Ihor Lu­niov:

"Our en­e­mies no longer sleep tight"

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Yuriy La­payev

“Our en­e­mies no longer sleep tight” Com­man­der of Ukraine's new Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Forces on progress, plans

The Ukrainian Week spoke to the com­man­der of the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Forces on es­tab­lish­ing the new unit and the fu­ture of Ukrainian Spe­cial Forces.

Have the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Forces (SOF) of the Ukrainian Army been suc­cess­fully formed? What has been done?

I have been lead­ing the SOF for one year and five months. Dur­ing this time, all ob­jec­tives in the first phase have been com­pleted: for­ma­tion of head­quar­ters, their staffing and the op­er­a­tional train­ing of of­fi­cers. Ex­ist­ing Spe­cial Forces and In­for­ma­tion & Psy­cho­log­i­cal Op­er­a­tions units were brought into this struc­ture. Fur­ther­more, in 2016 we formed four new mil­i­tary units vir­tu­ally from scratch. We mainly fo­cused our ef­forts on cre­at­ing a train­ing cen­tre. It has been fully func­tion­ing since De­cem­ber and the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture has been es­tab­lished. It con­ducts the en­tire range of cour­ses for train­ing sol­diers.

We should reach full ca­pac­ity by 2020. The task for 2017 is to re­vise the reg­u­la­tory frame­work in ac­cor­dance with NATO stan­dards. Al­though this is quite an un­usual process, be­cause ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing of "NATO stan­dards". To this end, we are work­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Al­liance. They are giv­ing us in­valu­able help with the re­forms. Of course, we also need both lo­gis­ti­cal and in­for­ma­tional as­sis­tance, but we have learnt how to work ef­fec­tively our­selves. So it's now a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial part­ner­ship. We have unique ex­pe­ri­ence that they are in­ter­ested in study­ing, whereas we are adopt­ing things from our for­eign coun­ter­parts that are al­ready set­ting us apart from Soviet Spe­cial Forces. A dif­fer­ent way of think­ing and dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to plan­ning.

But the most im­por­tant thing is that we are chang­ing our men­tal­ity dur­ing both train­ing and op­er­a­tions. We treat peo­ple dif­fer­ently. And all this is tak­ing place amidst ac­tive ful­fil­ment of com­bat op­er­a­tions. Shap­ing the im­age of new forces is a some­what un­usual field of work for us mil­i­tary men. In the be­gin­ning, when we did the first in­take for the qual­i­fi­ca­tion course, noth­ing was or­gan­ised quite the way it should have been. The task was com­pleted, but with scan­dals and prob­lems – there weren't enough stu­dents. Then we turned to our Western part­ners. They helped us to make a web­site and launched a page on Face­book. Pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als were de­vel­oped that were dis­trib­uted in en­list­ment of­fices and bases. Se­lec­tion for the fourth course is tak­ing place now, but we don't re­ally have to look any­more: we have more than 20 can­di­dates for each place. This has freed up many re­sources and makes it pos­si­ble to choose who re­ally is the best.

Are you still fac­ing prob­lems in terms of the leg­isla­tive frame­work for the SOF?

The main dif­fi­culty is that there were sim­ply no such forces in Ukraine be­fore. But we're grad­u­ally mov­ing for­ward ac­cord­ing to the ap­proved For­ma­tion and De­vel­op­ment Con­cept. De facto, we are do­ing our job de­spite the in­ad­e­quate leg­is­la­tion, re­fin­ing it in the process. We were the first in the Armed Forces to com­plete de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes for 2020 with all the nec­es­sary mea­sures, time­frames and, most im­por­tantly, cost es­ti­mates.

Do these im­per­fec­tions in the leg­is­la­tion not lead to a sort of un­nec­es­sary com­pe­ti­tion with other se­cu­rity forces, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing com­bat mis­sions in the ATO zone?

