The primary challenge in Ukraine is centered around culture. Not in the size of your weapons, not in your command, but everything depends on whether you are ready to accept change and whether you are ready to look at things from a different perspective. In the military sphere, it is centralization or decentralization, granting greater or less authority to people, making decisions from above or below, having a responsible logistics system and a military management system. Recently an article was published by a contractor who assisted the Ministry of Defense (referring to Glen Grant's article in the Kyiv Post, in which the author criticized the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the Supreme Armed Forces). This article did not consider the main challenges the Armed Forces of Ukraine is facing, which, in my opinion, are focused on the culture and ability of staff to realize and accept a different perspective.
I look at things based on my numerous interactions with General Poltorak (Stepan Poltorak, Minister of Defense of Ukraine - Ed.) And General Petrenko (Anatoly Petrenko, Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine on European Integration, Ed.), and I am here for more than a year, and compare the situation with Iraq, Afghanistan, with the problems that have arisen in my country, and I much more positively assess those things that are happening in Ukraine. The Minister of Defense continues to work closely with NATO countries to address and complete the goals set out in the Strategic Defense Bulletin. This approach is well planned, and, in my opinion, Ukraine is moving as quickly as possible. In Ukraine, there is a war, and at the same time, Ukraine is trying to carry out reforms in the military sphere, and strategic tasks in the military sphere are changing daily. And it's not easy. My attitude to the Ukrainian military leadership is very positive. If I did not think so, I would have told you about this. I look into their eyes and see what's in their heart, and they do not deceive me. I would go home tomorrow if I saw that I'm here only for good picture. I believe that the Ministry of Defense is doing the right things. This is not easy, because everything depends on culture, on the consequences of the influence of the Soviet mentality. In the past, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were trained differently, they had different strategies, prospects, but now they are moving in the right direction - in accordance with international standards and NATO standards.
The Ministry of Defense asked the Cabinet of Ministers, 141 billion UAH from the budget for 2018, and received only 83 billion UAH. Stepan Poltorak assured that this budget will not be the budget of the army, but the development budget. Is this true?
Yes, and I'll explain why. This year I worked with the Defense Ministry Finance Department for a better understanding of the defense budget. Let me give you an example. When you go to the store with your child and he wants three coats at a time - red, green and blue. And the red coat is the warmest. But the child wants green, and you only have money for one coat. You will still choose a red coat. We call this limited resources. In the US, we also have such cases, and every general has his limitless desires. But all this should be based on the risks that are tied to your tasks. 141 billion is enough for all coats. And this "Moscow mentality" is to take money and throw it in. The NATO approach is that you must solve your tasks according to priorities, based on strategic goals. And when the request was reduced from 141 billion to 83, it directly responds to requests for strategic goals. And I believe that Petrenko and Poltorak are right. You cannot buy all the coats at the same time, but you can buy the best – the red one. And what they began to do better is "squeeze juice from a lemon", use the resources for their intended purpose. This approach is formally implemented with the help of an official planning initiative based on capabilities, which will make it possible to provide the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the most cost-effective and efficient goods and services.
Here is another example. She's a colonel, you're a colonel and I'm a colonel. In her submission there are six people, in yours six, in mine two. It is necessary to take these two people in my subordination, take them to your departments and to reduce my position as colonel. This is called the span of control - the maximum amount of responsibility and the number of subordinates per manager. If the colonels are going to retire, you need give them civil positions, because it will be cheaper. This is a different way of thinking. Do you see how culture influences the achievement of your strategic goals? And the Ukrainian military is engaged in changing its attitude and approaches. And this is the influence of the reforms that NATO advocates.
So you want to say that Russia, with its Soviet approaches to organizing its army, is weaker in this case than Ukraine, which begins to think differently?
