Military reform in Ukraine is proceeding at an extremely slow pace; too slowly. The Ukrainian military today is still steeped in its Soviet heritage, senior Ukrainian officers are concerned about the possible disadvantages of reform and the effect it could have on their “corporate” or “vested” interests, and this is something that represents the most serious obstacle to the advancement of reform within the Ukrainian military sector.
The theoretical and operational knowledge from NATO and military knowledge originating from the Soviet legacy are mutually exclusive and therefore many senior officials are hindering a complete and thorough doctrinal overhaul or revision of the Ukrainian military. Following the old-fashioned Soviet system, operational instructions are sent hierarchically from the top down, whereas according to NATO standards operational orders during exercises and on the actual battlefield tend to be transmitted through a coordinated and horizontal ‘neural’ network scheme involving everyone from the simple soldier to the highest echelons of the army.
The meetings between US and Ukrainian officers often lead to deep operational, cultural and intellectual misunderstandings as each follows completely different cultural, anthropological and operational models or value patterns, the US culture being mainly result-oriented and the Ukrainian more hierarchical or based on personal loyalty; thus, the results of these encounters are often close to zero. This problem stems both from deep-rooted cultural differences between the US and Ukrainian military cultures, but also from a lack of US conditionality on the results to be achieved in the final overhaul of the outdated Soviet model of the Ukrainian military. US officers are sent for a relatively short period of time, they are rarely specifically trained on Ukrainian culture as a whole or more specially on Ukrainian operational doctrines, and Ukrainian officers are often not fluent in English, with meetings often taking place with the intermediation of an interpreter.
What is also detrimental is the utmost secrecy and uncooperative behavior of the Ukrainian military towards the outside world, because setting up effective military cooperation also involves sharing confidential information with partners. In addition, there is also the fact that the Ukrainian military is unable or unwilling to reform itself, and NATO is synonymous with efficiency, which is a kind of watchword or PR opportunity for solving all the problems currently plaguing the Ukrainian military and its delayed reform. To this end, there is an urgent need from the establishment of forms of civilian control over the military, and parliamentary control in particular, following institutional checks and balances.
In fact, the sectorial interests of different and deeply entrenched clans and old-style military thinking and training, as well as the problematic and often corrupt arms procurement for the Ukrainian military, present another extremely serious problem for the Ukrainian army, preventing it from achieving an adequate operational effectiveness, which, even if not decisive for the outcome of the conflict from a purely military point of view – as Russia can always pour a substantial military force into the conflict –could at least provide an effective resource, a “bargaining chip” of a military toolbox to be reckoned with for political purposes.
Improving the military effectiveness of the Ukrainian army should therefore not be seen as a “goal in itself”, but rather as a political instrument at the negotiating table with Russia for a comprehensive political solution to the issue. It is a means of solving the Donbass conflict with a political settlement, something that also concerns the overall security architecture of the whole continent and especially Eastern Europe, or what is now known as the “grey zone” between the West and Russia, what the Germans in the first half of the 20th century called Zwischeneuropa. During this crisis diplomacy is at work and needs to be professional, concrete and well-oriented at political level.