Ukraine Military In Poor Shape

KIEV, Ukraine -- If current doomsday predictions suddenly came true and Moscow attacked Ukraine like it did tiny Georgia, Kyiv would fare a bit better, but almost surely face the same dismal outcome, experts say.

Ukrainian military marchers

While Ukraine’s army is more than five times larger in terms of troops than Georgia’s, it is still is no match for Russia’s military. In comparison, Ukraine’s seven functioning naval vessels are dwarfed by the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s 46 fully­armed navy ships strategically based in Ukraine’s Sevastopol port, which is leased to Russia through 2017.

Moreover, Ukraine’s arsenal is nowhere near ready to respond effectively.

Its weapons are few and outdated. Its conscripts are demoralized by low pay. And strategists are leaving what some describe as a sinking warship.

“The only thing Ukraine’s army is basically able to do is march down Kyiv’s main street Khreshchatyk for a military parade, that’s it,” said Volodymyr Savchenko, first­rank captain and deputy head of the Ukrainian Officers Union.

Wary of his country’s inability to protect itself from an imminent threat, pro­Western President Victor Yushchenko stepped up efforts in recent days to bolster support from citizens for Ukraine to join the NATO military alliance. He has also sought out ways to integrate his country as a partner with Western collective security organizations. It’s a move aimed at setting up a psychological deterrent to a bullying neighbor in the short­term before NATO membership can be sealed.

“What happened in Georgia is the best example how easily military actions, and questions of territorial integrity, can in today’s condition be forced upon a country that does not have collective security guarantees,” he said.

Referring to the bloody conflict in Georgia, Yushchenko said that if Ukraine’s borders are “questioned” by someone, “then that means we are on verge of deep and serious military actions.” Last week, Yushchenko toughened up to Moscow by unilaterally setting new restrictions on Russia’s use of Sevastopol. He also offered Western countries use of Ukraine’s early­warning missile detection radar systems.

The bold presidential moves worry Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first president. With no foreign security guarantees and squat chance of winning a military standoff with Russia, Kravchuk worries tough actions could escalate what are already tense bilateral relations between Kyiv and Moscow.

“The world isn’t a calm place today. Wars are breaking out and before getting involved I think Ukraine should have sealed its security policy first.” With a weak army and no guarantees, Ukraine’s “welfare, sovereignty and independence are impossible to defend at this moment,” Kravchuk added.

Unlike Georgia, whose air force numbers less than a dozen planes, Ukraine has a significantly larger air force and anti­aircraft systems which experts said could help defend its airspace and inflict considerable damage on its opponent.

The defense forces of Poland, Romania and Hungary, for comparison, do not have any surface­to­air missile systems comparable to Ukraine’s, said Alexander Khramchishin, an analyst at the Russian Institute of Military and Political Analysis.

Also, political analysts say Ukraine’s early­warning missile radar systems based in the western Ukrainian town of Mukachevo and in Sevastopol might be of great interest for the United States and other members of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Just getting NATO or western countries using Ukraine as a partner for their collective security could, as a move before formal membership in NATO, make Moscow think twice before challenging Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the pro­Russian Crimean peninsula, for example.

Ukraine requested a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), the last step towards a full membership invitation, together with Georgia earlier this year. At a Bucharest summit in April, members of the alliance pledged both would be members in the future, but postponed any decisions on a MAP. Kyiv and Tbilisi hope to be accepted into a MAP at a follow­-up NATO summit in December.

In the meantime, Ukraine – like Georgia – is stuck with a weak and ill­prepared army. Savchenko said an army’s readiness can be judged by two factors: the state of its weapons and equipment, and the officers’ and soldiers’ morale.

While Georgians showed themselves to be united and motivated in their fight against Russia, and have extensive military action experience in conflicts that have plagued the region since the breakup of the USSR, in the case of Ukraine, there is bad news on both fronts.

Almost all its weapons are inherited from the Soviet army, and are therefore outdated. Georgia in recent years spent some $2 billion to purchase new arms, from Ukraine, the U.S. and Israel. Of Ukraine’s roughly 800 tanks, the few operational ones are modernized models of tanks first produced in 1964. The planes were made in 1970-­1980s.

“While we use second and third­generation tanks, [NATO members] use tanks and aviation of the fourth and fifth generation,” said Victor Chumak, a security expert at the Kyiv­based International Center for Policy Studies.

While Ukraine’s armed forces are badly in need of upgrades, the country ­ paradoxically ­ has in recent years ranked as one of the top ten arms exporters worldwide, with about two percent of the global market. And its domestic defense spending is only a fraction of NATO standards.

“According to Ukraine’s security and defense legislation, expenses on defense should account for some 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). NATO would require it to be 2 percent of GDP, but Ukraine’s expenditures for defense this year are only 1.1 percent of GDP,” said Mykhailo Samus, an expert at the Center for Army Conversion and Disarmament Studies.

This limited budget funding available is inefficiently spent. Out of nearly $2 billion in funding set aside for this year, 61 percent is being spent to feed, house and take care of nearly 200,000 military personnel. Only six percent goes to purchases and upgrades of weapons, equipment and infrastructure.

The limited spending leaves soldiers, and the military overall, strapped for cash. Rather than spending their time training for war, or other missions, soldiers are often engaged in other activities, such as picking potatoes to feed themselves and comrades. Conscripts commonly get marksmanship training only several times during a 10­-month compulsory military service.

“If a conscript is digging holes for laying cables or building his chief’s summer cottage it means that the chief can’t teach the soldier how to fight in war,” says Savchenko. “Soldiers aren’t grave­diggers. Their task is to defend the motherland.”

Even compared to Georgian army personnel, Ukrainian army officers are also notoriously underpaid and cared for. A lieutenant’s wage is Hr 1900 ($422) per month, for example.

“Most of Ukraine’s officers don’t have apartments to live in and money to support their families and finance their children’s education,” Savchenko said. This results in loss of the most skilled officers. They leave the army in search of better paying jobs, he added.

Abandoning the draft and moving to a smaller yet better­trained contract army could solve a lot of these problems, experts say. The transition is planned to take place by 2011, but progress is slow.

According to a Defense Ministry report, this year alone financing of this transition program fell 85 percent short of the budget. Less than $400 million of the planned $3 billion in funding was provided. The same report said that out of the 3,750 contract soldiers the army aimed to sign up, only 1,181 had joined.

However, if the Ukrainian government continues ignoring the army’s problems, the country’s defense will be nothing to speak of.

“A single drunk enemy soldier would be able to drive all of Ukraine’s armed forces into the Dnipro River with a whip,” Savchenko cynically warned of the dire situation.

Source: Kyiv Post


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