June 24, 2021

Ukraine Breaking News

Ukraine Breaking News | The Latest News In Ukraine

Defense reform in Ukraine: the leadership challenge Euromaidan Press

Russo-Ukrainian War: Ukrainian infantrymen riding on armor (Image: Taras Gren, MoD of Ukraine)

The Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian border in March-May 2021 was another reminder of Ukraine’s urgent need to reform its defense and security sector. Yet despite the continuing tense situation in the region, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not mention anything about the country’s defense and security reforms as he announced his administration’s priorities at his annual press conference on May 20. This passive stance of senior political leadership regarding the military issues is felt in the slow change in the Ukrainian defense and security sector, despite the assistance of foreign consultants. Lack of initiative, poor motivation, incompetence and pervasive “Soviet thinking” in the top ranks of the military continue to hamper Ukrainian military reforms.

The latest “National Security Strategy of Ukraine” was approved on September 14, 2020 (see EDM, September 24, 2020), months late; and the “Military Security Strategy” was only adopted on 25 March 2021 (see EDM, 25 May 2021). The reform of the land defense system, which has not changed since 2013 and no longer responds to current challenges, has also been delayed (see EDM, 23 February 2021). The reason is the incompatibility of the proposed models with available resources – an echo of similar struggles of Soviet planning methods. The first draft law on the defense of the territory (Rada.gov.ua, December 16, 2020) was postponed by the Ukrainian Parliament Budget Committee for review in April 2021 due to “inadequate financial and economic calculations” (Rada.gov.ua, April 14, 2021). Financial experts were unable to determine where to find the additional $ 500 million needed to create and maintain territorial defense forces when even current levels of the military were underfunded.

On May 25, 2021, the President of Ukraine presented a draft law “On the foundations of national resistance” to Parliament with its reform proposals (Rada.gov.ua, May 25, 2021). This version provides for an increase in the size of the armed forces along with additional defense appropriations. The current 2021 budget of the Ministry of Defense is approximately 4.2 billion dollars, of which 74 per cent is devoted to personnel service and training, while 26 per cent goes to the development of weapons and infrastructure (Armyinform.com.ua, April 14). This allocation is closely in line with the defense spending structures of some North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, such as Italy or Greece (Born.int, March 16). However, a further increase in the defense budget is unrealistic without corresponding economic growth. Therefore, Ukraine’s politico-military leadership has no choice but to seek other, more creative and economically stable defense organization models. The process may also require qualitatively different leadership.

The move to new NATO-compatible defense procurement procedures, as required by the Ukrainian law “On Defense Procurement” (Rada.gov.ua, July 17, 2020), runs slowly, again due to the human factor. The government issued the corresponding regulations only in April 2021, and President Zelenskyy approved the basic indicators of the state defense order for 2021-2023 only on March 30, 2021. This will inevitably lead to a procurement race for the defense and inefficient use of resources already limited in 2021. The programming document “Implementation of the doctrine of lessons learned” (Ukmilitary.com, July 15, 2020), developed with the help of NATO experts and approved by the Chief of Staff General, is progressing, but only moderately, mainly due to insufficient appreciation of its significance among heads of service and unit commanders .

All this reflects a crisis in the career management system that allows the residual Soviet mentality to survive at the highest levels of both the defense ministry and the general staff.

The need for personnel policy changes has been mentioned in Ukrainian defense conceptual reform documents since 2016. For example, the 2016 “Concept for the Development of the Defense and Security Sector of Ukraine” provided for “the implementation of European career management principles “in the Armed Forces by the end of 2017 and” giving preference to those who have received an education in the EU [European Union] and NATO member states “(Rada.gov.ua, March 14, 2016). None of this has been done, perhaps because many of the country’s military leaders have not met these standards. As of 2021, only a few Ukrainian officers in command positions within the armed forces have received military training certificates from NATO countries or are able to communicate in English (see Jamestown.org, March 25, 2021).

In Ukraine’s new “Military Security Strategy”, the question of “transforming the professional culture based on NATO principles and standards into defense force management systems” is not considered urgent; appears only within a long-term priority list (Rada.gov.ua, 25 April).

As of June 2021, the Defense Ministry’s concept for a military personnel policy is still under development.

On 18 May, the expert group of the Defense Policy Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, charged with developing personnel policy, published an interim report in which it stressed that “the current personnel management system is inefficient and opaque, requires constant practical adaptation, [and] does not encourage the career and professional growth of service personnel “(Facebook.com/DefencePolicyDirectorateMODU, May 18). Experts stress the need to build a personnel management system based on principles operating in the armed forces of NATO member states.

Adherence to these principles will inevitably require personnel changes at the top of the military leadership.

It was therefore quite indicative that almost immediately after the publication of the report, the Directorate of Defense Policy dissolved this group of experts and, in doing so, revealed the reluctance of the Armed Forces leadership to carry out reforms of the personnel management system (Facebook.com/DefencePolicyDirectorateMODU, May, 20th).

Ukraine’s NATO partners are aware of this problem and are trying to encourage the Ukrainian political-military leadership to take more active measures to reform the personnel management system. Not surprisingly, the list of prerequisites for providing the second half of US government military assistance to Ukraine for 2021 includes “improved human resource management, including support for career management reforms” (Congress.gov, January 1st).

Given its limited resources, Ukraine must be extremely creative in defining a model for its defense. This process requires a fundamental change in the culture of defense management and a new quality of military leadership stripped of Soviet thinking. Such a change cannot be achieved without personnel policy reform and decisive leadership from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the President of Ukraine.

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