It's not about com­pe­ti­tion, but the cre­ation of an ac­tiv­ity ma­trix where each unit takes its own place. We are at this stage now, syn­chro­nis­ing pro­cesses so as not to in­ter­fere with other struc­tures. When we have com­mon ob­jec­tives, we work to­gether more ef­fec­tively. There are al­ready pos­i­tive ex­am­ples of this. As part of our ini­tia­tive with the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, we are con­duct­ing joint train­ing ses­sions this year to estab­lish a strict counter-in­tel­li­gence regime.

The SOF is not only made up of Spe­cial Forces sol­diers. What can you tell us about the In­for­ma­tion and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Op­er­a­tions (IPsO) spe­cial­ists? Do they col­lab­o­rate with gov­ern­ment agen­cies or NGOs?

In­deed, Spe­cial Forces are a sort of brand. They are at the sharp end. How­ever, the forces also in­clude IPsO

units and, given the se­ri­ous­ness of in­for­ma­tion war­fare, it is dif­fi­cult to over­es­ti­mate their im­por­tance. Un­for­tu­nately, I can state that today we do not have dom­i­nance in the in­fo­s­phere. This is pri­mar­ily due to ma­te­rial fac­tors: Rus­sian me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions have much more money and have been cre­ated for a spe­cific pur­pose over many years. Our IPsO units have al­ready had sev­eral changes of lead­er­ship, they were first as­signed to In­tel­li­gence, then Moral and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sup­port, and then they were at­tempts to cre­ate sep­a­rate struc­tures. At present, we have de­vel­oped a con­cept for their use and de­fined the forms of op­er­a­tions. For the first time in the his­tory of the Armed Forces, there was IPsO train­ing this year that in­volved rep­re­sen­ta­tives of re­lated units – the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, State Bor­der Ser­vice, the Moral and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sup­port ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Armed Forces Gen­eral Staff and civil-mil­i­tary co-op­er­a­tion units. Be­cause of the na­ture of this event, NGOs did not par­tic­i­pate. How­ever, we are ac­tively work­ing with vol­un­teers.

Have there been any changes to SOF op­er­a­tions af­ter you re­ceived sep­a­rate fund­ing from the Min­istry of De­fence?

Pre­vi­ously, fund­ing was min­i­mal and not di­rected to us, but now our com­mand is an ad­min­is­tra­tor of funds un­der a sep­a­rate Min­istry of De­fence bud­get item. We now have cal­cu­la­tions on how much is needed for par­tic­u­lar op­er­a­tions. Now ev­ery­thing is counted and we un­der­stand how much ev­ery­thing is worth. This in­creases our ef­fi­ciency. Ap­proaches to how these funds are spent are also chang­ing. As an ex­per­i­ment, the De­fence Min­is­ter of Ukraine al­lowed sev­eral units of the SOF to pur­chase their own equip­ment in­stead of the stan­dard cen­tralised pro­cure­ment. Unit com­man­ders made their own de­ci­sions on what they need and the nec­es­sary qual­ity. The ex­per­i­ment was con­sid­ered a suc­cess, so now each Spe­cial Forces reg­i­ment has been al­lo­cated UAH 5 mil­lion (~$190,000) to pur­chase equip­ment. This has never hap­pened be­fore.

Does the level of Ukrainian SOF units meet in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, such as NATO? How do your col­leagues from abroad as­sess our forces?

One of our units, the first to be trained ac­cord­ing to the new stan­dards and be adapted for ac­tiv­i­ties with NATO forces, par­tic­i­pated in the Flam­ing Sword in­ter­na­tional spe­cial op­er­a­tions ex­er­cises in Lithua­nia in May this year. Be­fore then, Ukraine had only been rep­re­sented as a com­bat com­po­nent, but this time we pre­pared a unit that was formed ac­cord­ing to the new per­son­nel struc­ture of the Al­liance: head­quar­ters, bat­tle group, com­bat and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port. Our mil­i­tary per­formed real tasks at their posts in multi­na­tional units with their Amer­i­can, Lithua­nian and Ge­or­gian coun­ter­parts. Some se­ri­ous work was car­ried out. Fol­low­ing the train­ing, the Ukraini­ans were pos­i­tively as­sessed by NATO Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand.