Absolutely. In terms of mentality, Russia is much weaker, in terms of weapons - much stronger. But in the long term, NATO standards and international standards and approaches will ensure the formation of a very maneuverable military force that will be easily adaptable. That's why Poland, the former Czechoslovakia are developing, that’s why East Germany developed - through a change in the mentality of people and, in particular, the military. It is different from Moscow.
Putin has weapons and money. But Ukraine has the heart, heart and will of its citizens, which four years ago was heard loudly and clearly. It takes time for people with the Soviet mentality to understand that there is not only a lemon, but that in this lemon is a juice. Perhaps this is a very theoretical approach, but what pleases me is that the Ukrainian military leadership and, in particular, Poltorak understand this theoretical component, and in particular, it develops infrastructure to carry out these reforms systematically and thoughtfully.
Many Ukrainian generals have been trained in the United States, they spent several months there to understand this theory. And now they are learning to translate this practically: span of control, decentralization, granting wider rights and responsibilities to their subordinates, and the like.
Earlier, the budget of the Ministry of Defense was built in such a way that 80% were spent only on providing personnel, that is, the army simply squandered the money. In 2018, we reached such indicators: 60% - this is security, about 20% - weapons, equipment and 20% - infrastructure.
Since you helped to shape the budget, tell me, how much is this new structure effective and which figures should be striven for ideally?
In the US, 60% also goes to staff. The strategic goal in Ukraine was different, because it was necessary to build a new army, prepare it, invest in armament. Now that the Ukrainian army has developed significantly, they can to allocate funds to other areas and priorities (for example, housing construction). Every year everything changes, because strategic goals change. Now Ukraine will focus on the Air Force and the Navy and will take some money from the Army. 60% is normal, if this is enough to feed the soldiers, train, pay for their work, give them housing. Take the lemon and squeeze it - we take the available money and apply them as correctly as possible.
How much should Ukrainian soldier receive in the current realities?
Everything depends on the economy of Ukraine. Now the dollar rate is 28 to 1, before the Revolution it was 8. In the US, none of our soldiers is a millionaire, but they have their average salary. And the average salary of a soldier should be the same as the average salary of a citizen of Ukraine. We must proceed from this.
Recently we raised the salary of the sergeant team, and this is a great idea. This happened because NATO said that your sergeant team is the backbone of your army. These are not people who have to sweep the street. Therefore, on the basis of NATO recommendations, the sergeants have raised salary. And they are preparing a new training program for the sergeant staff so that they can leave after training already as officers. This is very important, because in the United States, sergeants are a very important element in our command of military operations. Poltorak said that he would raise salaries to sergeants, and he did it. Well thought and fair.
At one event, you advocated for as much as possible to privatize companies that are part of state property, and give them to private ownership. How do you see this and whether it is necessary to leave a part of the military-industrial complex for the state?
It is very important that in Ukraine all the procurement and contracting processes are transparent. It is necessary for the classification of secrecy from military purchases to be lifted and that there is an opportunity for all Ukrainian companies to participate in tenders. There is such a share where it is necessary to preserve state property. This applies to classified and unique products. For example, in the USA these are very secret radar systems. But state-owned enterprises are not necessary when concluding contracts for boots or food. And why do we need an intermediary? You can go directly to Ukrainian companies and buy from them all things without intermediaries.
And do you know why I'm right? Because when one of them says this lie about capitalism, this is the old dialogue of the Soviet Union, the old Soviet mentality. Poltorak agrees that full transparency and open competition and the removal of the seal of secrecy from purchases are necessary. This will allow the Ukrainian military to become stronger. Poltorak talked about this at the Reform Committee a few weeks ago. What is the top management facing? They are at war and live with the old system of procurement and the old mentality, they need to simultaneously reform the military sphere. In Ukraine, there are 72 advisors, who constantly tell them this, are saying that it is necessary to introduce NATO standards.
Let’s talk about trips of Poltorak to the Pentagon. Are they more symbolic or productive?
