What was the purpose of your recent visit to Ukraine?
I visited Ukraine to deepen NATO Allied Land Command’s cooperative relationship with your Land Forces. We started this military relationship back in 2018 where we signed a letter of cooperation between my headquarters and Ukrainian Land Forces. As the Commander of NATO Allied Land Command, I’m responsible for enabling NATO combat readiness for Alliance Land Forces. And, this includes partner nations like Ukraine. So, enabling combat readiness requires me as the Commander to gain situational awareness with the Land Forces, not only the Allied nations’ Land Forces, but also those of the partner nations like Ukraine. And, your country is one of six NATO Enhanced Opportunity Partners (EOP). This means Ukraine has enhanced access to interoperability programmes and exercises, and more sharing of information, including lessons learned. As we all know, with Russia continuously posturing along NATO’s eastern flank, having strong partners like Ukraine is all the more critical.
Can you explain the history of this partnership between LANDCOM and Ukraine?
LANDCOM signed a letter of cooperation with the Ukrainian Army back in September 2018. The letter established a framework for future cooperation between LANDCOM and Ukrainian Land Forces. So LANDCOM, my headquarters, is playing a leading role in standardization of NATO Land Forces as well as partner Land Forces like Ukraine. We participate in what we call Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) programme. We’ve already done some partnership activities with Ukraine. Back in 2019, LANDCOM sent an OCC evaluation team to Ukraine for exercise Rapid Trident 2019 where we evaluated a Ukrainian chemical unit, engineer company and a military police platoon. And again in 2019 we sent a team to conduct training on logistics with the Ukrainian Land Forces as well. And recently, LANDCOM formed a close relationship with the Ukrainian Chief of Defense Strategic Communication office through collaboration on our Land Power magazine where we used it as a strategic messaging platform that showcased Ukraine as a NATO partner. We also have a staff officer from Ukraine assigned to our G9, which is our military cooperation division. There is a lot of activities going on between LANDCOM and Ukraine. And I only see it getting better over time.
How do you see the relationship with Ukraine going forward?
In LANDCOM we are going to continue to deepen our cooperation to build interoperability with Ukraine’s Land Forces. We are excited to see what the future holds. And this relationship will continue because cooperative security is important to NATO and important to Ukraine as well. We have staff talks planned for late June or July, we are still trying to nail down the details. I have invited Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi to attend to a conference that we hold in Istanbul. He will deliver some lessons learned the Ukrainian Land Forces has learned over the past few years. I only see this relationship continuing to grow and continuing to get stronger.
RELATED ARTICLE: Expanding the opportunities
What was your personal impression of the current level of training, equipment, readiness, and interoperability of Ukrainian Land Forces?
Well, I learned a lot during my visit, and I know I’m going to learn a lot more as we continue to strengthen this relationship. I was impressed by the professionalism, discipline, and the motivation of the Ukrainian Land Forces that I saw. If we look back on your events in just the last few years, it is my belief that Ukraine has come a long way in just a short period of time. I feel the seriousness of my friend Colonel General Alexander Syrsky, and the seriousness that he places in his partnership with LANDCOM and with NATO. But don’t take it just from me. I’d like to share a story with you. I was talking to a young Ukrainian women during my time in Kyiv. She works as a server in the restaurant at the hotel where we were staying. She remembers what it was like in the streets of Kyiv just a few years ago. And in our conversation she commented on something I found incredibly profound. I asked her what scares her the most, and she answered: “What scares me the most is that this abnormal war in Ukraine has become normal.” And then she added: “But if we had the army back in 2014 that we have today, things would have turned out completely different.” That says a lot. The people of your country can see the difference in the military and in your Land Forces. And that is why we are here. My job is to help make your Land Forces NATO interoperable, and to build the ability for conducting operations alongside Alliance Land Forces as we go forward in this partnership. We have identified the areas where we need more focus and we are going to build the plan of how we can help Ukraine to improve these areas. And we are going to continue to train in the areas where Ukraine is already good to help maintain proficiency. But, bottom line, to bring it full circle, this young woman’s story reminds me of why we are here, and why NATO matters to Ukraine and its Land Forces.
