How Zelenskyy's Team Plans to Deal with Ukraine's Most Crucial Sector – Defense
19 May, 2019
President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskyy as commander-in-chief will have to approve a new national security strategy. Hromadske speaks with Zelenskyy's defense adviser Ivan Aparshyn about leadership in the defense sector, the salaries of military personnel, Ukraine in NATO, and the settlement of the ongoing conflict in the east.

Ivan Aparshyn was formerly the head of the Security and Defense Expertise Department of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers. He worked with top politicians including Mykola Azarov, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Zelenskyy announced that Aparshyn had become one of the advisers of his team.

Aparshyn told Hromadske that he hasn’t been offered any seats in the office yet but has opinions with regards to the current state of events at the defense ministry. He criticizes many things: from soldiers’ salaries to embezzlement schemes concerning land plots and military equipment. He also reckons current defense minister Stepan Poltorak must go but won’t name any candidates for replacement.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy's advisor on defense and security issues Ivan Aparshyn speaks to Hromadske on May 10, 2019 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo credit: HROMADSKE

“It’s not my call. Do you think that Zelenskyy and I sit from dusk till dawn where I just give him advice?” Aparshyn said. “If Mr. President will want to receive more detailed information with regards to staff decisions, I will tell him my position. But that doesn’t mean he will accept this position.”

NATO Standards

Aparshyn says they’re “not changing the course of Ukraine’s accession into NATO – but we did not discuss the timing.” He also appears to stay in line with incumbent Poroshenko’s wording with regards to the war in the Donbas.

“We aren’t changing course in relation to the war with the Russian Federation – this is a war. We believe the Ukrainian army should be professional and must be strengthened by a permanent reserve. We are not changing the course of what should be a new modern system of territorial defense. We do not change the course that corruption in the army is unacceptable. These are the basic principles we talked about,” he says.

Aparshyn also adds that he wants to implement NATO standards into the payment system when it comes to soldiers’ salaries.

“We want to propose NATO standards. There are no official salaries there. There are military ranks and years of service, a completely different procedure. And in order for the soldier to have an incentive for growth, there are nine categories. Each category involves an increase in the main types of money supply.”

Zelenskyy’s team’s desire to fit NATO standards at least on paper was also confirmed by the Secretary General of  Ukraine's Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee Olena Tregub back in April.

“We had a questionnaire about defense sector reform and the answers that we received [from Zelenskyy] were basically in line with NATO demands toward Ukraine," she told Hromadske on April 21. 

On Ending the War in the Donbas

Aparshyn argues that there is a military solution to the war in the Donbas but adds that the human cost would not be worth it.

“There is always a military option to resolve any issue. But the other question – what would be the cost of this operation in human losses?” he asks.

“I would never suggest that someone use the help of the operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to decide on the return of the territory of Donbas and Crimea. Never.”

The defense advisor appears to be in favor of doing everything possible so that “even if Russia has advantage in terms of personnel and equipment, their further advancement onto the Ukrainian territory would have serious repercussions.” Whether those would be political steps and in what form Aparshyn did not specify.

One thing Aparshyn draws attention to is the political settlement of Donbas and how Ukraine would separate those who favored aggression facilitated by Russia in Ukraine’s east and those who disagreed with it.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy's advisor on defense and security issues Ivan Aparshyn speaks to Hromadske on May 10, 2019 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo credit: HROMADSKE

“In my opinion, this is the most complicated procedural position... How to separate those people who actually committed a crime against Ukraine and those who made a mistake thinking that they are protecting their interests,” Aparshyn says. “Would people agree to just forgive everyone? I think not everyone would agree. 13,000 families who have lost their children in the conflict, will not agree.”

On Ukrainian Army

However, when it comes to the so-called “Joint Forces Operation,” the Ukrainian government’s official name to describe the military actions against the aggression from Russia-backed separatists in the east, Aparshyn appears to be in favor of the current format.

“This format is ok. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are used in the format that’s designated for them”