Ukraine’s partnership with NATO continues to evolve as foreign missions assist with bringing Ukraine closer to Trans-Atlantic standards. This year’s NATO summit featured a special meeting with Ukraine and Georgia to highlight the military and civic development of these countries with their foreign partners.
Several NATO states have opted to contribute to Ukraine’s growing need for not only military development, but civic development as it pertains to national security.
Operation UNIFIER is one such mission, located in the Yavoriv training center and spearheaded by the Canadian Armed Forces. The mission focuses on everything from basic combat skills to widespread introduction of NATO standards among the ranks of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Brian Irwin, the Canadian Defence Attache to Ukraine, explains that this is a collective NATO effort in assisting Ukraine with its security needs.
“It's a community of nations that works together, but works with the Ukrainians, assisting them with programs that they seek assistance with,” he said.
Irwin also remarked that Ukraine is in a prime position to innovate and make improvements to its military that would be difficult even for other NATO states.
“Ukraine is a partner that we work alongside with, and it's a training assistance mission largely, so it's about building capacity so Ukraine can stand and fight on its own.”
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Sharon Irwin, the NATO liaison to Ukraine, has also highlighted the need to develop Ukraine’s defense structure along civic lines.
“It's not all just about the military side, and neither is NATO just about the military and the training side of things,” she said.
“In concert together, both these bilateral and these more technical and training missions along with the strategic, advisory and capacity development aspects of it. That's what NATO is really focused on as well.”
Hromadske spoke to Brian and Sharon Irwin about what the summit and further NATO engagement can do to assist with Ukraine’s military and civic development.
There are international partners from how many countries, how do they work together, and overall how many people are there and for how long will it last?
Brian: Op Unifier is again, about 200 soldiers, but part of a larger mission. It's not a formally organized structure, but we work very closely with American counterparts, they are roughly the same size as the Canadian mission with about 200 soldiers each. Largely based in western Ukraine. We also work closely with Polish partners, Lithuanian partners, other Baltic nations, even Swedish partners, Danish partners as well. It's a community of nations that works together, but works with the Ukrainians, assisting them with programs that they seek assistance with.
it's already four years since the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and people expect support which is not just because it's Ukraine, but it's a breach of international law, and it's extremely interesting because it's a war, what is happening from the military side. But the military is not just about training or providing equipment, so what are the activities, and how is your program changing?
Sharon: You're quite correct, it's not all just about the military side, and neither is NATO just about the military and the training side of things. Within the NATO context here in Ukraine, our program has three areas. One is around capability development. And that is mainly focused on developing civil servants, and the defense and security sector to achieve the professionalization, as Brian referred to in the military context, but in the civil sector context, to be able to support and defend the progress and reform efforts that Ukraine has underway in the defense and security sector. So that's one aspect of what we do. But we also recognize that there is a lot of work that Ukraine still wants to do as it keeps moving towards its Euroatlantic aspirations, so we also have a role in terms of providing advice. When I say advice, that covers a rather broad swathe. It's advice from whether it is at a senior sort of legislative, parliamentary perspective, as well as getting into how you get into a logistics and standardization system within a military context. Other programs that NATO has here would be around defense education. It's one thing to achieve and build capacity within the military context. Sustainability requires education and institutional change. In concert together, both these bilateral and these more technical and training missions along with the strategic, advisory and capacity development aspects of it. That's what NATO is really focused on as well.
Brian, if to speak about the training for instance, and the story we've seen, how is it changing and what are the new things people are learning? In particular in the context of the conflict we have here.
Brian: It's a really interesting topic. At the training level, there's a lot of fundamentals that we continue to work with, but the Ukrainians now understand those fundamentals, they have instructors themselves, and they'are able to deliver them. I think it is interesting that it's an evolving environment. We all learn from each other, and so even our trainers who work alongside, we are both sharing lessons and developing a greater appreciation for even how modern conflict might be evolving. But we also look at, as Sharon's talked, trying to get into less training and more institutions, starting to work with the schools, the academies, and the like. And even the Canadian Op Unifier mission now works on as many as 12 bases around Ukraine, trying to build those systems that a professional military would have.
Sharon, from your side, what are also the things to track and what are these directions? There are some clear, we understand, civilian oversight over the military, but what also inside the system?
Sharon: I'm glad you mentioned civilian oversight and democratic oversight, because that's part of the package towards looking at how Ukraine continues to move forward in its democratic development and rule of law. Again, consistent with Euro-Atlantic principles on how your defense and security sector respond to your elected government, the democratic oversight is something we see evolving but something that's necessary to continue to move those changes, those reforms in the right direction. In addition, you mentioned the law on national security which recently has been passed. There's a lot of different things that will flow from that, and from a NATO perspective, we're very keen on working with our Ukrainian colleagues to help develop some of those elements, whether they be structural, within how ministries interact in the sector, whether it be in terms of the various subordinate pieces of legislation, such as how security services work, how you look at things like sharing of classified information between partners and allies and that sort of thing. From our perspective, this is what we see running along in parallel to what our colleagues in the Canadian mission, Op Unifier, as well as the other partners that out there, we mentioned the US, UK, and others. It's structural and institutional at the same time in bringing it together.
/By Nataliya Gumenyuk