Reasons for "antiterrorist operation" failures in Ukraine’s east examined

A Ukrainian weekly paper has published an article by Ukraine’s leading defence expert on the progress of the ongoing antiterrorist operation in the country’s troubled eastern regions. In the opinion of the expert, despite some successes, there have been gross failures that could be explained by Ukrainian military commanders’ incompetence and lack of experience, as well as absence of modern arms and poor funding of the army’s needs. He added that Ukraine should learn from Israel’s experience in tackling terrorism and ensuring border security. The following is the text of a report by Valentyn Badrak entitled "The eastern front: waiting for a second wind" published by the influential Ukrainian analytical newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli on 6 June; subheadings are as published:

Ukraine has a new head of state [Petro Poroshenko], who, above all, is expected to resolve the military confrontation with Russia. The antiterrorist operation in the war-weary eastern regions requires a new, upgraded version.

Of course, the newly elected president of Ukraine is well aware that the issue cannot be resolved by military means alone. But Napoleon’s formula "big battalions are always right" is still to be disproved. And Petro Poroshenko probably feels that neither can the issue be resolved without the military component – there are simply not enough figures in the equitation. The fact that the president talked in favour of holding an [early] election to parliament and local councils as soon as possible and transparently hinted at a package of peace initiatives, including involvement of representatives of the east of the country in dialogue which, of course, reflects the expectations of many Ukrainians. But a great deal depends on which course the antiterrorist operation will be launched in its next phase. There is an opinion that the Kremlin’s agreeableness depends directly on Kiev’s military successes. Therefore, it is necessary to compare the original data because the country must start living and fighting in a new way, literally from Monday.

Russian Spring, in arguments and facts

The results of the three-month war are ambiguous. Let’s start with the unpleasant.

Ukraine has lost Crimea almost without a fight. As they explained, it was for the sake of deploying troops in the east. The overall strategy of the transitional government was reminiscent of fighting gangrene: cut the leg off so the rest of the body survives. Meanwhile, from the peninsula alone some 9,500 refugees have come to Ukraine, and the flow of Ukrainians leaving their occupied homeland can increase significantly. Substantial assets were seized. Combat-ready weapons, including air defence equipment and aircraft, were seized. And, most importantly, the Kremlin managed to win support of the aggression from within Russia. No matter how vexing, but a significant portion of representatives of the Interior Ministry, Security Service of Ukraine [SBU] and Armed Forces of Ukraine, who were supposed to protect the territories, went over to the invaders. Moreover, the lack of response in Crimea was observed against the background of accurate knowledge about Moscow’s plans. Back in 2008 military intelligence officially informed the country military and political leadership of Russia’s preparation of a war for Crimea. The experts, including the author of these lines, also wrote about it openly in 2009.

Using time to redeploy troops on the east, Ukraine, despite the weakened military capabilities and numerous instances of sabotage, in fact, entered into an undeclared war with the Kremlin. Units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Interior Ministry, the SBU and the State Border Service, as well as hastily formed units of the National Guard and self-defence that operate under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, became engaged in a war with mercenary units still arriving from Russia. For three months, heroism in this war stands side by side with an astounding lack of competence, unprecedented patriotism with impudent sabotage.

Both the military and political leadership sometimes impressed with slowness in decision-making. For example, the head of the [SBU’s] Antiterrorist Centre was appointed only 40 days after the first appearance of Russian armed commandos in Ukraine. And in the ATO itself the lack of coordination and actual sole leadership is still a significant problem. Observers and experts sometimes cannot classify the actions of the ATO command when, say, a unit of border guards is fighting militants for 12 hours and does not receive any support. There were problems with military intelligence, resulting in units getting ambushed, also becoming almost a norm. In fact, now the army’s entire intelligence is a pair of binoculars and an observer. There are inconsistencies regarding the areas of responsibility and the use of data coming from the border and military intelligence, as well as from the Foreign Intelligence Service. How should we qualify militants’ vehicles penetrating the border and travelling to a settlement unimpeded without a reaction from combat aviation? Where are specially prepared ambushes at the most probable routes of militant groups? There have also been, unfortunately, sad episodes, such as the one near Volnovakha, where young people were dying because of lack of basic skills and knowledge. And where could they get it, if no president, no government have bothered with the army. Before the war the country had a grand total of twenty commanders who had taken part in large-scale exercises with battalion live fire. And the blame here lays not only with [former President Viktor] Yanukovych and the team of the country’s law-enforcement agency destroyers [Yanukovych’s defence ministers and SBU head].

