ukraine’s army can be transformed to the state of even marginal effectiveness. Let me elaborate on the underlying reasons for such a harsh assessment.
Natan Chazin (left) and Ukraine's Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak (right).
As Carl von Clausewitz pointed out, the war is a mere continuation of policy with other means. We need to understand that there isn’t really a single unified Ukraine with a single set of policies, but there are two Ukraines that abide by totally different sets of rules and policies. If you guessed these two Ukraines are pro-Western and pro-Russia, you guessed wrong.
One Ukraine is for the few clans that have a total and firm grip on the official policy, government institutions, and natural monopolies regardless of any public posturing, political affiliation, or business interests.
If you look into backgrounds of any of the current top-ranking politicians, law enforcement, military, or state security officials, it’s easy to see that they were in positions of power throughout the entire modern history of Ukraine, including back in the late USSR days. Hence comes the predicament — until 2014 these corrupt clans in Ukraine were tightly intertwined with their Russian counterparts via close business, political, financial and even family ties and the situation hasn’t changed much even after the revolution of 2013 and after the armed conflict with Russia began.
In the late 2013, the other Ukraine, the one driven by the middle class, patriotic, and nationalist activists suffering from unfair practices perpetuated by Viktor Yanukovych’s clan, has rebelled against the oligarchy and tried to change the country’s destiny.
Unfortunately, after four years of armed conflict, economic downturn, tens of thousands dead and wounded and hundreds of thousands displaced, the corrupt clans have just shuffled around and their grip on all aspects of Ukraine’s official policy is now even stronger than during Yanukovych’s times. The only difference is that there are fewer of these clans in power now, but this only worked to consolidate their corrupt influence.
Coincidentally, the level of economic ties between Russia and Ukraine has grown almost twice in the last year. After four years of perceived reforms, all that has really changed in the army was the introduction of different uniforms and insignia, sometimes better food and supplies, and the revived Soviet military doctrine.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces without a doubt is now the "Small Soviet Army" as Israeli instructor Tsvi Arieli rightfully named it. The problem is — the Soviet military doctrine is very platform-centric and calls for forces massing to overcome operational inefficiencies and personnel shortcomings. The Ukrainian army simply doesn’t have the resources for massive force deployment and the society will not accept the level of losses and collateral damage customary for this type of warfare.
The biggest problem of all is the foundation of lies and deception that the army brass is using to mislead both the Ukrainian population and Western partners. The Ukrainian army leadership went as far as to claim that Ukraine has the strongest military force in Europe, that it’s 90 percent compatible with NATO standards and other such rubbish.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a shred of truth in these statements, but after repeating them for a while, Ukraine’s political and military leadership started believing their own lies, creating a positive feedback loop. On top of that, Soviet mentality causes the army leadership to discard diplomatic attempts by Western advisors to correct the situation. The overall levels of incorrect and deceitful information is staggering and it constantly damages the Ukrainian army’s already shattered image among allies.
U.S. and NATO found themselves between the rock and the hard place as it is evident to everyone concerned that the military reform has failed, but abandoning support to Ukrainian Armed Forces until fundamental reforms are started will send the wrong message to political adversaries, first of all to Russia and may even up the stakes in the Donbass conflict and elsewhere.
On the other hand, providing really critical aid to Ukrainian army is very much useless with the current C2 structure, as commanders simply can’t properly utilize this aid without the deep doctrinal transformation. This is why the U.S. Foreign Military Financing program sends over the equipment with downgraded capabilities, such as AN/TPQ WLS radars with targeting package disabled, or the RQ-11B Raven unmanned aerial vehicles with unencrypted ground links. Providing more advanced capabilities will, in the opinion of some U.S. military experts just anger Russia without actually giving any advantages to the Ukrainian army.
Same goes for the much anticipated shipment of the FGM-148 Javelin, which due to the small number of command launch units will not really give any significant advantages to the Ukrainian army without the deep operational transformation.
Having said all this, I firmly believe that current Ukrainian leadership and especially the Ukrainian army brass is completely incapable of carrying out the necessary defense reforms. It really is like appointing a fox to guard a proverbial henhouse — the outcome is clearly predictable and anticipated. One doesn’t need to really try it to make sure.
The Soviet commanders can’t build anything but the Soviet military and that doctrine has luckily died along with USSR back in 1991. Even Russia is modernizing its armed forces to move away from the Soviet doctrine. Thankfully, Russians are utilizing the outmoded and stovepipe approach, which puts them at a significant disadvantage compared to forces organized according to the modern Western warfare doctrine.
The good news is that over the last four years, the Ukrainian army at its lower rungs has developed a really impressive, brave, and bright young soldiers and commanders. They are truly patriotic, intelligent, and capable of drastic transformation if given the chance. Unfortunately, these precious resources are leaving the Ukrainian army en masse lately as they see no chance for upward mobility and this needs to be fixed immediately.
So, what do the supporters of Ukraine in the West need to do to make an impact? First and foremost, they need to apply pressure to their political leadership to make defense assistance dependent on the progress of true transformation of the Ukrainian army.
The Western governments need to appoint bold military advisors with experience in the Information Age warfare that are vocal about the needed changes. Most importantly, the Westerners need, through their governments, to squarely tell the Ukrainian leadership that their current force needs to be dismantled and the completely new one is built in its place.
Any senior officers that were trained in the USSR or Russia need to be let go immediately. The explosive transformation is the only way to make the Ukrainian Armed Forces self-reliant and able to inflict an unacceptable level of damage on the enemy if it attempts a full-scale invasion.
The new army needs to adopt the Information Age warfare doctrine in order to build a force that is both affordable given the current level of funding and capable to operate by Network-Centric Warfare rules.
It is critical that we do this as soon as possible. Colonel Grant correctly pointed out that Putin’s Russia has to destroy Ukraine for a chance of its own survival and will do that when ready, unless the Ukrainian army drastically increases its warfighting capabilities. This drastic increase can’t be accomplished through the snail pace reform faked by the current army brass.
The destruction of Ukraine and its falling back into the Russian grip is going to be disastrous for the civilized world, as it will create millions of refugees, global economic crisis, and a possibility of a total war in Europe. We should not let this happen.
By Natan Chazin, KyivPost.
Natan Chazin is a Ukrainian veteran of Russia’s war in the Donbas and a former advisor to Ukraine’s Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko.