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Defence Ministry “rightsizing” – Ukraine (And what comes next?)

August 10, 2015

Following (almost) seamlessly on from yesterday’s entry relating to the call from the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov to move the military to an entirely contract basis post haste – and perhaps reading between the lines his desire to shift the National Guard from within his ministry to that of the Ministry of Defence, (along with all associated headaches that come with a National Guard comprised of illegitimate militias and quasi-political movements that were thus rapidly legalised under the National Guard banner to install some form of chain of command) – Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak has announced the completion of “rightsizing” the Defence Ministry.

Defence Minister Poltorak

Defence Minister Poltorak

The Defence Ministry is about to cut 145 posts, and a further existing 140+ senior posts will be occupied by currently serving ATO personnel.

Further the Defence Minister intends to personally deal with a lot of slackers and incompetents amongst the Defence Ministry and the General Staff – “The issues of forecasting and long-term planning, implementing systemic changes in activities did not become the priorities for some senior officials, this hard work is being replaced by a permanent monitoring of the situation in a particular area of work. The Defense Ministry is aware of the risks associated with such a state of affairs. In every case of improper performance of duties, I will make the corresponding decisions, including those dealing with personnel.” 

Clearly it is thought that those who have served on the “eastern front” are far more focused and clear eyed about what is needed and how, what is effective and what is not, and how to overcome the hierarchical stupidity and implement changes in spite of entirely inappropriate and ineffective command.

So be it.

However, of those 140+ ATO personnel, undoubtedly some will be assimilated as a way of negating their otherwise difficult and prickly existence outside of any State command chain.  Not a policy, it has to be said, that is anything particularly unusual in periods of democratic transition and/or sovereign territorial threats.

This in turn raises the question of whether the military is and/or will remain a institution that will reinforce democracy or become an institution that overpowers/overly influences  a weak civilian leadership.  Transitions are by their nature of flux, somewhat unpredictable.

A watchful eye from the external institutions and nations attempting to assist in the reshaping of the Ukrainian military is required – NATO, the US, Canada, UK et al, – notwithstanding an equally watchful internal eye with regard to those recruited/transfered into an exclusively contract army by both the SBU and Defence Ministry.

Not only is there the pervasive (and continuing) infiltration of Kremlin agents into all Ukrainian institutions, the military being no exception, but there is also the cancerous and rebellious issue of the more swivel-eyed of nationalists with an agenda that does not match that of Kyiv – nor is it an agenda especially conducive to a robustly civilian controlled military any democracy demands.

Rightly – and even pre-Crimea – much external attention has and continues to be paid to the non commission ranks within the Ukrainian military.  Without effective, well trained and experienced NCOs, and the meritocracy career ladder that accompanies it, no military can function effectively or efficiently.

The question that then arises is whether an accompanying change in the perception and attitude of the Ukrainian officer corps (which historically is both by and large aloof and incompetent) toward the NCOs will accompany the NATO/western drive and targeted training to make the NCOs the rightful backbone of the Ukrainian military.

A long haul with regard to attitudes perhaps – or perhaps not if the 140+ ATO sourced senior ranks manage to manifestly change the historical culture of the Ukrainian military.

Nevertheless, with the Interior Minister calling for a fully contract military immediately, the Defence Minister announcing “resizing”, and a considerable amount of on-going input from NATO with regard to command and control, complementing simultaneous Ukrainian military training by the US, UK, Polish, and Canadian armed forces, some form of effective reform (rather than deform) seems likely should all parties concerned stay the progressive course and prevent any roll back.

Indeed, once Ukraine can irrefutably demonstrate it has consistent and robust civilian control over its military, and its military can prove beyond reasonable doubt that it has robust command and control, as well as swift and effective discipline within its ranks, we may perhaps then witness a non-embargoed Ukraine actually obtain “western weaponry” overtly sold/supplied to it – irrespective of any Kremlin grumbling that would undoubtedly follow when that (eventually) happens.

What would be interesting is the GAP analysis Ukraine has from where it is now, as to where it wants to/has to be militarily – particularly so compared to any GAP analysis of NATO or the individual nations supplying training.  After all the “Minsk” clock still ticks downward toward to end of year deadline for the agreement to be fully implemented – after which the agreement is effectively “off” per the expired document deadline.

Undoubtedly the Ukrainian leadership continues to make very unpopular decisions domestically in order to tick as many Minsk boxes as possible to facilitate the US, Germany and France firmly pointing the finger at the Kremlin when it comes to those responsible for the (long predicted) agreement failure – thus also providing solid ground to renew European sanctions at the end of January 2016 too.

Whatever the future holds however, once The Defence Minister finishes acting as an enema within the Defence Ministry and General Staff, he should perhaps continue to clean out the rest of the second-rate within officer corps too.

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