Once again, this week’s Ukrainian military developments read as if they are coming from several parallel universes.
In the first universe, Ukraine is still aiming at NATO membership. NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg recently visited Kiev in order to sign an agreement formalizing Ukraine’s relationship with the alliance, though nobody expects much out of that agreement. While NATO is promising training and assistance, it is still withholding weapons deliveries, which is what Kiev really wants.
Occupying the same universe is the country’s Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak. He believes the Ukraine’s armed forces will get large quantities of modern weapons. How Kiev is supposed to achieve that goal is unclear given the collapse of its economy, the dire situation in the realm of social services, not to mention the looming debt default.
That happy picture is contradicted by facts on the ground. While Ukraine aims NATO membership, it is at the same time forming new units whose task is to…defend Ukraine’s territory, Bukovina, from Romania’s territorial pretensions, even though Romania is a NATO member. The newly formed unit is the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade, to be based in Kolomyya, in Ivano-Frankovsk Region.
The real reason for basing a brigade in that region might be the fear of Bukovina separatism. It is unlikely the US would tolerate Romania taking a bite out of Ukraine. It is far more likely the inhabitants of Western Ukraine might decide to take themselves into Europe through the simple act of seceding from Ukraine.
Next to the decision to station a brigade in Ivano-Frankovsk region, the exhibition is another sign that Kiev is increasingly viewing Western Ukraine as its bastion, and may have resigned itself to losing Eastern Ukraine altogether.
In the meanwhile, the actually existing Ukrainian military units are inhabiting a universe of squalor, neglect, poverty, and drunkenness. Many units evolved into organized crime syndicates controlling smuggling routes, which has once again led to a number of clashes including a four-hour battle in Avdeyevka between an unidentified volunteer battalion and regular UAF units.
This was not the only case of intra-Ukrainian violence. The Azov Regiment turned up in Kharkov where it attempted to storm the city council building, clashing with the local police in the process. It is not clear who hired or ordered Azov to deploy to Kharkov. Was it the junta, or one of the oligarchs intent on carving out an independent fiefdom?
Azov’s intervention in Kharkov is one of this week’s many indications the Kiev government is feeling less and less secure in its control of Eastern Ukraine.
Kiev has good reasons to feel insecure, because in the “real world” universe, most of the UAF is demoralized and finds refuge in alcohol and drugs. Social media posts from recent 6th wave of mobilization inductees testify to a very low quality of these recruits. The only apparent military service criterion they meet is that they have a pulse.
Unsurprisingly, there is a big social gap between the mobilizees and cadre officers. A UAF special ops soldier wrote on facebook about the prevalent practices in the area of military awards. Whereas UAF officers tend to give one another promotions and decorations, very few awards have been allocated to rank and file soldiers, which is leading to disgruntlement. While some 500 officers serving at the ATO headquarters in Kramatorsk received decorations since the start of the year, only 18 soldiers from the entire 93rd Mechanized Brigade were so fortunate.
The neglect also extends to military retirees as well as to the naval personnel which demonstrated loyalty to Ukraine and left Sevastopol for Odessa. Their reward was to be in effect confined to their rusting ships.
Therefore it is not surprising that events like this instance of a Ukrainian soldier based near Schastye coming over to talk to LPR troops at a checkpoint and express his dissatisfaction with the war occur with some regularity. Poroshenko’s decision last week not to continue waves of mobilization was probably motivated by his concern the UAF’s loyalty cannot be guaranteed.
Then there is the defense industry universe which has developed a real talent for making prototypes–and not much else. In fact, I would hazard a guess that in the course of last year Ukroboronprom built more prototypes than actual combat vehicles. These examples were displayed at the Arms and Security 2015 show in Kiev.
It is highly doubtful any of these vehicles will reach UAF army units in foreseeable future, if ever.