Viktor Muzhenko, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: "EU and NATO are amazed at Ukraine’s efforts to restore the army".
Chief of the General Staff, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Viktor Muzhenko assesses the situation in eastern Ukraine, tells about the battle experience, gained in confronting the Russian aggression, and the army reform with support of the partners in the exclusive interview with an Ukrinform correspondent in Brussels.
WE HAVE BEEN WORKING IN THE TRILATERAL HEADQUARTERS FOR A MONTH ALREADY
- Mr. Muzhenko, which projects of the military cooperation between Ukraine and the EU on strengthening the defense capability of Ukraine are relevant today?
- The issues of expansion of the military and political dialogue, participation of the Ukrainian units in the EU’s combat tactical groups, training of our personnel within the joint EU security and defense policy and other promising areas of cooperation, including implementation of the projects under the auspices of the European Defence Agency, were discussed in detail in course of the numerous meetings during my visit to Brussels last week. However, speaking about the cooperation with the European Union, we cannot forget about the bilateral cooperation with the Member States. We are grateful that all the EU countries have not been indifferent, have not stood off, but have strongly condemned the aggressor.
As an example, I want to mention our cooperation with such EU Member States as Poland and Lithuania, which have been long-standing and reliable partners of Ukraine. The logistics aid, assistance in preparation of the non-commissioned officers, participation in the joint exercises are the fields of our cooperation.
- Last week, you took part in the European Union Military Committee meeting for the second time already. Last time, in May, your colleagues from 28 Member States were particularly interested in the issue of presence and military activity of the personnel, weapons and military equipment of the Russian armed forces in the territory of Ukraine. What was the discussion between you and the EU senior military leaders focused on this time?
- We discussed the experience and lessons of the hybrid war, the war threats in Ukraine, the condition of the Armed Forces, our achievements and issues of concern, which, unfortunately, still arises in reforming of our defense sector. Our partners were amazed at the Ukrainian efforts to strengthen its army within such a short period of time.
- Continuing the topic of military cooperation with Lithuania and Poland: what is the progress of combat coordination and gaining combat interoperability within the joint trilateral Ukrainian-Polish-Lithuanian brigade?
- We have moved from plans to practical implementation of the UkrPolLitBrig trilateral brigade project. Our servicemen have been performing their duties in the joint trilateral headquarters of the brigade in Lublin, Poland, for a month already.
UKRAINE WILL RESUME ITS PARTICIPATION IN THE EU COMBAT TACTICAL GROUPS
- Does Ukraine plan to resume participation of the Armed Forces in the EU combat tactical groups?
- Indeed, it should be noted that we had to suspend participation of the marine infantry company of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces Navy in the EU’s HELBROC combat tactical group during their watch in the first half of last year. The decision was linked with the necessity of redeployment of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces units from the territory of Crimea and the partial loss of their operational capabilities.
However, even despite the situation in eastern Ukraine, this year we have continued the preparation of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces units for the next EU’s HELBROC combat tactical group watch to be held in the first half of 2016.
Moreover, we step up our contribution to the collective European security. We completed signing of the note on Ukraine's joining the EU’s combat tactical groups of the Visegrad Four countries at meeting of chiefs of the general staffs in Brussels. The watch is scheduled for the first half of next year.
In addition, two officers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are to participate in the Lithuanian contingent of the UK-led EU’s combat tactical group in the second half of 2016.
PROBABILITY OF CONFLICT ESCALATION REMAINS HIGH
- How does the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine assess the current security situation in eastern Ukraine? Should we expect the enemy to escalate hostilities?
- The situation in the conflict zone remains difficult. Pursuant to the Minsk Agreements, we completed the first stage of withdrawal of the military equipment and weapons, particularly tanks, in Donetsk direction.
According to the operational data, the Russian military withdrew from the demarcation line and located on both sides of the temporarily uncontrolled section of the Ukrainian-Russian border. They continue training the militants and importing weapons from Russia.
There have been no significant changes in the total number of Russian groups in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and along the border.
The militants continue committing provocations in Donetsk direction, especially at night, using small arms to open unaimed fire on the ATO positions.
In turn, our servicemen refrain from return fire, although our soldiers are being wounded as a result of such provocations.
Thus, the security situation is still very far from peace, despite the ceasefire. The probability of the conflict escalation remains significant, the tension on the contact line is still observed.
However, we are ready for such developments. The battle experience, gained by our military since the beginning of the conflict, the measures to build up the effective combat strength of the troops, their capacity, increase in equipment force packaging allow us to adequately respond to the challenges and threats coming from the east.
We abide by the truce and inform the OSCE monitors about the each case of ceasefire violation by the militants.
REPELLING AGGRESSION IN SOUTH-EAST DIRECTION IS TOP-PRIORITY
- What are the most pressing issues in the process of reforming the Armed Forces of Ukraine?
- The main efforts are now focused on the adaptation of the Armed Forces to the NATO standards and achievement of their operational and technical compatibility with the armed forces of the Alliance member countries.
We pay much attention to recruitment in this context. We are interested in keeping the human resources, especially those who have combat experience. The Ukrainian army relies on such military. We increase payments, expand the social safeguard, create adequate conditions of military service to reach this goal.
The reform of the Armed Forces, the strategic and operational and strategic bodies command is of particular importance. I mean the General Staff and types of the Armed Forces, as well as the reform of the military education system as the basis for involving new professional staff.
- What should be done for this?
- The combat training should be intensified to ensure combat capability of the military units, to increase their abilities to fulfill the relevant tasks. We are assisted by foreign trainers in this issue.
Another essential issue is modernization and recovery of the weaponry and military equipment, design and arming troops with the advanced weapons and military equipment pieces.
The effective system of the overall support is the equally important part of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces reform. We have the ongoing process of transition to the new support standards in line with the NATO practice.
- The President of Ukraine has recently approved a number of strategic planning documents in the field of national security and defense. These documents are very complicated. Therefore, tell please the ordinary Ukrainians and our foreign partners what kind of the Armed Forces Ukraine should have in the near future and in the longer term.
- In the near future, the Armed Forces of Ukraine must be ready to respond adequately to the threats to Ukraine, primarily to repel aggression in the south-east direction, I mean Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Therefore, we take measures to optimize the organizational framework of the control agencies, major units and military units, which should be equipped with the necessary number of equipment and weapons and trained with the personnel.
Now we are completing the establishing of a powerful ground component of the Armed Forces. In 2016, the priority will be given to building up the Air Force capacity. In 2017, we will focus on formation of the marine forces capable of responding to threats. I mean ensuring the defense of the sea coast of the state and developing the Navy basing infrastructure.
In the longer term, Ukraine needs to have mobile, well-equipped and effective armed forces. They have already been the reliable guarantor of independence and territorial integrity of our state and should remain the same in the future.
Andriy Lavreniuk, Brussels.