The sorry state of equipment has been legendary. But soldiers of the ATO are more worried not about the lack of reconnaissance drones, attack helicopters and high-precision weapons; they complain about poor reliability of body armour or even the fact that it is absent. And border guards… [ellipsis as published] In the social networks they cry out about the need to reshuffle their own management and give specific amounts of money, which is supposedly paid by either Russians or people close to the former government for letting vehicles with armed terrorists across the border without any hassle. However, today the Defence Ministry employs no less than 40 per cent of managers who were working in the old team that deliberately destroyed the army.

Disadvantageous to Ukraine in the current ATO is not only the level of training (they have to fight people who have lived at war for two decades), equipment and armament (everything new and modern is imported from Russia), but also the grand scale of the anti-Ukrainian information campaign. Putin succeeded by turning the media, science, sociological services and even show business into means of propaganda to spread fierce hatred for the neighbouring nation. It is hard to believe that so many people have lost the ability to think!

Anyway, Ukraine was unprepared for the war. In addition, there is also a fact that the military and political leadership were mostly thinking about the presidential election and the political process, while the protection of integrity and inviolability of Ukrainian lands was somewhere on the fringes of the main objectives.

There were also many gaps on the political front. Despite their numerous statements, France, Italy and partially Germany all continue military cooperation with Russia. The double standards of Europe seem impossible! Thus, despite the aggression, Russia is still set to receive the French Mistral helicopter carriers, while the sanctions had no effect on the Russian-Italian S-1000 small submarine diesel project. Observers were surprised and disappointed by French President François Hollande, who single-handedly invited Vladimir Putin to the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the landings of allied troops in Normandy. If even German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears next to the master of the Kremlin, any more talk about his political isolation is just ridiculous.

On the other hand, the USA is increasingly inclined to the need to provide military and technical assistance to Kiev. Even if this not be weapons, even portable surveillance, technical intelligence, communications equipment, night vision devices, modern helmets and body armour may have a great impact (including psychological) on the completion of this war, which seems to be needed by just one person on this planet.

Yet, in general, the activity of the ATO ensured the failure of the Kremlin’s plans and successful holding of the [25 May] presidential election. A wave of patriotism returned the lost morale to the military. The first blood washed away the pacifism, which was branded with disgrace. And sometimes the money of concerned oligarchs was able to stimulate aggression.

Putin has almost no chance of sending the regular army under the guise of peacekeeping – a solid force will surely bog him down on the Ukrainian territory. Even the operation of the Russian special services, which intensified in the eastern regions of Ukraine, has mostly died out, while supporters of a unified Ukraine are getting more and more success stories. For example, during the liberation of the airport in Donetsk there was a timely ambush blocking the approach of militants, which made it possible to strike a severe blow to the armed foreigners.

Ironically, but thanks to Putin’s imperial ambitions, Ukraine’s population started showing solidarity of a hardened nation more. Despite the fact that for the last four years the army and the whole security sector were being ruined by the enemies of our country, who got into positions of authority, the people began to revive the army with the hryvnya. On the nearly 130m hryvnyas collected by the population first rearming projects were launched: light armoured vehicles and precision weapons were purchased; helicopters, once passed to private structures, are being returned to the ranks of the Armed Forces. Armour and those basic pieces of soldiers’ equipment, which were missing, are being hastily purchased. Ukraine has survived the first stage, though it cost many lives.

Periculum est in mora

In our case, quite literally, delay may lead to a disaster.

Successful completion of the ATO is obstructed not only by the existence of different views on its further implementation. Most military experts support intensification of the ATO without converting it into a combined arms operation. Also, the vast majority of experts support the immediate introduction of martial law in war-torn areas and the formation of precise cooperation scheme among the army, special units of other departments, as well as creation of areas of responsibility. The focus must be on precise, filigree work of the special forces to eliminate terrorist groups with the help of the army and units of other departments.

