Pentagon Takes New Actions to Boost Ukraine's Military, Defense Industry

By Sandra I. Erwin

 As fighting continues between Ukraine's government forces and pro-Russian separatists, the Pentagon is ramping up efforts to equip and train Ukrainian troops and bolster the country's rapidly deteriorating defense industry.

Since the conflict started in March, the Defense Department has helped fill Ukrainian forces’ urgent supply needs. It now plans to take new actions to support President Petro Poroshenko’s government, officials said July 9. "Assistance has started to flow," Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

President Obama has approved $33 million in security assistance for Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. Chollet said this amount is more than four times what the Defense Department provided Ukraine last year. Supplies  already sent include 2,000 sets of body armor, first-aid kits, tactical radios, and 5,000 uniforms. Future shipments will include night vision devices, thermal imagers, bomb-detecting robots, Kevlar helmets and additional radios.

The Ukrainian military also needs more training, said Chollet. "We are discussing additional steps to help train and professionalize Ukraine's military," he said. U.S. European Command officials are meeting with their Ukrainian counterparts in Kiev this week to flesh out the details.

Most importantly, said Chollet, the Pentagon will help Ukraine reform and in some cases rebuild its defense institutions. "The Ukrainian defense minister said that the biggest obstacle to reform is the military mindset still largely oriented toward the old Soviet way of doing things," he said. "And he requested our assistance in reform and improving military education."

U.S. advisers will help the Ukrainians craft a reform program. And embedded U.S. civilian advisers in the Ukrainian defense ministry will work with the government to build a national security strategy that provides a "cohesive vision for the Ukrainian military, border guards, national guard and other security institutions," said Chollet.

Another area of needed reform will be in the defense industry, he said. Ukraine has a relatively advanced defense industrial base that employs more than 40,000 people, but it is in danger of collapse because of its heavy reliance on the Russian market. Russian aggression prompted the Ukrainian government to stop all military sales to Russia.

To reverse the downward trend in the Ukrainian defense industry, said Chollet, U.S. advisers will help draft long-term investment plans and strategies to attract other markets.

The administration, meanwhile, is seeking congressional approval of $1 billion in funding for the so-called European Reassurance Initiative, which would increase U.S. military presence in Europe and pay for security assistance projects.

"We remain deeply concerned by the security situation in Ukraine's east, where the Russian military remains very active in facilitating the movement of forces, equipment and finances across the border," Chollet said. Russian forces and Russian-backed local separatists remain active inside eastern Ukraine. "These actions are not consistent with Russia's pledge to stabilize the situation and seek a negotiated outcome."

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, said military assistance is part of the administration's broader plan to deal with the Ukraine crisis.

"The more lasting antidote to separatism and outside interference over the medium term is for Ukraine to succeed as a democratic, free market state, and to beat back the corruption, dependence, and external pressure," he told the committee July 9.

The United States has ceased virtually all military-to-military cooperation with Russia. It has provided Ukraine with a billion-dollar loan guarantee and $196 million in other assistance toward economic reform, anti-corruption measures, non-partisan electoral assistance, non-lethal security, and humanitarian aid for Ukrainians internally displaced from Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Critics of the administration's handling of the Ukraine crisis charge that none of these actions so far are changing the situation on the ground.

"Our policy is taking us to a place where we're going to have a bitter peace with Russia, where in essence we sweep under the rug the actions that have taken place and continue to take place, the actions that have taken place in Crimea and continue to take place in Eastern Ukraine, and we basically get back to business as usual," said Sen. Bob Corker, of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Obama has issued three executive orders granting the Treasury Department authority to target those responsible for ongoing unrest in eastern Ukraine. So far 52 individuals and 19 entities, including four banks, have been sanctioned, said Daniel Glaser, assistant secretary of the Treasury for terrorist financing. The administration is studying other options in the event Russia does not take immediate steps toward de-escalation, Glaser said.

Corker criticized U.S. economic sanctions against Russia as toothless. "I think our country is acting like such a paper tiger to the world on this and so many other fronts." He noted that the Russian stock market has been on an upward trend since the crisis began.

Glaser said the stock market is not a good barometer of the success of the sanctions. "I don't think that short-term gains in the Russian stock market counterbalance the long-term real damage that we have done and are continuing to do to the Russian economy," he said. "Russian businesses, Russian banks are having a hard time raising capital on international capital markets."

How this crisis ultimately ends is anyone's guess, said military analysts. Some predict tensions will escalate. "We need to keep in mind that for Moscow, sanctions constitute an act of war," said Andrew C. Kuchins, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Russia and Eurasia program. "We should be prepared for every kind of symmetrical or asymmetrical retaliation," he said at a CSIS forum.

Fear of retaliation is probably inhibiting the administration, he said. In private conversations, administration officials have conceded that there is no expert in the U.S. government who knows how to financially isolate a nation as large as Russia, Kuchins said. "There is no playbook for that."

The U.S. military has to prepare to deal with the repercussions of these noncombat actions, said Clark A. Murdock, a senior adviser at CSIS. "The era of the United States and Russia becoming strategic partners is over," he said. Future relations will have a "strong adversarial component to it. We have to get used to it. That's the reality we have to live with."

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Leadership, International

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