Ukraine Should Not Count on the West to Pay to Reform its Army

Valdai Discussion Club | 20/06/2014

The United States will send a group of its military advisers to Ukraine in response to President Petro Poroshenko’s request to assess the conditions of the Ukrainian army, with a view to its subsequent reform and modernization. Poroshenko also hopes to receive US intelligence and navigation systems, body armor, helmets, tents and meal rations – all things necessary for combat that Ukraine is lacking. However, first American advisers will have to conduct an audit of the Ukrainian army to find out what exactly it needs, and organize its reform in line with NATO standards.

Events in the south-east of Ukraine have made it clear that the current Ukrainian army is not capable of carrying out any military operations, including punitive operations that the Ukrainian government calls “anti-terrorist.” The Ukrainian army is short of specialists that can fight against self-defense or guerrilla forces. Army service members are unskilled. They don’t have enough combat hardware, or intelligence, navigation or geo-referencing systems. The Ukrainian army doesn’t even have bombers, which is why it is using assault planes with unguided rockets that never hit their targets. All these facts show that the Ukrainian armed forces have been neglected for over 20 years and have finally degraded to this deplorable condition. Now this question has been raised in Ukraine because it has become clear that the Ukrainian state is not going to make it without an army. Moreover, it may need armed forces at any moment, and not only for dealing with its south-east regions. However, it is impossible to redress this situation in a matter of days. This task will require years of routine work.

The Ukrainian government should realize that even if the United States decides to supply it with weapons, these won’t come in large numbers. It is impossible to supply all Ukrainian army units with NATO-standard arms and equipment. Even Eastern European countries that joined NATO more than a decade ago still have some Russian and even Soviet weapons and hardware, because complete re-equipment of an army is a very expensive undertaking. Ukraine doesn’t have this kind of money and the United States is not prepared to invest such an amount.

It is becoming obvious that Ukraine will have to pay to reform its army itself. Ukrainian taxpayers will have to shoulder the brunt of the burden. Naturally, the United States and NATO can allocate some sums for this purpose, but they will be very modest, say, a few tens of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, reforming and modernizing an army costs billions of dollars. Training and reequipping a few units is very different from doing so with an entire army. We’re talking about ground troops, air force, navy and special troops; all of them should be built according to a common pattern and upgraded under a common program. So, these sums are incommensurable, and it will take Ukrainians a long time to pay for their new army. The available funds are very limited. It’s unclear how Ukraine is going to pay for its army’s reform and modernization. It doesn’t even have enough money to pay for Russian gas.

Needless to say, in the context of Eileen Lainez’s statements, many spoke about the potential military presence of Western troops. But NATO servicemen always had an opportunity to stay on Ukrainian territory, conducting joint exercises, training sessions or briefings. American instructors and other specialists are bound to take part in reforming the Ukrainian army. We shouldn’t forget that Ukraine participated in the NATO Partnership for Peace Program, and took part in US and NATO military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ukrainian military units also took part in common training programs: together with NATO troops, they took part in exercises abroad and on Ukrainian territory, notably, the Yavorov testing ground in the Lviv Region. Their presence was and will remain minimal. I don’t think that a large contingent of troops or US military bases will be deployed in Ukraine either, especially if Ukraine retains a provision on neutrality in its constitution.

The main point is that Ukraine-NATO integration is unlikely to take another step forward. NATO hardly needs Ukraine as a military adviser; it may only need Ukrainian troops as cannon fodder for its military operations. But Ukraine does not have to be a NATO member for this purpose. In general, NATO doesn’t want Ukraine to become another headache. Ukraine is laying claim to Crimea, and cannot become a NATO member as long as it has grievances about the peninsula’s accession to Russia, because NATO does not admit countries that have conflicts with their neighbors. When joining the alliance, both Hungary and Romania had to sign an agreement stating they did not have territorial claims to each other. Georgia has not been accepted by NATO because it still has not resolved the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moldova is unlikely to be admitted either because of its claims to Transnistria. Small countries like Albania (NATO member since 2009), Montenegro and Macedonia (participants in the NATO Membership Action Plan) can be admitted as they make no difference. It is important to realize that NATO is very meticulous about the admission of new members and does not want to become responsible for them.

As for Russia, we won’t welcome the presence of US military advisers in Ukraine, but it is a sovereign state and can invite whomever it deems necessary.

Viktor Litovkin is Head of Military Desk, ITAR TASS


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