The Kyiv Post article “How Ukraine can build an army to beat Putin” by British expert Glen Grant has sparked a mighty debate. It is important to note that the article has generated a lot of positive reviews from experts, servicemen, and civil society as a whole. At the same time, the official position of the Ministry of Defense turned out to be coldly negative: “Glen Grant had no way to objectively study and participate in reforming the Ukrainian army during his stay in Ukraine given the limits of his access. In this regard, the information that has been presented by him reflects only his own assumptions and thoughts and does not have an objective basis,” said the official website of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on February 7, 2018.
A few words about Grant: he is a British national, a reserve officer with artillery background, a graduate of the Royal Military Academy and the Joint Services Command and Staff College. As a young officer, he commanded a military unit in Northern Ireland for six months (I would like to recall that at that time it was a hot conflict zone with daily shootings). It should be noted that he had no deaths in the unit, although some suffered gunshot wounds. Grant also served in an airmobile artillery unit. He participated in large-scale exercises, including ones involving operational movement of troops over long distances. During his service in the Ministry of Defense’s Bosnia operations and policy cell, he personally led the evacuation of British and French citizens from Albania. He served as a defense attache to Finland, Latvia, and Estonia and worked at the NATO Air Force Headquarters in Italy. Grant’s defense reform projects were successful at the time of his service as adviser to the minister of defense of Estonia, in Bulgaria, Poland, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Chile.
The Briton spent quite a long time in Ukraine: before the dramatic events of 2014, it was under defense assistance programs, while in 2014, he became an adviser to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. During the armed conflict, he conducted effective crisis management training sessions with specialists from the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff, communicated with civilian volunteers and volunteer fighters, traveled a lot. As a specific example of his work in the summer of 2014, one can cite compiling “Rules on the Use of Weapons at Checkpoints,” which did not exist in the Ukrainian Armed Forces before. In “Rules...” he skillfully combined the requirements of international law and the experience of crisis management operations, that is, they gave legitimacy to the actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ units under difficult conditions of the time. Specialists understand well what I am talking about here and why it was highly relevant at the time. The final project in which he was involved was the development of recommendations for the solution of the problem of housing provision.
It should be noted that Grant is by nature highly capable of seeing the strategic picture, shows creativity and initiative. He reads a lot on the history of wars and military conflicts, analytics and journalism, and communicates with different people. The officer is well known among anti-terrorist operation veterans and in the volunteer circles (Pizza Glen in Veterano Pizza is named in his honor). He pays attention to the important details, and before offering his conclusions for consideration, he has them carefully developed and argued. For example, he noticed the cooling of the British press’s attention to the issue of the war in eastern Ukraine, which is an important aspect related to the trends in the public demand for relevant information in one of the leading European powers. This is expressed in the article as well, even though his wording is different. The wave-like character of the war of the new generation which he has proven, the dependence of its results on the speed of adopting adequate decisions, proactivity, troop mobility, and the implementation of the latest defense technologies are also addressed in the article.
Grant’s criticism is never indiscriminate and unreasonable. On the contrary, it is always purposeful and constructive, based on the lessons to be learned. It offers advisable strategic steps or tactical steps with a strategic effect (like the issues of diesel generators or lantern batteries). You will not hear the Briton saying “it is all bad” or “it is hopeless,” he admits that the Ukrainian army is getting better by the day, but in general, as an organization, it is not among the best in Europe. He reveals critical deficiencies, asks us to look into areas where there are critical vulnerabilities and which people are rarely looking into, proposes feasible changes to give troops and staffs key strategic advantages – mobility, proactivity, and high operating tempo.
It should be noted that the principles expressed in Grant’s public article were developed by him in 2014 and reported to the then management of the Ministry of Defense. They were in the firefighting mode then, so those entrusted with the right and responsibility to make decisions had no time for him. Then they were submitted to the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine with the same result. He discussed a number of aspects of this topic in a TV appearance on Channel 5 in May 2016, and this interview was shown again three weeks ago... Four years have passed, during which Ukraine is said to have been “actively implementing NATO standards.” Has the Soviet mentality been overcome in our army? Do we have working tools of deterring and repelling possible aggression? Has the problem of military leadership been resolved? Has the paper tsunami stopped, which occupies most of the officer’s working hours? Let us be frank: the problems raised by Grant are still present and they do not make our army into a high-quality force. Yes, it offers a somewhat symmetrical response to threats, but it will be extremely difficult to win through such a response; Ukraine needs a different content of command and staff culture and a high-quality military force built on leadership, mobility, and high motivation. But instead of implementing rapid changes, the system tries to preserve itself. That is why the transformations are extremely slow. They are often varnished with beautiful words, but go in a circle, limit change to replacing signs and plaques, and are full of populism. This basically comes from the outdated Soviet military culture, which is based on control and punishment, not leadership or motivation. This is a problem that does not contribute to the security of the country.
Grant does not fight and has never fought the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, his goal is diametrically opposite: to help our state to survive under extremely difficult conditions created by the annexation of part of its territory and the ongoing armed conflict in the east. I want to thank him for that. One should not foolishly hope that the conflict is dying down, as there are no military and strategic indicators that confirm this. I agree that there are signs of a strategic pause, which will last for a very short historical period. But any strategic pause has the purpose of strengthening and rearranging troops (forces) to prepare them to continue the war. That is why one should listen to the advice of the British expert: “This time must not be wasted by Ukraine.” We strive to build a liberal democratic country based on the Western values and Western way of protecting these values. But, unfortunately, the thoughts of a person who has knowledge and experience in this field, and names by their true names things which are unpleasant, but important in the context of the country’s survival – these thoughts are not accepted today, even partially. Of course, time will tell who is right. I would not like to see Ukrainians paying a high price to confirm the strategic conclusions and recommendations of the Briton.
Ihor Kabanenko is admiral, defense and security expert