Censor.NET's Chief Editor Yurii Butusov wrote for ZN.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine blocked cooperation with NATO representatives on SOF creation in Ukraine and disrupted the launch of military maneuvers of the SOF in Khmelnytskyi that had been organized and funded by NATO. This story allows seeing the situation with the Ukrainian SOF creation in general, which situation has been taking place over many years.
Sources close to NATO mission in Kyiv said that in the recent two months, all operations and contacts of two NATO experts on the SOF in Ukraine and representatives of the U.S. Special Operation Forces have been halted. Head of the Special Operations Directorate of the General Staff, Colonel Serhii Kryvonos, who has authority with NATO, was banned from contacting the mission. The Alliance has been outraged by the General Staff's order to move the planned maneuvers of the SOF and the U.S. military from Khmelnytskyi to a different time and place - Yavoriv training ground.
After my Censor.NET article about the scandal, the General Staff made an official refutation statement, having called the message about the NATO cooperation disruption "a fake." This was an attempt to disinform the state authorities and hide the scandal.
The situation developed unexpectedly. At a security conference in Marshall Center in Germany, representatives of the U.S. Special Operation Forces command addressed one of President Poroshenko's advisers, MP Iryna Friz, member of parliamentary committee on security and defense, with criticism of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and a request to inform Ukraine's president about the allies' concern regarding the SOF creation program disruption in Ukraine. Friz posted an unprecedented message in social media, in which she outlined the problem.
"General Staff's position in cooperation with NATO under the SOF program is hard for me to understand and brings negative emotions. A lot of work has been done during talks with our partners at NATO to support the creation of the SOF in Ukraine as an effective tool to resist actions of Russia's Special Forces actively operating from the first days of Crimea annexation and invasion of the Donbas," she wrote.
"The General Staff avoids any contacts with NATO representatives and actually disrupts all cooperation with the mission of the Alliance. In fact, we are faced with impeding the process of creating the SOF under NATO standards, which has been going on for almost a year.
"Under the General Staff's decision, which lacked any explanation, the training scheduled to take place in Khmelnytskyi will now be held at the Yavoriv ground, although its financing is fully done by the U.S. and agreed with the SOCOM.
"At the same time, terrible rumors are circulating about the grounds for such decision, which I refuse to believe in. General Staff's leadership ignores all summons of the parliamentary committee on national security and defense.
"I am at the Marshall Center now, and once again I hear questions from our partners that I have heard in Kyiv earlier. Both their representatives in Kyiv are ignored by the General Staff, their work being actually blocked.
"The special operations directorate is currently under pressure, and its leadership, who showed excellent results in the ATO area, is threatened with dismissal, which will lead to noticeable debilitation of SO units. …
"I would like to remind the General Staff that a working group on the SOF creation has been set under the Presidential Administration. I belong to it as one of the SOF draft bill developers, so I have complete information about current affairs. I want to stress that Khmelnytskyi training was a consolidated position agreed with the U.S. Yavoriv as a more relevant place is a decision made solely by the General Staff, which was taken one week before the start and was not agreed with our partners. I can judge about the NATO-General Staff cooperation level here at Marshall Center in Germany, where a security event is taking place. Despite being invited, no representatives of the General Staff are here."
This scandal has two motifs - clan and bureaucratic one as well as a corruption one. Unfortunately, the military command was not motivated by the state and military interests in this situation.
So, one of the key projects of NATO-Ukraine cooperation is the creation of the SOF. The Special Operation Forces are a key structure in modern warfare.
The problem is that the SOF in Ukraine cannot fight as designed. Yes, there's a war going on, but the Ukrainian special forces (aka spetznaz) conduct no operations on liquidation and capturing of terrorist leaders and Russian officers, on destruction of headquarters, on mining roads for "humanitarian convoys" and Russian troops. The special operation troops include two special operations regiments - the 3rd (Kirovohrad) and the 8th (Khmelnytskyi), as well as two centers for special operations - the 73rd marine (Ochakiv) and the 140th (Khmelnytskyi). These are large forces of several thousands of people.
The Special Operations Directorate (SOD) was created within the General Staff with the purpose of commanding these forces. The General Staff is the authority to plan operations and develop this type of armed forces. But the problem is, firstly, that the General Staff has not yet assigned any unit under the SOD and does not allow the SOD to act independently. Special Forces are commanded by the ground forces' command and carry out orders by the ground forces' command. Secondly, the chief of the SOD, Colonel Serhii Kryvonos, has not been able to receive the authority for more than a year now, his status being unidentified.
Instead of carrying out tasks, concentrating troops and means for conducting special operations, the spetznaz has been deprived of possibility to do their job during the war.
Yes, our army resembled a poor scout camp at the beginning of the war, but the enemy was as bad. There was no front line, so any part of the Donbas could be easily penetrated. Having regular units of the special forces in hand allowed to dictate the initiative to the enemy. There were many officers in the Ukrainian spetznaz who understood this.
But the lack of competent and ambitious command prevented soldiers from showing themselves. …
Mistrust of the personnel towards their commanders has become a big issue. Major General Viktor Nazarkin, head of the SOD at the beginning of the war, used to have no authority with the personnel. He was a regular Ukrainian military official of peaceful times, who climbed the career ladder due to clan connections and behind-the-scenes agreements, not wars and maneuvers. Nazarkin had no understanding of purposes and tasks of the special forces and was not able to plan operations wisely. …
Useless and inefficient operation, ignorance of pure logic, and massive losses caused serious discontent among the personnel, while General Nazarkin was harshly criticized by the public. However, his friendship with Chief of Staff Muzhenko made Nazarkin invulnerable.
