Cana­dian Army com­man­der as­sesses threats to Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - National - BY I LLIA PONOMARENKO [email protected] Cana­dian Army com­man­der Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Jean-Marc Lan­thier speaks with the Kyiv Post at the Cana­dian Em­bassy in Kyiv on Dec. 4. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

When the Rus­sian navy openly at­tacked and seized three Ukrainian navy ves­sels and de­tained their crews, 24 sailors in all, in the Black Sea on Nov. 25, the Krem­lin’s new ag­gres­sion against Ukraine set nerves jan­gling at home and abroad.

But the Cana­dian mil­i­tary mis­sion in Ukraine, which is train­ing Ukrainian sol­diers at bases around the coun­try, was un­fazed, and isn’t go­ing any­where, the head of Canada’s army says.

Ac­cord­ing to Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Jean-Marc Lan­thier, the com­man­der of 40,000-strong Cana­dian Army, Canada will nei­ther scrap nor scale-back UNIFIER, the ex­ten­sive Cana­dian ad­vanced-train­ing mis­sion pro­vided to the Ukrainian mil­i­tary as part of Ot­tawa’s ef­fort to help de­fend the coun­try.

“It does not af­fect neg­a­tively, (and) we’re go­ing to pro­ceed with UNIFIER,” the gen­eral told the Kyiv Post dur­ing an in­ter­view on Dec. 4.

“We will con­tinue to pro­vide the as­sis­tance to both the (Ukrainian) Armed Forces and the Na­tional Guard. In the mean­time, we’re look­ing at how to keep re­in­forc­ing the al­ready good ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Ukrainian se­cu­rity forces.”

Canada’s train­ing mis­sion in Ukraine has been run­ning since 2015, with more than 200 Cana­dian in­struc­tors de­ployed on six-month ro­ta­tions at 11 mil­i­tary bases across Ukraine, in­clud­ing the largest army boot camps in Starychi in Lviv Oblast and Desna in Ch­erni­hiv Oblast.

The Cana­di­ans have been pro­vid­ing ad­vanced cour­ses in those ar­eas the Ukrainian mil­i­tary has the great­est needs: engi­neer­ing, bat­tle­field medicine, com­bined arms train­ing, mil­i­tary polic­ing, and also train­ing for new West­ern-style non-com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers or NCOs.

Lan­thier, who was ap­pointed head of the Cana­dian Army in July 2018, was in Ukraine for the first time to see how ef­fec­tive this mis­sion is now — and also to get to know his coun­ter­parts at the top of the Ukrainian mil­i­tary.

Ukraine’s mil­i­tary in turn were look­ing to make a good im­pres­sion: the fu­ture of the Cana­dian mis­sion de­pends on Lan­thier’s pro­fes­sional opin­ion on how well it is work­ing, and how suc­cess­ful the Ukrainian mil­i­tary is in mas­ter­ing new skills.

Good po­ten­tial

Lan­thier’s visit to Ukraine started with lots of bangs:

On Dec. 3, he went with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, De­fense Min­is­ter Stepan Poltorak and Chief of the Gen­eral Staff Vik­tor Muzhenko to ob­serve Ukrainian bri­gade-level, live-fire ma­neu­vers at the Horn­charivskiy army fir­ing range in Ch­erni­hiv Oblast.

Talk­ing to the Kyiv Post, Lan­thier said he was im­pressed with the co­he­sive­ness and ma­neu­ver­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Ukrainian troops in com­bi­na­tion with ar­mored forces, and also noted their skills in the in­tel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and re­con­nais­sance do­main.

He was also im­pressed by the Ukrainian Na­tional Guard forces he in­spected early on Dec. 4.

“At the Na­tional Guard head­quar­ters, I saw that their lead­ers have a vi­sion, a firm and re­al­is­tic plan, it is phased and se­quen­tial,” he said. “And I think they’re tap­ping into one of the great­est po­ten­tial re­sources: the devel­op­ment of the non-com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers corps.”

Lan­thier said the UNIFIER mis­sion was help­ing the Ukrainian mil­i­tary rid it­self of the out­dated, highly-cen­tral­ized, and con­cen­trated style of com­mand it in­her­ited from the Soviet era. The Cana­dian ap­proach gives lower-rank­ing com­man­ders much more scope to take the ini­tia­tive on the ground in com­bat.

“We have an ap­proach at NATO, which is about mis­sion com­mand,” Lan­thier said. “We’re work­ing in an ac­tive dis­persed op­er­a­tion en­vi­ron­ment, hy­brid war­fare, in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tion. A cen­tral­ized ap­proach does not work: The sin­gle sol­dier, the NCO, the ju­nior of­fi­cer, has got to un­der­stand the strate­gic con­text. He’s got to un­der­stand the in­tent of his com­man­der, and then op­er­ate with those broad perime­ters.”

The Ukrainian com­mand has un­der­stood this West­ern mil­i­tary ap­proach, and is will­ing to adopt it, the lieu­tenant gen­eral noted. But at the same time, eras­ing deeply in­grained mil­i­tary prac­tices will take a lot of time — and also re­quire very strong lead­er­ship at the high­est level.

“Any cul­tural change takes a long time,” Lan­thier said. “And there’s got to be true de­sire to change, and pa­tience… It’s a lead­er­ship thing. If the high­est level do not firmly (em­brace) the con­cepts of mis­sion com­mand and the em­pow­er­ment of NCOs, then none of this will lead to the po­ten­tial out­comes.”

De­ci­sion made

As of now, up to 10,000 Ukrainian sol­diers and of­fi­cers have at­tended var­i­ous UNIFIER cour­ses since 2015, Lan­thier said.

More­over, he added, even though the UNIFIER now pro­vides train­ing at the level of tac­ti­cal bat­tle groups, with the help of the United States, the train­ing scope could “very soon” be ex­panded to the bri­gade level.

On Dec. 3, Ukraine’s am­bas­sador to Canada said he ex­pected Ot­tawa to pro­long the mis­sion in 2019,

and Lan­thier in turn told the Kyiv Post that given the se­ri­ous progress UNIFIER has made, he would rec­om­mend his gov­ern­ment is­sue a new man­date for next year.

“Re­cent events show us the sit­u­a­tion (re­gard­ing Rus­sian ag­gres­sion against Ukraine) is far from be­ing nor­mal­ized,” he said.

“So from a mil­i­tary per­spec­tive, I cer­tainly see that we’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, (and) I see a great po­ten­tial. The Na­tional Guard (early on Dec. 4), laid out clearly a plan that tran­scends the cur­rent mis­sion man­date… So my rec­om­men­da­tion will cer­tainly be that there’s a great deal we can do, and we can con­tinue to do and con­tinue to evolve to help en­hance the ca­pa­bil­ity of (Ukraine’s) se­cu­rity forces.”

As of now, the Cana­dian Army is par­tic­i­pat­ing in 13 mis­sions around the world, in­clud­ing the Multi­na­tional Bat­tle Group in Latvia, and a NATO train­ing mis­sion in Iraq, both of which con­sume a se­ri­ous amount of re­sources.

But, the com­man­der says, with the per­mis­sion of Ot­tawa, the num­ber of Cana­dian troops de­ployed to UNIFIER could be in­creased from the present 200.

“I can gen­er­ate more if the gov­ern­ment of Canada wants me to do so,” Lan­thier said.

“And I’m will­ing, and I think this is a worth­while in­vest­ment — ab­so­lutely.”

War lab­o­ra­tory

The UNIFIER mis­sion is not just ben­e­fi­cial to Ukraine’s mil­i­tary: com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Ukrainian troops, many of whom have been through the heav­i­est bat­tles of Rus­sia’s war in the Don­bas, the Cana­dian mil­i­tary also learns a lot from their com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence, Lan­thier noted.

“You’ve got tremen­dously rel­e­vant cur­rent ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

“It is a sym­bio­sis. We’re able to share our ap­proaches from the sys­temic, in­sti­tu­tional per­spec­tive, but we are pulling out a lot of lessons learned: What tac­tics is our ad­ver­sary us­ing, how is he us­ing new in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions, hy­brid war­fare, the use of un­manned ae­rial ve­hi­cles. All of this is also in­form­ing our own doc­trine and tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dures.”

In ef­fect, the well-equipped and high-tech Cana­dian mil­i­tary is learn­ing what it’s like to fight a su­pe­rior en­emy while be­ing heav­ily out­num­bered and out­gunned. Ukrainian sol­diers, many of whom fought the bat­tles of 2014–2015 in the Don­bas wear­ing worn-out sneak­ers and armed only with decades-old Kalash­nikov ri­fles, know all about it.

“We cer­tainly have to be able to op­er­ate in a de­graded en­vi­ron­ment,” the Cana­dian com­man­der said. “You be­come re­liant on tech­nol­ogy be­cause it’s there and you have no op­po­si­tion. But how would you op­er­ate when you don’t con­trol the elec­tro­mag­netic spec­trum, when your ra­dios are jammed, and your GPS is (dis­abled)?”

“One more thing that we’re look­ing at is how to rein­tro­duce (im­pro­vised) meth­ods. I learned to nav­i­gate by dead reck­on­ing, not (us­ing) GPS to tell me where I was. So how do you in­tro­duce those skills, (such as) the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate in a se­cure fash­ion, but with­out se­cure means?”

“We be­came big­ger with tech­nol­ogy, and it em­bold­ened us: More ca­bles, more wires, more servers. Well, you can’t move if you’ve got 300 kilo­me­ters of fiber op­tic links — but if you don’t move, ar­tillery will get you. So how do you be­come ag­ile, mo­bile, and flex­i­ble? Those are the things that we’ve learned from this con­flict, and we’re now adapt­ing and mod­i­fy­ing our own pro­ce­dures.”

The whole war in the Don­bas is one big lab­o­ra­tory of ad­vanced war­fare, Lan­thier said, where both sides are try­ing to out­smart each other in mas­ter­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary bat­tle tech­niques.

The ex­pe­ri­ences of the Ukrainian army thus have be closely stud­ied, he added.

Eco­nomic se­cu­rity

Lan­thier said his first visit to Ukraine had in many ways changed his view of the events in the coun­try.

From Canada it is very easy to for­get that Ukraine “is still very much at war,” the lieu­tenant gen­eral said. He ad­mit­ted that be­fore his ar­rival he did not fully re­al­ize how se­ri­ous the sit­u­a­tion was — even though the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try ap­pears to be in a more or less sta­ble sit­u­a­tion.

How­ever, in the wake of Rus­sia’s mil­i­ta­riza­tion and mo­nop­o­liza­tion of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait, he sees the Krem­lin’s ul­ti­mate goal as be­ing eco­nomic suf­fo­ca­tion of Ukraine rather than all-out mil­i­tary in­va­sion.

“I think (the goal) is not to top­ple Ukraine per se,” Lan­thier said. “It’s to pre­vent Ukraine from look­ing west. Pre­vent­ing and tak­ing away the chance of Ukraine to pros­per. The hu­man do­main of Ukraine, the ed­u­ca­tion, the po­ten­tial of Ukraine’s peo­ple, the rich­ness of the coun­try — some of the most fer­tile land in the world.”

The Krem­lin seeks to turn Ukraine into a poor back­ward buf­fer coun­try, end­lessly lick­ing in­cur­able wounds, Lan­thier be­lieves. To pre­vent this, Ukraine needs to re­in­force its eco- nomic se­cu­rity, and par­tic­u­larly its free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the Black and Azov seas — ex­actly what Rus­sia is try­ing to strip it of now.

“If you lose ac­cess to the sea, of you can­not nav­i­gate in­ter­na­tional wa­ters as per in­ter­na­tional law, then the eco­nomic se­cu­rity of Ukraine is threat­ened,” Lan­thier said.

“You can lose the coun­try with­out (be­ing de­feated in a war), if peo­ple lose con­fi­dence in their lead­ers, if their per­sonal sit­u­a­tion, eco­nomic se­cu­rity, the fu­ture of their chil­dren, does not look bright.”

“That’s all you need to do to desta­bi­lize a coun­try.”

Head­ing to the border Ukrainian air­borne troops board an Il-76 (2,3) mil­i­tary trans­port air­craft at Oz­erne air­base in Zhy­to­myr Oblast on Dec. 6. Ac­cord­ing to Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, the elite para­troop­ers will be re­de­ployed closer to the border with Rus­sia as part of the step­ping up of the na­tion's de­fenses amid mar­tial law, which has been im­posed through Dec. 26. Dur­ing the flight, the trans­port was es­corted by two Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters. (De­fense Min­istry of Ukraine)

Ukrainian troops ride on top of an in­fantry fight­ing ve­hi­cle dur­ing ma­neu­vers at the Hon­charivskiy fir­ing range in Ch­erni­hiv Oblast on Dec. 3, 2018. (De­fense Min­istry of Ukraine)

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