Who Will Protect Us?

22 October 2013, 12:23

Defence Ministry officials and experts close to it insist that Ukraine is currently not in danger of any serious conflict that could escalate into a military operation, so there is no need to panic. Ukrainians should feel safe, they say – nobody is going to attack them. They also claim that if necessary, international treaties guarantee foreign help for Ukraine.

Other experts, including Ihor Teniukh, Chief Commander of the Ukrainian Navy in 2006-2010, see great likelihood of a global military conflict in this decade, in which non-aligned Ukraine may have to take part. Neighbouring countries are another source of potential threat. A recent example is the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

READ ALSO: Russia is Arming Itself, but Against Whom?

To maintain its current non-aligned status, Ukraine has to speed up modernization of its army, increase spending on the military training and buy new weapons. Most non-aligned European states are fairly highly militarized and spend much on defence. Switzerland, with the population of 8 million, has a constantly growing defence budget (USD 4.83bn in 2011 and USD 5.45bn in 2012). With the reserve military personnel summoned to training for several weeks every year Switzerland can gather a 650,000-strong army within four hours and a 1.7 million-strong one within two days. Sweden with the population of 9 million plans to spend USD 6.1bn in 2013 on defence. Finland with 5 million people spends twice as much per capita as the 45-million Ukraine does. Its 2013 defence budget was USD 3.72bn including over 25% on arms upgrade. However, even they have had heated debates to quit their non-aligned status and join the NATO over the past few years. Ukraine cannot afford their scale of defence spending given its permanent budget deficits and economic stagnation. The more the government spends on the military, the more it will have to cut on social spending. This is not an option in the face of the upcoming elections.


This fall, the government approved a new reform programme that entails abolition of annual conscription, reduction in military personnel and a switch to the volunteer professional contract-based army in 2014 (see A Volunteer Army: Beyond Alliances and Quality Standards).  Many consider this to be a serious mistake, although they also claim that the current system needs significant reform. A relatively small army of volunteer servicemen, no matter how professional, cannot protect a country from military aggression effectively. So, Ukraine will hardly manage to keep its non-aligned status much longer. It will join one of the existing military alliances inevitably – this only a matter of time.

Today, the Ukrainian army needs USD 3-3.7bn annually at the very least, to maintain its current potential. Instead, the planned military spending in 2013 is USD 1.8bn of which 83.2% (USD 1.5bn) is for maintenance while the meager 6.4% (USD 0.1bn) is for training and 10.4% (USD 0.2bn) is for arms upgrade (see Misleading protection).

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Meanwhile, Ukraine’s neighbours undergo intense militarization. The military budget of Russia is USD 71.2bn in 2013 and is planned to grow to USD 96.4bn in 2015 and USD 105.2bn in 2016. By 2020, it is planning to modernize 70% of its weapons. The military budget of Poland, Ukraine’s biggest European neighbour and NATO member-state with the population of 38.4 million and a 120,000-strong volunteer professional army, is USD 8.5bn in 2013. Its plan for technical upgrade by 2022 provides for nearly USD 45bn to be spent on rearmament with aviation as the main focus. Ukraine’s second biggest European neighbour and another NATO member-state, Romania, with the population of 21.8 million and the army of 90,000, plans to spend almost twice of what Ukraine does on its military: USD 3.4bn in 2013. Plus, it is implementing a three-stage rearmament plan: the first stage was completed in 2007, and the other two will be in 2015 and 2025.

Experts claim that Ukraine should determine the percentage of GDP that it will allocate to the military in the legislation, and actually stick to it. The ideal share that would allow Ukraine to catch up with its neighbours is 5%. This would cover full rearmament and a gradual upgrade to the level that the military of Ukraine’s neighbours have. However, the affordable share today is 2%.

READ ALSO: Examining Weapons

Another thing experts point at is that even if the government increases funding, most of it will be stolen. So, a radical overhaul of the military system and structure is needed. One option is to segregate the functions of the Armed Forces Headquarters and the Defence Ministry into combat operations and administrative management respectively.  This would prevent overlapping, lower the level of corruption and bring basic order to the army.



Ihor Teniukh, Chief Commander of the Ukrainian Navy in March 2006-March 2010

Unfortunately, we have reason to agree with the experts who believe that a global military conflict is possible in this decade – there are grounds for it so it will only take a nudge to bring intent to life. Russia’s militarist policy has been significantly reinforced: it has activated its presence in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean for the first time in twenty years; it is taking steps to rearm the army and the navy; its policy on the subordination of post-Soviet states, particularly Ukraine, is growing tougher (take the 2008 intervention in Georgia). Officials talk of the possible use of nuclear weapons and withdrawal from international treaties on limitation and reduction of arms. The major factors fueling threats to our country include the critical decline of our capacity to protect Ukraine which may be used to put pressure on it; and unresolved issues linked to the temporary stay of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory, as well as the shortcomings in the relevant legal framework.

Meanwhile, the situation in Ukraine’s defence sphere is critical. The key problem is that the Armed Forces are not part of the counterbalance system. The Interior Ministry, the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) and the Prosecutor play a major role in it. In addition, the military is seen as a superfluous element from the viewpoint of politicians and their interests. The worst part is that the Army has already exhausted its capability to maintain battle-readiness with just minor tweaks. The ill-grounded approach to forming the military, particularly the declared large-scale downsizing of the military through the upcoming reform, is dangerous. Even a quick look at the measures listed in the Army Development Concept proves that these will not be implemented, since the funds projected for them will not be sufficient.


Such plans show how the government seeks simple ways to solve complex issues. We can claim confidently that the listed goals will be accomplished only partially, while the “reforms” will do more harm than good.

Without proper innovative armament and the redistribution of functions and responsibility supported by a due legal framework, the reform whereby the size of the military will be reduced is a way to nowhere. As a result, Ukraine’s Army will, at best, be an accessory for our sovereignty.


Leonid Poliakov, expert at the Centre for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies

Weaponry and machinery are undeniably important, but there is no point in them without the due moral and psychological condition of the military as an important indicator of battle-readiness. The moral and psychological condition is below poor. Why? Because servicemen don’t believe that the state, commanders, let alone the government, need them. The parliament which does not want to finance their needs doesn’t need them either. How much does the government plan to spend on housing for the military? Nothing. What else can be said? What other country, even a post-Soviet one, has such a waiting list for housing that is as long as Ukraine’s?  

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Roman Malko

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