181025 UKRAINES MILITARYUkraine’s military is improving its combat effectiveness and interoperability with NATO, but it still needs to improve its English-language skills and continue embracing modern military thinking, the alliance’s senior representatives of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) asserted on Oct. 22.


A SHAPE delegation came to Ukraine on Oct. 22 to pay visits and give lectures as part of the NATO days held at three major military academies in Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv.


Speaking to the Kyiv Post prior to the tour, the delegation’s head, Major General Odd Pedersen, noted that Ukraine’s efforts towards transforming its military has already resulted in having a number of combat formations that actually meet the 29-member alliance’s criteria of high combat effectiveness.


“Having Ukraine as part of many of NATO’s operations throughout the years have been the most successful,” Petersen said.


“Because your troops have represented their country very well, and they have done well in complicated scenarios. I’m talking about Afghanistan and Kosovo, but also about the Sea Guardian, the maritime operations (aimed to ensure security in the Mediterranean).”


Last month, he added, NATO’s Allied Land Command (LANDCOM) successfully evaluated two Ukrainian combat formations belonging to the country’s Special Operations Forces, particularly a engineering company, as well as an SBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) defense company.


By doing this, the NATO command officially confirmed that the evaluated units were completely interoperable and capable of operating with NATO standards and procedures – which is basically an ultimate goal for the whole Ukrainian defense and security sector under its 2020 reform.


“I cannot speak for all of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Pedersen concluded. “But those evaluated units that I have seen are doing well.”



NATO’s SHAPE Major General Odd Pedersen talks to the Kyiv Post during a meeting at NATO Liaison Office in Kyiv on Oct. 22. (Oleg Petrasiuk)


Language barrier


However, as Pedersen noted, there remains a considerable problem standing on the way: an insufficient level of proficiency in a foreign language among many of Ukraine’s military personnel.


“English and French are two languages spoken in the alliance,” the general asserted.


“And if you want to be listened to and to be able to get to your point, you need to speak quite good English. And that is sometimes complicated for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”


Upon that, many of Ukraine’s military personnel of older age, who started their career long before the westernization of the Ukrainian army was launched, tend to have problems with foreign languages, while the youth in uniform demonstrate excellent result in this realm.


“This tells me it’s probably a generation thing,” Pedersen concluded.


Besides, he added, another thing that Ukraine should stick to is “challenging the old way of doing things” in the military.


However, from his perspective, even though Ukraine needs reforms in the defense and security sector, another thing that should be always remembered is that such massive transformations that the Ukrainian forces assumed under the 2020 reform could not be done in just a snap, and that it would take years of steadfast evolutionary work to reach a complete compatibility with NATO benchmarks.


“You can ask your neighbor Romania how many years did it take for them to change their armed forces according to NATO doctrines and standards. That took them 15 years,” general said.


But apart from improving its English, Ukrainian army is absolutely welcome to participate in even more joint drills and operations with NATO, which greatly helps forge better relations between the Ukrainian and NATO military forces.


Soon, Ukrainian troops would get another good chance to show themselves: as Pedersen said, Ukraine would join NATO drills in the Baltic Sea region Trident Juncture between Oct. 25 and Nov. 7.


“I have a responsibility for more than 400 activities in 2019, which is a huge amount of activities for me,” he concluded. “And this is probably the largest number of activities in any country that we are dealing with from the partnership side.”


“So Ukraine is doing well, it gets a lot of attention, but of course, are we there? Probably not yet.”


Sergeant corps


On numerous occasions, NATO officials provided rather positive feedback specifically regarding the development of professional sergeant corps in the Ukrainian army under Western model of non-commissioned officers rather than old Soviet-style approach.


With the new model, Ukrainian sergeants will become the ones who are trained to assume all duties on ensuring discipline, morale, training, and taking care of soldiers’ everyday needs, letting their officers concentrate on their command-and-control functions.


Chief Warrant Officer Martin Cartier from the Canadian Armed Forces, also a member of SHAPE delegation to Ukraine, stressed that this aspect of the defense reform is marked with a considerable progress.


“The NCO corps progress is indeed a success story.” Chief Warrant Officer Cartier told the Kyiv Post. “It is well on its way to achieving their goals.”



NATO’s SHAPE Senior Enlisted Leader Martin Cartier talks to the Kyiv Post during a meeting at NATO Liaison Office in Kyiv on Oct. 22. (Oleg Petrasiuk)


“I know it is successful just because I see the fact that it keeps progressing all the time. It is being recognized worldwide in various training and exercises. About the (Ukrainian) guys in Kosovo, I hear nothing but good. They are improving their status and their level of interoperability (with NATO forces).”


He, however, also noted that the lack of proficiency in foreign languages among Ukrainian military is still a problem to progress.


“It is speaking English that sometimes creates a barrier for development, unfortunately,” Cartier said.


“We have to get better at developing (Ukrainian) NCOs that speak English for NATO environment. It will just be easier for them and easier for the allied countries they’re working in.”


But then again, he added, there’s no point waiting for immediate results: such a profound reform would take lots of time.


“The last thing you want to do in the process of reforms is to rush through it,” Cartier said. “A human being is reluctant to change – it’s a normal fact. If you rush through this, you’ll be pushing people to do what they are not ready to do.”


“Another thing is that they need to accept the change before. You have to take your time, because to change such things as rank structure, it takes time. And you don’t want to do it once – you need to go through every step to ensure you’re doing it properly so that when you implement it, everybody’s understanding what it is, everybody agrees with what it is, and everybody would follow that.”


But even so, he expressed optimism towards the future of Ukraine’s defense and security reform.


“Are you on the right path? Yes. Are you doing it quick and well? Yes. How long will it take? It is impossible to say, because it also needs the support from all the entities, and the (Ukrainian) government has to be behind everything else,” Cartier said.



Kyiv Post



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