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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

School of war

“Today we should value the soldiers, not shells or tanks”
21 August, 2014 - 10:31

Ukrainian forces continue to fight for liberating Luhansk from the terrorists. “One district of Luhansk has been freed, and there are already fights in the central part of the city,” said Spokesman of the Information Center of the National Security and Defense Council Andrii Lysenko on Tuesday. Earlier it was also reported that clearing of Yasynuvata from terrorists, blocking and isolation of Ilovaisk, Donetsk oblast, are coming to end. It will be recalled that on the eve President Petro Poroshenko announced the change of military tactics in the Anti-Terrorist Operation area.

“We should regroup our forces to enable our army to defend our territory and continue offensive action. The tactics will include dividing of the area that is controlled by terrorists into zones, narrowing tightly the circle, and making it impossible to supply weapons and ammunition,” reported the press service of the president.

In which way will this tactics reduce the number of casualties in Ukrainian forces and among peaceful citizens? From this question I started the interview with a former officer, reserve colonel from Donetsk, who wanted to remain anonymous out of safety considerations. Part of his family is still in the area controlled by terrorists.

“There will be difficulties and loss. This is apparent even from the statistics. Whereas previously three or four people could be killed at the check points, and there were incidents when, for example, a plane was shot down, now the number of casualties is considerably higher. Now we are having street battles. According to all military textbooks, this is the most difficult kind of fighting. Of course, this makes it harder for our forces to advance.”

Have power structures changed considerably, compared to the beginning of the military actions in the Donbas?

“The Ministry of Defense, like before, continues to be a ‘monster-department.’ For example, the volunteer battalions must have heavy weapons, all the more so they are sent to the frontline. And the department gives it with moans and groans, or does not give at all. I know this situation: the competition between the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense. Most of the generals in the high echelons of the Ministry of Defense are sitting in their offices, not in   the frontline. They have gotten used to clicking their heels before the president and reporting about successes. Therefore they are not in a hurry to give the weapons to Donbas and Azov battalions; the most important thing for them is that namely their military unit fulfills the task, and then they will be able to go and report. That is how they receive rewards, promotion, etc. All the more so, the majority of the volunteer battalions continue to fight under the aegis of  he National Guard of the Ministry of the Interior. For example, when I was serving in   the army, it came up to idiocy. At the Ministry of the Interior we had old BTR-60 and BTR-70 (armored vehicles), whereas the Ministry of Defense had BTR-80 working on diesel engines, which they scrapped. The same refers to 9mm bullets. We stopped shooting because we didn’t have such ammo, and at the Ministry of Defense these bullets were utilized (their shelf life expired). When we appealed to them, they said that we should buy the ammo, because we were a different department. The saddest thing is that this practice has preserved till present day.”

Does not the war teach anything?

“Of course, the situation dictates: there is modernization, although it is lagging behind. For example, why are Russian forces more or less modernized? The situation forced them to do this. All their equipment broke down during the first Chechen campaign. Their army was totally unprepared. Today the situation forces us to change, too. We can see this especially on the example of the National Guard. They gradually started to receive BTR-3, BTR-4, Dozor weapons. They are becoming the most efficient forces. Clearly, it is the human factor, but much depends on the modern weapons. The war has urged Ukraine to arm itself. But there is one thing that surprises me. How can the government sell the same BTR-4 weapons to its department at the same price as to Kazakhstan and Thailand?”

You have mentioned the human factor. How much have our servicemen changed?

“I have recently been to the Chief Directorate of the National Guard and talked to my colleagues. They, for example, treat the volunteer battalions with contempt. I have recently offered to them, ‘Give me a possibility to command a battalion. I was born and grew up in Donetsk. I know my city and, most, importantly, I have a corresponding training and education. I can fight and want to do this.’ I heard in reply, ‘Why do you need this? Do you know what kind of riffraff is there?’”

What is the reason of such attitude?

“I will give you one. It turned out that half of that Chief Directorate in a sense does not support the Ukrainian power. Part of the officers I talked to said, ‘These Ukrainian flags and slogans about the united country annoy me.’ ‘Why are you sitting here?’ I asked. He said, ‘I have nowhere to go.’ So, a person is getting a salary from the Ukrainian budget, he has a flat, it is not excluded that he earns money on dirty schemes, but at the same time he is sitting and telling me how fond he is of Putin. Such people should be turned out.”