What needs to be done to improve Ukrainian Land Forces more?
I won’t get into the specifics right now, that is something we are working on identifying. But we are always focused on interoperability, standardization, the ability to work together. When we have our meeting in Istanbul, when Colonel General Alexander Syrsky comes down, and during the staff talks this summer, that is where we are going to discuss more of what Ukrainian Land Forces should focus on, and we are going to map out a way ahead. So, it is really a dialogue where we come together and we focus on improvement of areas that we both think are important.
Will we see LANDCOM conducting more activities with Ukrainian Land Forces? Does LANDCOM plan to participate in Ukraine-led strategic command and staff exercise "Joint Endeavour 2021"?
Absolutely, we will be conducting more activities with Ukrainian Land Forces. We are at the beginning of a long and fruitful journey that will help to build NATO-Ukraine interoperability and capability. When it comes down to it, through the training and certifying of Ukrainian Land Forces and enablement of Ukraine’s NATO interoperability, we help NATO remain vigilant and ready. As to your question regarding "Joint Endeavour 2021", what I can say is we are looking at all the ways to get involved with exercises across the entire Alliance and countries like Ukraine. We were involved with “Rapid Trident” in the past and we are looking to participate again as well for the future. We are also conducting mobile training teams (MTTs) to help Ukraine Land Forces to build their capability. In order to continue to build NATO interoperability and capability we need to be involved as much as possible. That is what I’m trying to do during the staff talks that are coming up. They are going to really help us lay out the roadmap.
We often hear that Ukrainian Armed forces learn a lot from NATO. Are there any lessons learned by NATO, by LANDCOM from Ukraine?
This is precisely why I asked Colonel General Sirskyi about attending our upcoming conference in Istanbul. Twice a year LANDCOM gathers the various Land Forces commanders from across NATO to discuss contemporary challenges, lessons learned, and ways ahead as we provide for the defense and deterrence of the Alliance. We call this biannual event the LANDCOM Corps Commanders’ Conference (LC3). And I think Ukraine has a lot it can contribute, especially, when it comes to hybrid warfare. Ukraine has experienced it first hand and has a lot of experience. And, there are other areas, like the ongoing Information War that has been going on for decades between Ukraine and its neighbor to the east.
I think Ukraine has a lot of expertise to pass on here.
RELATED ARTICLE: Mutually beneficial precedent
What is NATO doing to counter contemporary threats to the NATO Alliance?
We as NATO have the responsibility to defend and deter from all directions. This is about combat readiness. Our security posture is 360 degrees. I’m not prepared to discuss the specifics of what we’re doing at the tactical level for how we adapt to these challenges in the contemporary threat environment. But I will say that strong alliances adapt to contemporary challenges and that’s what NATO is doing across the board. Part of NATO adapting is to stay ahead of the curve especially by maintaining a technological edge. The fact is, innovations in artificial intelligence, autonomous weapon systems, big data, and biotech are changing the nature of peace, crisis, and conflict. We in NATO are determined to stay ahead of the curve on all the security related aspects of emerging and disruptive technologies. NATO defense ministers recently agreed to an implementation strategy for these very emerging and disruptive technologies. Of course, we are looking at all these things right now and keeping a pulse on current and future challenges at the same time. And inevitably, we train for these challenges as an Alliance, and develop our ways defend against and counter all types of threats to our Alliance.
Lieutenant General Roger L. Cloutier assumed command of Allied Land Command in August 2020. He previously served as the commander of U.S. Army Africa/Southern European Task Force. He was commissioned as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army upon graduating from the University of San Diego in 1988, and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in international relations. Throughout his career he has served in leadership positions and commanded from company through brigade, and at the U.S. Army installation and service component levels. He has served in multiple combat and contingency operations overseas including Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn in Iraq, Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Operation Just Cause in Panama.
Follow us at @OfficeWeek on Twitter and The Ukrainian Week on Facebook