Defense Minister Valerii Heletei, unlike the military command, was not linked to general clans and was able to build something new and capable. Heletei and his deputy Oleksandr Danyliuk made their best appointment in the SOF realm - despite Muzhenko's discontent, Heletei succeeded in convincing the president to dismiss Nazarkin and appoint Colonel Kryvonos as the head of the SOD.
That was a direct hit, for Kryvonos is indeed one of the most qualified spetznaz operative. He had a great teacher, he worked his way up from a regular soldier, commanded the 8th regiment of the special forces and made it the best Armed Forces' unit of the year two times. He has high authority and solid experience of international training. Kryvonos' appointment was widely and positively accepted in the spetznaz community. After his appointment, a real chance to conduct a real reform and create the Special Operation Forces appeared. But before the election, President Poroshenko needed a powerful PR stunt intended to show his thriving to establish order within the army. Thus, Heletei had to resign. This changed the situation in the Armed Forces command. Muzhenko received total command over the troops without being controlled himself.
The problem is that Muzhenko personally dislikes Kryvonos. The two had a conflict between them in July 2014. Kryvonos had been commanding the defense of the Kramatosk airfield for month and a half with a minimal number of soldiers. Despite difficult situation and regular fire contacts, the wise and active defense allowed avoiding casualties among the Ukrainian military during the whole period of the defense. Reliable reconnaissance information and contacts with locals were keys to the success. At the same time this was the reason for bitter quarrel between Kryvonos and the military command. The colonel reported in advance about Girkin's band's exit from Sloviansk and their possible paths. During three days, while Girkin was accumulating his powers and regrouping, Kryvonos had been providing the target's coordinates and demanded to open fire at the militant forces concentrations. However, Muzhenko directly prohibited the use of artillery and mortars. No demands by Kryvonos helped, although he used all words possible to convince the command to act. Girkin's convoys were exiting visibly nearby observation points, they could be targeted by artillery, Ukrainian aviation was flying over them… but there was no order to fire. After Kramatorsk was liberated, Kryvonos had a man-to-man talk witnessed by several officers. Since then, Kryvonos fell into disgrace of the resentful Chief of Staff.
It's been almost two years of the war now, but there is still no full-fledged command of the special operations forces. The spetznaz is still a supportive means for the infantry. No special operations are being conducted. All captures of Russian military have not resulted from special forces' operations, but from courage and skillfulness of drafted civilians and fortunes of battle.
As long as NATO demands creation of the SOF and has allocated funds for it, promising additional funding, the General Staff decided to exploit this pot of gold independently. Muzhenko, as crafty political staffer, does not want to eliminate the head of the SOD - there will be a scandal, for Kryvonos is a popular commander. Thus, a Jesuit move is being made - Muzhenko shifts contacts with NATO to other employees and leaves Kryvonos out. Kryvonos is being accused of doing nothing for the development of the cooperation with NATO and implementation of the SOF program. Other people are being appointed to communicate with NATO and present the SOF creation strategy developed by Kryvonos and his team. Currently, Muzhenko has offered three persons to communicate with the NATO mission experts - Major General Luniev, and Colonels Svystak and Kucheriavyi. None of them are career special forces operatives; Luniev has served in airborne troops all his life. The NATO mission is confused with these chaotic and unclear activities but is forced to work with those sent by the General Staff.
The U.S. together with Kryvonos developed budget and allocated funds to conduct training of the Ukrainian SOF in Khmelnytskyi, at the base of the 140th center and the 8th regiment. The money is big - 540 UAH ($22) per soldier per day, with Ukrainian norm being at 70 UAH. But Kryvonos is being put aside and accused of stupid things. After another scandal he gets into a hospital with a hypertonic crisis. Taking advantage of this, the General Staff is starting another machination. The training program is scheduled for Nov. 16. One week before its start, the General Staff announced its cancellation and removal of equipment to another training field in Yavoriv. This order was equal to a failure to meet time constraints and had no grounds. … The explanation is this: chief of the Yavoriv training ground, Lieutenant General Pavlo Tkachuk, is a friend of Muzhenko and the ground forces commander Pushniakov, so he decided to use Uncle Sam's funds on his own. Take 540 UAH per person per day and multiply it by several months - that a lot of budget to siphon off.
That's the shameful consequences Friz was writing about. The most shameful is that she learned about these versions not in Ukraine, but in Germany, in Marshall Center, at a security conference, from the U.S. special operations command military. … Moreover, Friz had no other chances to provide this information to the authorities than to post it on Facebook.
Muzhenko is doing his best to make Kryvonos resign due to unbearable atmosphere. But spetznaz is a lifework to Kryvonos, so he does not give up and will not leave on his own.
The scandal in media caused wrangles among the top of the Ukrainian authorities. Muzhenko is a sacred cow to president Poroshenko. Any criticism towards him makes the head of state extremely nervous.
After the Friday meeting of NATO representatives, the scandalous decisions of Muzhenko and Pushniakov on transfer of the SOF training to Yavoriv have been canceled. The training will be held as scheduled, in Khmelnytskyi.
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian special forces have turned from hunters to those hunted by incompetent military and political authorities. … The army should be commanded by those who fought at the front lines.
Yurii Butusov for 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnia'