Remember – the war in Ukraine has been going on since 2014
- Perhaps your colleagues in the NATO Military Committee were interested in the situation around Ukraine and readiness of the Armed Forces to respond. It is clear that not all such information is open, but if possible, could you tell us, what you told NATO Chiefs of Staff?
- They are well informed of the current situation around Ukraine, no worse than me, everyone understands everything perfectly. Our NATO partners had one question – whether I share their concerns. I replied that I was concerned only once, in 2014, when I first got my rifle, bulletproof vest, and went to war. Then I was concerned, but ever since, it’s been simply about doing my job.
I reminded the Allies that our war has been going on since 2014, and we have been doing our job ever since. We are at war with a serious enemy. He is not insignificant. There are two army corps standing in the first echelon against us, and the whole power of the Russian army is in the second echelon. This is a large-scale force. Therefore, we must be ready for defense, including in the territories of other regions, if necessary.
- It is clear that Ukraine is not a member of the Alliance so it cannot expect direct military assistance from NATO in the event of a large-scale Russian offensive. Will NATO be able to help us at all if the Russian leadership dares to pursue such a mad scenario?
- In this context, it is worth recalling that NATO is not only a military but also a political alliance. I understand that it is impossible to get military aid or involve their troops in operations on the territory of Ukraine. Everyone here understands this, not only servicemen.
It is NATO's political influence that we really hope to see. As of the rest, we rely on our own forces
All we hope for and want is for the Allies to make appropriate moves in the political dimension in order to deprive the Russian Federation of the opportunity to deploy more forces and launch a new offensive against Ukraine. NATO Allies have the appropriate leverage and capabilities to this end.
Importantly, and our NATO partners have confirmed this today, they are well aware of the price to pay if nothing is done. They remember what such inaction led to in 1938 and 1939. Probably more should have been done in 2008, to really use the political levers when the war against Georgia began. More could probably be done in 2014, when Russia launched its aggression against Ukraine, occupied Crimea and part of Donbas. It is this political influence of the Alliance that we really hope to see. As for the rest, we rely on our own forces.
Ukraine is threatened by the entire Russian army
- Do NATO allies realize that Ukraine is currently taking on at least a 100,000-strong group of Russian troops that could otherwise be redeployed closer to the Alliance's borders?
- As a military man, I don’t like this 100,000 assessment. Believe me, in a few days, this number could reach 210,000, and in a week – it could be 780,000 – the Russian Federation has every opportunity to do so. Let's talk about this directly and openly: we are now dealing with the Russian army, which today accounts for almost a million servicemen.
Today, I have told our NATO partners that this is not an illusion, it’s a real threat. It should be borne in mind that we are faced with the aggressor power with almost a million-strong army.
By the way, I have a lasting impression from this communication with my colleagues in the NATO Military Committee – they understand everything clearly and perfectly from a military perspective. In general, for a military person, it’s easier to look at things, which allows them to come up with absolutely accurate assessments of the situation.
- Probably, that's why the troops understand each other faster… From NATO politicians we have heard that Ukraine will be able to get the MAP and the prospect of NATO membership only if it is able to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security. In your opinion, is Ukraine already doing enough for European security to get such a perspective?
- I can't speak for the whole country because only the relevant politicians can speak for the whole nation. I will talk about the Armed Forces of Ukraine as Commander-in-Chief. Today, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have taken a huge step towards getting closer not only to the MAP, but also to full NATO membership. At the paperwork and formal levels alone, we have mastered more than 300 NATO standards. I don’t want to criticize anyone, but as far as I know, not all armed forces of European nations that are already members of the Alliance have mastered so many standards.
But this is not the point. It is important that the Armed Forces of Ukraine move towards NATO, and today, when we met with our colleagues at the Alliance's headquarters, I confirmed that we will continue to move in this direction.
For me, as Commander-in-Chief, the main thing is that we are becoming de facto alike NATO. Because NATO is not only a military and political alliance, it is also a coalition of armies, modern and advanced in all dimensions. This is a coalition of armies of civilized nations.
For me, the main thing is for us to reach a certain level, to be a civilized army, to streamline certain procedures, to get rid of everything Soviet that keeps our hands and feet bound, to start thinking NATO, to look at things as Europeans, to organize training in compliance with NATO standards, which we have already seen is very effective and efficient.
So for me, the main thing is to fulfill this task. And whether we join NATO or get the MAP is a matter to be dealt with by politicians. When will this happen? Of course, I'm concerned about it and I wish it happened faster. But we have to do our part to bring this moment closer.
- In your observation, how did the allied defense chiefs perceive the Russian ultimatum on "security guarantees" for Russia from the United States and NATO, in particular, in terms of NATO non-expansion and withdrawal of troops from its eastern flanks?
- The issue is quite political. It is probably up to the NATO allies to assess the movement of their forces, and it is certainly not for me to suggest how the Allies will deal with collective defense and defend each other.
At the same time, both I and my colleagues from the Alliance are looking at these things more mundanely, on a practical level. It seems that, from a purely practical perspective, NATO colleagues see these Russian ultimatums as ill man’s delusions. The allies gave these Russian proposals an unequivocal assessment, including in the part that directly concerns us. The Alliance is based on completely different principles, which are very clear: each European nation should decide for itself whether to join any blocs. NATO allies share a consolidated and firm stance in this regard, which is inspiring to us, so to speak.
The west offers a resolute response to Russia's threats
- This week was quite active in terms of diplomatic efforts, including in response to tensions around Ukraine. Contacts have taken place between the United States and Russia, the NATO-Russia Council, and other events. In your opinion, have they managed to reduce military tensions around Ukraine?
- I am not ready to say now whether the tension has decreased or not. Intelligence says no movement has been observed there so we’ve seen no decrease in Russia's military presence at our borders.
At the same time, as Commander-in-Chief, I was pleased with this resolute response on the part of NATO that Russia heard yesterday during these talks. It is really important to see that the West has rallied around this threat and has already taken the first step in responding to it.
This is very good, and I thanked the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces for this principled position. I will definitely convey this wonderful position to our commanders.
Whatever Russia plans are, Ukraine's armed forces keep performing their duties
- According to purely arithmetic indicators of military power, Ukraine is far behind Russia in the number of aircraft, tanks, and manpower. How should Ukraine act to curb the appetites of the aggressor?
- We have been curbing their appetites since 2014. It was personally us, or young men and women, the Ukrainians who did not receive any military assistance at that time. We have been doing this for eight years already, and it doesn't matter what the Russian Federation's plans are. The Armed Forces of Ukraine will do their job and fulfill their duty.
Over the years, in this war against Russian aggression, we have already paid a terrible price. More than 4,000 servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine sacrificed their lives to make Ukraine what it is today.
We will continue to do this work, without alternatives. It’s only us and each of us personally.
- The recent field tests involving the Javelins were quite revealing, but, unfortunately, these weapons alone are unlikely to deter a massive tank offensive by Russia. How are the Armed Forces of Ukraine currently equipped with anti-tank systems of domestic production?
- As for the Javelin testing, we were interested to see how it goes, especially after a wide promo campaign by Russia boasting a turret protection against these missiles. So we designed the same type of defense gear and fired off. As you can see, the results were great, although rather sad for Russian tank crews. For Russian tanks today, there is no protection, no obstacle that Javelin couldn’t tackle.
I’d like to say that previously, we recently conducted our exercises and did so quite openly - we didn’t shut anyone out and invited a fairly wide audience. In front of reporters, a group of servicemen approached the training site in a regular truck and destroyed a convoy of tanks in 36 seconds. Seven tanks in 36 seconds. Those attending the drill didn’t even immediately understand what happened, and how.
The enemy must also be well aware that we have a sufficient number of anti-tank weapons, including domestically made, which perform very well. Earlier, we received sufficient material and technical assistance, including Javelins. So I’d say yes, there’s enough of them.
Ukrainians will defend their districts, homes, and families up in arms
- On January 1, Law of Ukraine "On the Fundamentals of National Resistance" came into force. How did this affect the formation of territorial defense units and their interaction with the Armed Forces?
- The main thing is that this law appeared and started working.
Earlier, we in the Armed Forces performed an analysis and concluded that the existing system of territorial defense needs to be radically changed. And so we came to the Law on National Resistance.
Previously, territorial defense was seen as a type of strategic action force that was assigned tasks not directly related to engaging in hostilities. Today we are transforming territorial defense into a system of national resistance – this is what this Law is about.
- What does it mean?
- We want to have a large number of patriotically motivated citizens who at a short notice can take up arms and inflict such losses on the enemy that will force them to abandon further hostilities. Adopting the Law is only the first step. We’re currently making all the appropriate appointments. The President of Ukraine, our Supreme Commander-in-Chief, has approved the Doctrine for the Use of Territorial Defense Forces. We are also working to form volunteer units that will be able to protect their own homes, their districts, their families, and their children. I think that such a system of national resistance will be created very soon.
At the same time, the system of territorial defense in Sumy region will be radically different from the territorial defense in Ternopil region, as they will face different tasks, respectively – different units will be formed, whose training routine will differ, too. This is a whole set of measures aimed at creating a completely new system of national resistance.
- Over the past weeks, many maps and schemes of Russia's invasion of Ukraine have emerged in the media. It’s clear that this may be an element of psychological pressure to intimidate the West and force Ukraine to stretch out its forces. In your opinion, which areas are the most threatening to Ukraine's security?
- Unfortunately, Ukraine is in such a situation that almost all 6,993 kilometers of the state border, except for the area in the West, can be potentially threatening.
At the same time, we see what’s happening now, and we clearly understand that our main enemy today is, of course, the Russian Federation. It was they who temporarily occupied Crimea, a large area of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, continuing to fight against Ukraine and threatening to expand occupation.
It’s clear that we are studying this situation, conducting intelligence, analyzing the situation, and drawing certain conclusions in the interests of defending our state.
We are also looking at what is circulating in the media – now life is about what we have to do. But such information is not the basis for planning. Often such information is aimed at the domestic audience. This is, of course, interesting, but for us it’s not the main thing.
Ukraine's victory will come after the occupied territories are fully liberated
- It is clear that this war will end sooner or later, and it will end with our Victory. What does this word mean to you personally? When will be able to say that Ukraine has won?
- As a military man who has dedicated his whole life to and studied it, I know that in any war there are political goals that are achieved, including by military means. In this war, as we clearly understand, the political condition for our victory is the liberation of the occupied territories.
For us, the military, Victory will be the day when the last occupier leaves our territory, when the state border of Ukraine is restored, when my soldiers stop dying on their land. Only then will peace and victory come for me.
Dmytro Shkurko, Brussels
Photo by Ukraine’s Mission to NATO, General Staff of the Armed Forces
Read more: Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Commander-in-Chief Takes Part in NATO Military Committee Meeting