Why aren’t they doing this?

“This is a question to the political leadership. For example, I knew the late General Serhii Kulchytsky. In my time I came to him with inspection. I can say that there are not many officers like him. When he was the commander of the Lviv unit, he went into the problems of the soldiers: dining halls, clubs, and barracks – he held them on a proper level. It was clear that the man was living with his profession. Generals like Kulchytsky impede those who are involved in underhand dealings. Therefore it’s not excluded that the information about the helicopter on which he was flying was simply leaked. Such officers are popular among soldiers, but, unfortunately, people in the high echelons of power don’t like them. For many other generals go to the ATO area, sit in Kharkiv or Izium, and then receive medals for taking part in military actions. Therefore the war is being carried out, 50 percent or more, by usual soldiers and officers. Namely the commanders who have felt what war is should be appointed to offices. They will try to do their best for the army, not be taking care about their own welfare.

“It goes without saying that provision, I mean the logistics, has been practically destroyed in the Ministry of Defense. Therefore we often hear that the soldiers  are starving. At the National Guard (former internal military forces of the Ministry of the Interior) the situation is different. In their time they defended the logistic support. The servicemen have problems with helmets and armored vests. Inexperience of commanders and lack of knowledge has its effect. The well-known example is the attack of the servicemen near Volnovakha. It is inadmissible to stop in forest without taking proper measures. And our columns that often get to ambushes? Even if they are betrayed, if the movement was properly organized, there would have been fewer casualties. The reconnaissance must go in the first ranks. Our servicemen are going through real school of life in the Donbas.”

And in spite of all the problems, they do liberate the cities.

“Yes, they pick up in the process. Of course, compared to the beginning of ATO, we have a different army. We are only paying too high a price. If there were real reforms, there would have been fewer causalities. So, by optimistic forecasts, Luhansk will be liberated till the end of the week. Everything is much more complicated with Donetsk. But we should not forget about the open border. The terrorists are getting regular reinforcement.”

The State Border Service is a separate question.

“This is the brightest example that proves that the power is not changing anything. From the first day it was one of the weakest links. It was said openly. So? Lytvyn is still in office. How many European tranches were given to Ukraine to reinforce the border? Where is the result? They had enough staff, they were provided with good equipment. Still the border here is open wide. And there have been many reports that the contractors and weapons were let in for bribes.

“But as a resident of the Donbas I would like to pay attention to one problem. If Akhmetov was sent about his business, everything would have been over. Everyone in Donetsk knows that the battalion ‘East’ is financed by Akhmetov. Meanwhile he is living comfortably in Kyiv. His companies and Donbas Arena remain intact. And the main check points in Donetsk, by the way, are located at Akhmetov’s residence, Lux. Why isn’t this question being resolved?”

In your opinion, why?

“Because, by and large, the same people who live according to the old rules and who are unwilling to change to system have remained in the leadership. For the conflict could have been solved at the very beginning. Then all these so-called ‘rebels’ would not be as big a threat as today. Our soldiers at the check points were surprised: why they are shooting at us, and we are waiting? If there was an order, the cities, where lots of weapons have been brought in and where the terrorists have seriously reinforced their positions, would have been cleared very quickly. There is an impression that someone needs this conflict for geopolitics, and others – to divide the money.”

How efficiently is the work being done in the liberated cities?

“Above all, the Security Service of Ukraine should work there: find all terrorists and separatists. Of course, the measures are needed on the part of the Ministry of the Interior. But the employees in the police should be changed, and the new ones should be found among the locals, because the actions of the outsiders can produce an opposite effect. I think the right thing was done in Artemivsk. Now the Battalion Artemivsk, which liberated the city, is working there. The most important thing is that the government should send a signal that none of this will repeat, the state should prove its efficiency (schools, jobs, real decentralization). It’s inadmissible when old mayors reappear in the liberated cities, like old staff on the whole. If nothing is done, it will be easy for some double agent from Russia to gather a gang again and start to destabilize the situation.

“We don’t need to ask the West for weapons, we need instructors who will teach our people: the middle and the lower echelons. And old generals should be fired. We need to pick up the experience from NATO professionals, learn to fight according to their standards. For we are still using the Soviet, Russian, methods of war, when soldiers are not spared, the most important thing is to achieve the goal, at any price. Today we should value the soldiers, not shells or tanks.”

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, The Day