chapter  12
20 Pages

The Ukrainian model of the democratic soldier SERGIY GERASYMCHUK

The Ukrainian ideal of the soldier was formed under the influence of the intricate past. From the late fourteenth century, two-thirds of Ukraine was divided between the Kingdom of Poland and the Great Duchy of Lithuania, drifting from personal (dynastic) to real union. Then, after several decades of Cossack self-rule and semi-independent statehood, most of Ukraine was redivided between Muscovy and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, autonomy was destroyed and serfdom was almost completely restored. The partitions of Poland-Lithuania 1772-1795 and the military defeats of the Ottomans put most of Ukraine under the Tsarist yoke. The Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy collapsed with the First World War. The Communists and interventionists managed to destroy the newborn national statehood in Ukraine between 1918 and 1921 – both republics and the Hetman monarchy.1 At the beginning of the twentieth century, therefore, the features of the ideal-type military leader were a combination of traditions from the Cossack era2 and Polish, Austrian and Russian elements. The period of Soviet domination subsequently had a significant impact. When forming the Red (later Soviet) Army, the Communist Party leaders constructed a leadership model that was not based on military skills or traditions. The main point was that the leader was a wholehearted member of the Communist Party. An officer’s social origin was also of great importance. Being of worker or peasant stock was often more significant than possessing any particular skills. This was true up to the Second World War, but even the 1941-1945 War did not change the situation decisively. The same was true for the Ukrainian territory. As an integral part of the Soviet (Red) Army, it consisted of family members of former workers and peasants. Most of the commanders had either to be members of the Communist Party or to express their loyalty to the party. Another important factor was that the Communist regime leaders attempted to construct an artificial Soviet identity as opposed to an ethnic identity, mixing representatives of the different Soviet republics in joint

collectives. This was also practised in the army. The most dramatic changes in the identity of military leaders were probably due to the lack of national military traditions: attempts to create some new type of leadership were impeded by Russian and Soviet prisons, since the great number of Second World War victims had made it necessary to recruit many former prisoners. The 1953 amnesty also set the preconditions for the transfer of criminal traditions to the Soviet Army, particularly – the practice of ‘dedovshchyna’/‘didivshchyna’. This meant that the leadership concept in the independent Ukraine (after 1991) had to be constructed anew rather than be reformed. Officers with Soviet backgrounds who could not overcome their negative perception of NATO states opposed Western approaches. However, attempts to build a leadership model based solely on the traditions of Cossackdom also failed because these had virtually become lost during the period of subordination to the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. The situation was even more complicated because the decision on independence by the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) on 24 August 1991 and the referendum on independence the same year meant that Ukraine inherited a ‘first-class force package’ from the second strategic echelon of the Warsaw Pact’s theatre of operation: five ground armies, one army corps, four air armies, one air defence army, the Black Sea Fleet, one rocket army, 21 divisions (infantry, tank and artillery), three airborne brigades and many support units with over 780,000 troops in total. In addition, Ukraine also inherited the command, control and support structures of three former Soviet military districts (MDs) – Kyiv, Odessa and the Carpathian MD – as well as a substantial portion of the Soviet military education system: 34 military educational establishments and 78 faculties at civilian universities providing military education and training.3 Consequently, Ukraine maintained four armed services under its Ministry of Defence: Ground Forces, Air Forces, Air Defence Forces and Naval Forces. It also inherited more than 700,000 militarized troops under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and KGB, including Border Troops subordinated to the KGB. Whereas the USSR Ministry of Defence had no branches in the Union Republics, this was not true of the MVD and KGB. These were relatively cohesive entities, and added to anxieties about the security of the new state. In response to these anxieties, the Verkhovna Rada established an entirely new force structure, the National Guard, on 23 October 1991. (This was later abolished by a presidential decree in December 1999; Sherr 2002.) To some extent, this indicates that the political elite of the new independent state perceived the inherited troops as a threat rather than an instrument for protecting sovereignty. The Verkhovna Rada’s decisions also meant that the new state took ownership of all armaments and military stocks on its territory. This included the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, with 220 strategic weapon carriers, including 176 land-based ICBMs (130 SS-19 and 46 SS-24 missiles) and 44

strategic bombers (19 Tu-160s and 25 Tu-95s)! Based on figures from the SALT I Treaty, the total potential of this strategic force was estimated at 1,944 nuclear warheads, including multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles and long-range air-launched cruise missiles. In addition, Ukraine inherited approximately 2,500 tactical nuclear weapons, designed for delivery by tactical aircraft, artillery and surface-to-surface missiles (Bailes et al. 2003). Thus, Ukraine instantly became the world’s third largest armed power! However, it soon became clear that this legacy came with an extremely high inheritance tax. It had inherited disjointed fragments of the Soviet Armed Forces without central structures for command, control or planning on a national level. The existence of the previously described military and paramilitary forces, together with military-industrial capacities, was extremely challenging for the new state and demanded legislation. This can be systematized in the following ‘key hierarchy blocks’.