As full-scale conflict unfolds, crucial to the outcome of the whole enterprise will be the readiness of Ukraine’s armed forces.
It’s no small question.
Training, logistical support, equipment, communications – all these things come together to comprise the morale of the front line soldier.
Ukrainians have already proved their willingness to fight and die for their democratic revolution, and a fortiori for independence from Moscow.
The question is, how ready is their military to manage the task.
By now Putin’s zigzag shenanigans indicate that he has a longterm strategy in mind, namely to keep the East of Ukraine unstable for several years as he has done in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Trans-Dnistra, wearing out the will and resources of the central government in each place.
As has happened before, Putin calculates that the EU and Western powers will fall asleep on the issue over time, and the strategy will succeed again.
President Poroshenko, in turn, understands that he must deal with the problem quickly and decisively or fall prey to the Putin doctrine.
All eyes are on Ukraine’s military.
What’s their status?
Answer: they need help, badly.
The first thing to note is that ousted President Yanukovych stole from the army as much as anywhere else.
The figures are blurry as yet, but they’re in the billions.
In order to do so, he had to run the institution as a corrupt enterprise.
To become a general you had to pay his people $50,000 dollars up front and then make it up by stealing from supplies.
His military was top heavy with generals, as one can imagine.
According to American expatriate Andy Bain, Kiev resident and colonel in the US Marine Corps Reserve who acted as liaison to allied Ukrainian troops in Iraq, it’s not clear if Yanukovych sabotaged the military on purpose in order to weaken it.
But there are lots of rumors about pro-Russian top brass running things during Yanukovych’s time.
Either way, Bain understands that Ukraine’s armed forces need help fast.
To that end he has helped launch a fund which now has official non-profit status in the US (with auditing by a top international accounting firm) to provide non-lethal aid to the effort to maintain Ukraine’s independence.
It’s called Ukrainian Freedom Fund and here’s the website http://ukrfreedomfund.org/
As Bain tells it, when he asked his old Ukrainian soldier pals from Iraq how they were faring they gave him disturbing news.
They didn’t have enough new batteries even to start up their trucks.
He was able the needed funds to meet that exigency and has now turned the endeavor into an official NGO.
The units who first got aid from him are now in the front line.
Says Bain, “the need exists at all levels: they’re shortstaffed and undersupplied on body armor, medicine, helmets, first aid kits – it’s a long list.”
While Ukraine’s military management is on a far firmer footing than ever in the post-Soviet period – the general in charge of operations served in Iraq – Bain cannot understand US policy toward Ukraine.
Washington has pledged a mere $5 million in non-lethal aid, way too little by any measure.
Bain knows whereof he speaks, with several family members being military veterans and he himself having graduated from Yale and served in the Marines since 1986.
He lived in Ukraine during the 1990’s and was called up again for both Desert Storm and the Iraq War.
In the latter, when the ground campaign ended, he became liaison to the Ukrainian battalion in 2003.
As a result, his undertaking has full support from top official channels such as Ukraine’s National Security Council and National Guard.
I have met Andy Bain and he embodies the integrity suggested by his CV, conscientious, honest, hardworking and brave.
In the current world climate, the voluntarism of the bad guys grabs all the headlines.
The civilized world understandably balks at further involvement in confrontation after a decade of war and three trillion in expenditure.
The future may lie in the hands of voluntarism by good guys like Andy Bain.
It may indeed be our only option for now if, during the West’s phase of well-earned caution, we are to counter the advance of barbarism everywhere.
Caution is one thing but total retreat from world affairs is only going to cost more in the long run.
Where Washington may feel that it has no business hijacking the popular will into further adventures, the initiative is left to the people themselves to make the choice individually.