Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Promise of a Professional Army in Ukraine: a Myth or Reality?

The gradual transition of the Ukrainian Military Sector towards a contracted army model was formally declared by the Presidential Decree “On the State Program of the Transition of Ukrainian Military Forces for Staffing by Contracted Servants”, adopted in April of 2002(The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, 2013). The Decree obligated the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the General Commanding Office of the Ukrainian Military Forces to develop and implement a range of activities in preparation of the Ukrainian military transition towards the professional service by the end of 2015. Additionally, the current president of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych declared “contracting out the Armed Forces of Ukraine” as one of his personal strategic priorities (, 2010).
Despite these formal declarations, at the beginning of 2013, the professional army proposal is still a subject of controversial debates among Ukrainian politicians and media. Part of the explanation of the struggling military reform in Ukraine is the lack of the political will, leadership, and adequate skills to pursue the reform on the part of the Defense Ministry. For instance, the former Minister of Defense of Ukraine Dmytro Salamatin, who served in the office for less than a year and resigned from his post in December 2012 (, 12/25/2012), has been accused of the lack of knowledge about the military and the defense sector. As a businessman and a former Russian citizen, he did not manage to build the coalition of supporters among the military, which slowed down professional army reforms (, 01/17/2013).   
The current Minister of Defense of Ukraine Pavlo Lebedev (who was born in Russia, lived and managed a business in Crimea and other regions of Ukraine, until he started his political career(, 2013)) has recently declared the year of 2013 as the final term for the conscription military in Ukraine, and the start of the official and final transition towards the professional army (UNIAN, 12/29/2012). Among other, the Minister is also promising to modernize the Ukrainian Army with the new military equipment, to enhance the training and educational opportunities for military commanders, and ensure greater social protections and public benefits for military servants. The goal of the reform is to create “modern European-like armed forces, small in numbers but well-trained, properly supported, mobile and professional”(RIA Novosti, 12/30/2012). In the process of the professional military reform, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are to be downsized almost 50% by 2017, from the current 193,000 personnel to 100,000. Along with this, the website of the Ministry of Defense states that most likely Ukraine will be able to perform a full transition towards the professional army by 2025, and the process ought to be organized in three stages: 2011-2015, 2016-2020, 2021-2025 (The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, 2013)

Among the major obstacles of the contracted army in Ukraine are the insufficient budget allocations towards the program and the defense sector in general, as well as the poor capacity of the existing military infrastructure that prevents the reform from happening (, 12/04/2012). For example, current military salaries for entry and middle level military personnel (including health and other complimentary benefits) are too low to serve as an attractive incentive for young Ukrainian people to seriously consider a military career. There are also issues with the military infrastructure. As a result of the economic recession and general budget cuts, public funding for creating the permanent and in-service housing for the military and their families is insufficient, and it will not cover the needs of the projected professional army personnel (, 12/04/2012). On the other hand, some experts claim that the costs of maintaining a professional versus a conscription army are approximately the same because the professional army helps saving the costs of recruiting and training new personnel every year. 

According to the military expert and Director of the Army Studies Center Valentyn Badrak, because of the budgetary and other reasons, the contracted army reform in Ukraine is doomed to a failure, at least in the near-term future (BBC Ukraine, 12/29/2012). Additionally, the military service in Ukraine is associated with the low prestige and a few negative stereotypes, forcing many young people to seek for the ways of avoiding their regular military duty, not to mention preventing them from considering the military service as a professional career path. In response, some experts suggest developing both financial and non-financial incentives that would motivate young people to join the professional army, for instance, offering better health care programs for military and their families, and offering special admission policies to elite Ukrainian universities (Viyskova Panorama, 01/20/2013). It should be mentioned that the distrust of Ukrainian citizens towards the security forces goes beyond the military. For example, a recent opinion poll conducted by the Ukrainian think tank “Razumkov Center” has indicated a generally low level of citizen’s trust in militia (domestic police) (Zhdanov, 11/19/2012). At the same time, Ukrainian militia is the largest among European countries (about 300,000), which is 120,000 more than the entire country’s military force (Zhdanov, 11/19/2012). Hence, Ukraine clearly suffers from the over-spending in some of its security policy areas, and under-spending in the others. 

On the top of the budget issues, there are several ideological reasons preventing the professional army project from running a full speed, as evidenced by the resistance of both politicians and the public against the military reform. For example, there is a belief that the transition towards a contracted army would be fatal for the military sector of Ukraine, and if anything, it will further deplete the existing military capacities (, 01/17/2013). The process will involve privatizing (contracting out) some of the military capacities and Ukraine has not yet developed fair and transparent privatization procedures. According to the military expert and a former adviser of the State Property Fund of Ukraine Volodymyr Lartsev, the process of shifting from conscription to a professional army is aimed at using the existing army resources for someone’s personal gain:

            "Facilitating the issue of the transition towards a contracted army now – is a crime against the military capacity of the country and the capabilities of the Military Forces. The thing is, in my mind, these declarations are mainly aimed at hiding that someone just wants to steal our army, the property of Ukrainian army that we still have, including the military equipment. That would explain the appointment of Pavlo Lebedev as the Minister of Defense. Yes, he is a military man, and this is better than Salamatin (former Russian citizen with the lack of army knowledge). Lebedev’s biography shows that he has different tasks. Therefore, the entire “contract” thing will only be on paper. Instead of transitioning to a contracted army, it is better to leave the army as it is, and just work on improving it instead." (, 01/17/2013)

Whether we agree with Mr. Lartsev and other military reform skeptics or not, Ukrainian military commanders have been facilitating the process of the transition towards the professional army, and it should be expected that slowly but surely the Ukrainian Army will keep moving in that direction.

BBC Ukraine. (12/29/2012). Міністр оборони обіцяє перехід на контрактну армію у 2013/The Minister of Defense Promises the Transition to Professional Army in 2013 Retrieved from (12/04/2012). Олександр Кузьмук: Грошей на житло військовим в новому бюджеті немає/Oleksandr Kuzmyk: There are no Funds for the Military Housing in the New Budget. from (12/25/2012). Salamatin Dmitriy Albertovich. from (2010). The History of Presidency.   Retrieved 01/19/2013, from
RIA Novosti. (12/30/2012). Ukraine Plans to Suspend Military Draft in 2013. Retrieved from
The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine. (2013). Military Reform: Questions and Answers.   Retrieved 01/15/2013, 2013, from (01/17/2013). Контрактна армія: міф чи реальність?/Contracted Army: a Myth or Reality? Retrieved from (2013). Pavel Valentynovych Lebedev. from
UNIAN. (12/29/2012). Новий міністр оборони обіцяє відмінити призов уже в наступному році/The New Minister of Defense Promises to Cancel Military Conscription Next Year. Retrieved from
Viyskova Panorama. (01/20/2013). Українська армія стане контрактною лише на папері/Ukrainian Army will be Contracted Only on Paper. Retrieved from
Zhdanov, I. (11/19/2012). Міліція і вибори – усе погане повертається, Або коли командир "Беркуту" стане членом ЦВК?/Militia and Elections - All Bad is Coming Back, or When is the Commander of Berkut Going to Become a Member of the Central Election Commission. Ukrayins'ka Pravda. Retrieved from