180928 mainEditor’s Note: The following are remarks in New York by retired U.S. General John Abizaid at a Sept. 22-23 event commemorating Ukraine’s attempt a century ago, in 1918, to achieve national independence, a drive that failed when Soviet troops took over the nation by 1922. See the Kyiv Post coverage of the event here. Abizaid is retired from the U.S Army as a four-star general in 2007 after 34 years of active command, including being commander of U.S Central Command. In September 2016, Abizaid was appointed to advise Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak on ways to strengthen Ukraine’s military.


I’m going to talk about the nuts and bolts of what’s going on. I’m going to tell you why you should be proud of Ukraine’s armed forces. I’m going to tell you why you should support them because they are the front line, as far as I’m concerned, for all of us. And supporting that front line today isn’t a matter of nice to do, it’s a matter of must do.


I’ll also tell you something that will surprise you and that is that I have great respect for the Russian military – I always have. From my earliest time as a young officer, I prepared to fight them. I understood their commanders, their weapons, their tactics, I understood what they would do and I knew them to be very professional, very capable, very adaptable.


And they have shown, since their invasion of Ukraine, a great adaptability that the West must wake up to. We must understand that hybrid warfare is not just a danger to the people of Georgia, the people of Syria, and the people of Ukraine but it can strike the NATO periphery of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and other places.


It’s a clear way of war that doesn’t expose the main force or main effort. But it uses all the main implements of war with proxy forces to reinforce them with electronic warfare, with air defense, with cyber warfare, with propaganda, with special forces in a way that achieves success, quickly, easily and up until the battles in Ukraine almost without cost.

In 2014, when the proxy war began against Ukraine, the Russians thought it would be an easy task – and by the way, the Ukrainian army was not ready – it was terrible, it was unorganized, it had no political support, it didn’t know whether to go and fight or go and stop fighting, go and turn in their arms, it wasn’t organized for medical casualties, it wasn’t organized for logistic support, it wasn’t organized by units that could fight together as a teaming its high command was unable to coordinate the difficulties of the battle.

And here we are 2018; they’re tough, they’re resilient, they’re focused, they’re on the front, they’re holding the line, they’re getting better, the logistics are improved but not perfect, weapons are reaching the front line, volunteers are no longer the mainstay of the force, the professional army is the mainstay of the force, the United States, the Canadians, the Poles, our British allies are helping them train.


We’re advising them how to re-organize from the old Soviet system, which the Ukrainians have not completely re-organized from – the Russians have. And we are telling them to embrace the concepts of warfare that make Western nations successful.


How are they doing?


Well……they’re doing pretty well. The other day I was in one of our German training centers and there was a Ukrainian airborne unit ‘fighting’ there against Americans – I mean it was a fake fight.


So I arrived there and said I wanted to speak to the Ukrainian commander and sent somebody to find him. He’s in the middle of a terrible fight with the Americans and I told him I wanted to see him. A Ukrainian officer ran out here and came back. I asked did you find the Ukrainian colonel? Where is he? The Ukrainian said ‘he’s not coming.’

I asked why isn’t he coming? He said ‘because if he comes, he’ll lose the battle and he’s not ready to lose the battle. And I thought to myself ‘this is what we want toes Ukrainians to be like – we want to fight to win, we want to fight without everything being according to the plan, we want to fight with initiative, with courage, with inspiration.

We want the officers out front, we want to be able to ensure that the inspirational leadership of soldiers in battle will overcome even great odds that the enemy’s put against you.


So when I go to the joint forces are – it’s no longer the ATO – I see young, tough, educated soldiers, some of whom have been trained in the West, but all of whom are fighting on their own, with very minimal Western support and they’re holding the line.


But it’s just not enough to hold the line. The line has to be held, not only in the area in the southeast but the long border between Russia and Ukraine.


And it’s not just the border between Russia and Ukraine, it’s the border between Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, Moldova and Ukraine, Crimea and Ukraine. These are all areas that show where Russian military intervention can take place and it’s a serious and difficult military problem but I have to tell you I have great confidence in the minister of defense and the chief of staff because I know that they are patriots I know that they’re providing leadership that will move the country forward and the armed forces forward in a more organized and capable way.


They must build faster. They must get resources to the front. They must get weapons to the front, not only the forces down in the southeast but the National Guard forces and the field forces so that every day that the Russians are fighting in the southeast that a fight for some other place will be tougher. They won’t want to pay the price and the Ukrainian army will be able to make them pay a price if we train them, if we help them, if we supply them. And hopefully, when it comes down to the worst day, we’ll come to their aid in ways that we might appreciate differently.


So what do I have to say?


The Ukrainian soldier is tough, he’s dedicated, he’s better equipped than he used to be, although the organization of the General Staff and Ministry of Defense needs to be fully reformed.


Ukraine’s armed forces are still not what I would call NATO, Euro-Atlantic standard, but they’re moving in that direction. But that doesn’t matter. The staff will get there. What matters is that the soldier will stand and fight, the officers will lead from the front, and the enemy will recoil from the fact that the young men and women of Ukraine are willing to fight for their freedom.


I have great respect for these young men and women. I will stand with them from now until ever and I wish them luck. It’s not that we are going to win the fight for them, it’s that with their own courage and determination they will win their own fight.






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