Corrupt, short of cash and lacking in skills: British Ukrainian army come to train | Ukraine


Igor Kuzyo, a nightclub bouncer from Lviv, received a meeting notice last summer. But rather than join the Ukrainian army, he traveled east and enlisted in a volunteer battalion. At least 30 of these loosely regulated brigades have sprung up in eastern Ukraine to help the understaffed army. Their choice is revealing.

“They don’t give you anything in the army, the material is bad, and they reveal secrets even worse than the Interior Ministry [which oversees his Saint Mary volunteer battalion]”Kuzyo said.” We have generals who just sit in the back, they’ve never even fired their guns, “he added.” We need more. military expertise of the United States or the United Kingdom. “

Several weeks after David Cameron announced Britain would send military advisers to help troops involved in the conflict with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, British military instructors arrived to provide training medical and tactical to local troops, said the Defense Ministry in Kiev. Thursday.

A spokesperson, Oleksandr Motuzianik, did not specify the number of instructors, but said the training would take place over a two-month period. The BBC reported that 35 instructors had already started their training in the southern town of Mykolaiv. Others are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Cameron’s announcement last month sparked mixed feelings from troops on the ground, many of whom want the West to send arms as well. The move is unlikely to change the balance between government troops and Russian-backed rebel forces, although a Ukrainian military expert has said it could have a long-term positive effect on the military’s struggle. to train and equip new men.

At the start of the conflict, the Kiev army lacked manpower, modern equipment and know-how. The annexation of Crimea and the ensuing Russian-backed uprising in the east caught him off guard. Ukraine would have only had 6,000 combat-ready soldiers. Their equipment was outdated and poorly maintained, as the army’s purchases were notoriously corrupt.

Alexander Lapko, senior specialist at the NATO Liaison Office in Kiev, wrote in the New York Times in October that his family must have spent $ 2,400 (£ 1,615) on a uniform, boots, a viewfinder, a bulletproof jacket and helmet for his brother, who only received a Kalashnikov assault rifle when he joined the military last year. The training was also lackluster.

An elite British soldier of Ukrainian descent, who resigned to train the Kiev forces, recently told the Sunday Times that six in ten Ukrainian victims were due to friendly fire or mishandling of weapons. The commanders were so incompetent that they endangered the lives of the soldiers.

A soldier from the 95th Brigade, deployed to protect Donetsk Airport, waves from his armored car as it passes through Kiev from Boryspil en route to the battalion’s headquarters in Zhitomir, Ukraine. Photograph: Stas Kozlyuk / Demotix / Corbis

“Everything I saw was contrary to everything I was taught in the British Army,” said the man, who only gave his code name, Saffron.

Today, even after 10 months of war, these problems persist – and they will likely be all too visible to the country’s first Western military trainers.

The relatively small number of British instructors belies the impact advisers can have, according to Oleksiy Melnik, an analyst at the Kiev Razumkov Center who previously worked at the Defense Ministry. “One of the approaches the British use is to train the trainers, and that is the way to influence the situation,” he said. “The results will multiply.

Some US servicemen are expected to train Ukrainian troops this spring, and the UK has had a defense adviser residing in Kiev for a decade, mainly to consult on possible reforms. But the new deployment of advisers is a step forward, Melnik said.

Under former President Viktor Yanukovych – ousted last February – planned army reforms have remained largely unsuccessful. Although conscription was canceled in 2013 as part of reforms to build a professional fighting force, the military remained full of poorly trained conscripts when the political regime changed in February 2014.

The conflict in the east created an even greater need for manpower even though time and resources for training were scarce. Earlier this year, Kiev said it had expanded its military force to 200,000 since the start of the conflict, mainly by mobilizing those who had previously served. With the reinstatement of conscription last year, the Defense Ministry plans to call in 40,000 conscripts and recruit 10,500 contract soldiers in 2015.

“Of course, we need training to revitalize the army, to reform it and teach it to be combat-ready,” said the commander of a frontline checkpoint near Mariupol who would only have given his Cobra call sign.

His unit, which is part of a battalion of volunteers from Zaporozhiya that has been integrated into the army command structure, underwent approximately three months of physical and basic weapons training before deploying to the front lines, did he declare.

After nearly a year of war, the Kiev army has gained combat experience, but “it is difficult to speak of any real improvement” in its general condition, Melnik said. He hopes that the British advisers will help in particular to train lower-ranking officers.

“At the NCO level, the British Army is recognized around the world,” he said. “This is where they can help more than anyone. “

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