In ad­di­tion, this year we ar­rived at the train­ing in our own Armed Forces air­craft for the first time. For our part­ners, this is an in­di­ca­tor that we are in­creas­ing our op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Of course, a tran­si­tion to NATO stan­dards is not just about doc­u­ments. You can re­form and re­name a tank pla­toon of, say, T-34s how­ever you want, but they will never turn into Abrams. Above all, se­ri­ous equip­ment with modern tech­nol­ogy is re­quired, as well as in­fra­struc­ture up­grades. In­deed, work is now be­ing done to de­velop an avi­a­tion com­po­nent in the Ukrainian SOF. Not all NATO coun­tries can af­ford this, but it greatly in­creases the ef­fec­tive­ness of the force. There is sup­port on this is­sue from the Gen­eral Staff, but at the moment we are look­ing for re­sources to com­plete this task.

When Spe­cial Forces are men­tioned In Ukrainian so­ci­ety, the ex­am­ple of Is­rael's Mos­sad and es­pe­cially its op­er­a­tions abroad are of­ten dis­cussed. When will the Ukrainian mil­i­tary be able to demon­strate some­thing like that?

Un­for­tu­nately, in this mat­ter we are again lim­ited by cur­rent leg­is­la­tion. To work abroad, you need cover, phys­i­cal re­sources and doc­u­ments. Which is de­fined by the reg­u­la­tory frame­work. I can­not re­port all the de­tails of our op­er­a­tions, but I will re­peat that the de­vel­op­ment of doc­u­men­ta­tion does not in­ter­fere with ac­tu­ally com­plet­ing mis­sions. We have men that are mo­ti­vated well enough to work even in such con­di­tions. I can quite cred­i­bly and re­spon­si­bly de­clare that our en­e­mies no longer sleep soundly. In 2014, a re­con­nais­sance group from a spe­cial op­er­a­tions reg-


iment was am­bushed while evac­u­at­ing pilots. It took us two years to work out who be­trayed them. We found him. We brought him in from the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. Now this per­son is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We do not for­get and do not for­give – we will come for each of them. This is re­al­ity.

What is be­ing done to free SOF sol­diers who are in cap­tiv­ity in the oc­cu­pied Don­bas?

We are do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to get them out, un­like the Soviet ap­proach, when Spe­cial Forces were im­me­di­ately aban­doned in the case of their cap­ture. This prac­tice has been stopped. We are cur­rently work­ing on bring­ing them back home. This is our duty.

At the be­gin­ning of the ATO in 2014, spe­cial op­er­a­tions sol­diers, as the most well pre­pared men, were sent to per­form tasks that were not suited to them due to the lack of com­bat-ready units. At the time, this ap­proach was called "ham­mer­ing in nails with a mi­cro­scope". Has this sit­u­a­tion changed now?

In­deed, such a prob­lem ex­isted. I al­ways re­call a time when spe­cial op­er­a­tions men were used as an an­ti­tank re­serve. And they per­formed the task. But now the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent. I had a con­ver­sa­tion on this is­sue with the chief of the Gen­eral Staff at the end of last year – he made a de­ci­sion to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the num­ber of SOF sol­diers in the ATO zone. Nev­er­the­less, the readi­ness to re­turn is lit­er­ally mea­sured in hours.

Ihor Lu­niov was born in 1962. He grad­u­ated from the Odesa Ar­tillery Com­mand School. In 2001-2003, he com­manded the 25th Air­borne Bri­gade, later be­came deputy com­man­der of Air­borne Com­bat Train­ing. He was one of the lead­ers of the de­fence at Donetsk Air­port. Lu­niov has been head of the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand of the Armed Forces since Jan­uary 2016.

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