They are productive. When he was in the US last week, the Pentagon was interested, if we give you money and other resources, will they be used the way America wants it. I read the transcript of the meeting, and Poltorak told them, and I can confirm this to you, that money and other resources will be used correctly. Because of another NATO standard - internal control. And Poltorak is ready to introduce an internal control program that will evaluate how this money was used, taking into account (as we call them) the success indicators. That's why the Pentagon was interested in the last meeting with Poltorak. And he and his generals prepared the answers very well.
And what's more important is to confirm that the money will be used correctly. One such initiative is capacity-based planning. This is a great initiative, which is introduced by Poltorak. Did you get the boots, were they delivered to the place, did you use them, how much is left? This is a continuous business process, and it is designed for everything: housing, fuel, transport, training, weapons. This is a process that continuously gives us information on the use, quality and whether the money has remained for the next period. This is what capacity-based planning means. NATO countries use this approach.
The provision of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine has grown into an agiotage inside the country. In your opinion, is Javelin really the largest and most significant assistance from the US that will protect Ukraine?
The most important thing in what we do is helping to manage the Ukrainian armed forces most effectively. This is done thanks to the advisers and the Project Office of Reform. We teach them to think differently, use their resources, get maximum. This is much more important than weapons. That's why we invite the military for several months to study in the United States, at the military college. And when young colonel returns to Ukraine after training (like, for example, General Petrenko), he already has different views on things, a different perspective and he is more open to advice from NATO that conforms to international methodologies for implementing initiatives.
But in the Armed Forces of Ukraine this is one of the biggest problems - training of junior commanders and their fear of taking responsibility.
This is also a matter of culture. In Ukraine, there are many instructors from NATO countries at various training bases, in particular in Yavoriv. And we teach not only how to shoot, but also how to command according to NATO standards. We bring sergeants and officers from the United States, and sergeants and officers from Ukraine are watching their American counterparts during training at the training grounds. They see how sergeants and officers work among themselves on a simulated battlefield and in classes, they see these interrelations, respect and interdependence with each other, in order to be effective and defeat the enemy. I do not treat sergeants as garbage, saying they are supposedly lower than me in level. My life depends on this sergeant, and the sergeant's life depends on me. And our main task is to teach officers more confidence and let the sergeants do their work. And this takes time.
Working a year with the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces, what are the biggest corruption risks you saw?
Procurement and contracting. The way with which you can get rid of this disease - just need to do this openly. The only way to cure the fungus is to make it open to the sun. That is full and open competition and without intermediaries. And you get a contract based on the best price and quality, and you do not need the influence of politicians or generals.
The last questions will be populist, but this is something that society often discusses. What should happen for the US to turn away from Ukraine?
This will not happen. And do you know why? Because you and we believe that if Ukraine accepts NATO standards, they will spread to the east, as happened in Poland and the Czech Republic. Strategically, Ukraine is very important, like Korea, Dubai or Kuwait. In this way we protect ourselves from our enemy. We did not force you, but since you decided to change completely, we realized in the United States that you will never turn towards Russia. Not because there are more weapons in Russia, but because it is the will of Ukrainians.
How much would an open war with Russia cost Ukraine? A day, a month, a year? And would Ukraine be able to lead it for a long time?
It doesn’t matter how much it cost. If this happened, your partners in the West would help you. Money is not the main factor whether NATO or international partners are helping you in your efforts. Do you think America is concerned that our actions in Afghanistan cost a billion dollars a month? This is not our main problem. Since the alliance is already sending its specialists to Ukraine, even if you are not part of NATO, the share of investments would increase depending on the level of Russian aggression. I do not know how much it would cost, but it does not matter. I do not think that it would cost more for Ukraine than it cost now, because NATO would give more help. But for Ukraine it will cost the lives of its people, as in North and South Korea, Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The international community understands and believes in a safe and free Ukraine, and they also believe that the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and the Armed Forces of Ukraine are making extraordinary progress in implementing NATO standards and international standards.