There is a need to strengthen coordination at the level of the intelligence services. The problems of the previous stages of the ATO showed that it makes sense to revive and strengthen the intelligence community, form (obviously, as part of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine) a centre for analysis and processing of all intelligence data and immediate response, immediately start equipping intelligence agencies with modern technical equipment. They need space-based means of intelligence (or at least the opportunity to purchase images from partners), reconnaissance drones and modern means of technical intelligence. It is necessary to strengthen the counterintelligence agencies of the Security Service of Ukraine, so that information about the intentions of the terrorists becomes known as early as possible and allows the units of the ATO to prepare a reception in a timely manner.

Indeed, observers have already noted: just one timely and properly prepared ambush during the operation to free Donetsk airport has led to eliminating more foreign militants than the entire ATO in three months. By the way, according to a statement by [security expert] Mykola Malomuzh, who headed the Foreign Intelligence Service in 2005-10, the operation succeeding in liberating the airport was made possible by the actions of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.

The main objective of the new phase of the ATO is the need for all military forces to act proactively, with a clear organization of interaction with local authorities and population. Years of Israeli experience of the fight against terrorism show that the basis for success comprises three interconnected components: strong multifaceted intelligence, well-trained security services in the field and continuous purposeful work with the population.

For Ukraine this experience is particularly relevant because physically the Border Service is physically incapable of closing the border with Russia – they simply do not have enough forces and money. But it is quite capable of organizing effective cooperation with the army – in sensitive areas, where mobile groups of terrorists are entering [the country there will be] mobile pickets of army units with armoured vehicles and heavy weapons.

Experts on eliminating crises believe that the spreading the influence zone of the Kiev authorities must be done as units of the Armed Forces, National Guard of Ukraine, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Security Service of Ukraine move deeper into the regions – along with establishing proper communication with the local population and recruitment into the ranks of new police units. But in any case, without sound social programmes for the eastern regions they will not become peaceful for at least two years, analysts of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, who designed a special plan to overcome the crisis together with attracting foreign specialists, have noted.

As for the elimination of armed militants, it refers to the core units, consisting of professional intelligence commandos of the Russian Federation and armed mercenaries, which came across the border. But all of them in sum total are no more than 20 per cent of the so-called militia – armed gangs coordinated by Moscow.

As for the people with Ukrainian passports, who took up arms, after losing the support of the Kremlin, they will quickly change tactics. Some of them will leave Ukraine together with the militants (those who have stained themselves with blood and have no chance of returning to a peaceful life here in Ukraine), but the vast majority will calm down. This will be if, of course, the renovated Kiev authorities are able to offer an adequate social programme simultaneously with the ATO. Many of these people led lives balancing on the edge of the law: some smuggled for a living, some were in the secret service of the oligarchs, etc. As a minimum, we need a replacement for semi-criminal activities.

And one more aspect, perhaps the most important – the first wave of patriotism is now in decline. Increasingly often we hear about the growing number of medical certificates of unfitness for military service from those eligible for mobilization. And in the west of Ukraine parents just block military bases, so that conscripted but not yet trained children were not sent to the war in the east. Perhaps the biggest, inexcusable mistake of the transitional government is that it still lacks a mechanism to encourage those soldiers and officers, who stood in defence of Ukrainian lands with arms. There are two levers you can use to rule people – fear and self-interest, the cynic, but well versed expert in the mechanism of war, Napoleon, liked to say. But still the Ukrainian government has not taken care to supplement patriotism with high rewards, total respect, benefits, mandatory insurance and a good financial incentive. No harm would have been done by one or two exemplary processes on deserters and conscientious objectors. In the same Russian Federation, if an officer perished in Chechnya he was given the Star of Hero of the Russian Federation posthumously (or smaller award depending on the circumstances of death), and his family got an apartment. Those who believe that it is right to send people to war paying 1,500-3,000 hryvnyas per month [100-200 dollars] are just narrow-minded people.

Therefore, it is pointless to restart total mobilization in the future. Because 120,000 well-armed professionals have much better combat capacity than a million-number horde of hungry ragamuffins with prehistoric weapons.

Source: Zerkalo Nedeli, Kiev, in Russian 6 Jun 14; p 4

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