An interview made with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov
• Judging by the headlines in the Western media in recent days, you and I must now conduct this interview deep underground in a bunker. What went ‘wrong’?
I am staying in the country. My family, my close friends and relatives — no one has fled anywhere, although we were promised there would be an invasion on the 15th, then the 16th… Everybody was saying that there would be traffic jams at the exits from Kyiv, on Zhytomyr or Odesa routes, and in fact you could hardly enter Kyiv at 7:30 in the morning, everybody was going to work, nobody ran away or left.
That is the answer to all these informational flights of fancy, which I hope will remain such flights of fancy and not turn into reality.
• How much can we trust the various media sources somewhere in Western intelligence, these maps with the invasion arrows? What is the purpose of all this barrage of “insider information”?
The nature of the fakes varies. The “yellow press” does it for one purpose, the more serious press tries to track and give the truth. Everyone is doing their job.
But I want to stress: we are monitoring changes of the situation around our borders, we check this against the information that our colleagues and partners, intelligence agencies of different countries give us — the facts coincide. But assessments, assumptions, hypotheses and versions are made in different ways. And they very much depend on the agenda of the particular country from which such information comes.
There is no single explanation, everyone has their own agenda and their own goal. Our goal is to keep calm, to maintain stability and, therefore, stability in society.
• The New York Times, CNN and other media explained that such publications are “designed to beat Putin at his own game”. If the whole world talks about his invasion plans in detail, the chances of the Kremlin deciding on any full-scale invasion are reduced, they say. Is this information noise helping Ukraine or does exactly the opposite?
There is no clear answer to this question. On the one hand it is attracting the attention of the world community. Last October, I think, there were two publications in the Washington Post and Politico that cheered the whole world up, the world ‘woke up’ and said: wow, is there going to be a war in Ukraine soon?!
And we answered: yes, we have been telling you for eight years that war has been going on since 2014, since the occupation of Crimea, Sevastopol, and then the developments in eastern Ukraine. It is not news to us, it is news to you. But thank you for noticing this “news”, even eight years later. The most important thing is that it has cheered you up and become a subject of your agenda, your politicians; you discuss it during elections.
So yes, on one hand it helps us. We are receiving amazing packages and volumes of assistance, monetary, political, economic and most importantly military weapons and ammunition. We are getting something that we couldn’t even dream of before.
But the information overheating and noise being used, among other things, by our unfriendly northern neighbour whose aim to destabilise our country, spread panic, is beginning to affect society, and the financial markets are very sensitive to this.
We need to keep the hryvnia’s exchange rate down, we need to explain to people that we are doing well with the economy, we have the highest GDP figures of last year, in January we had almost 10 billion more than planned, usually low, revenues to the treasury this month. And a lot of other indicators: we are doing well with coal reserves, we are protected in the energy sector and so on.
But people live in anxiety, it is hard for them to live in anxiety. And then the media becomes hostages of this trend and we should come out and say: calm down, let’s hold the line. There needs to be a balance in everything. Right now there is no balance in the information part, it is heavily skewed towards anxiety. If there is not enough information, we tend to produce a negative scenario.
And so now in society, when no one has accurate information, when someone referred to intelligence and someone to an unnamed “information source,” it causes people to panic, they begin to construct unthinkable scenarios.
Civilians think differently from the military. If they see an APC in the street for training, for exercises, they start to panic like something has happened. I’ve been told how APCs were deployed in border towns and people ran out to ATMs at night to withdraw cash. That is why our main task as representatives of the Government, the President, the Parliament, all those who are responsible for the country today, is to maintain a balance.
•And what needs to happen for this panic to stop: the decisions, statements and actual actions of the northern aggressive neighbour or the cessation of such an informational barrage from the western media and politicians? media and politicians?
All of this in complex. As soon as there is a real withdrawal of the Russian contingent from our borders, as soon as they finish these announced exercises, the temperature will start to go down. Of course, the Western media will not be able not to react to this and will say: here, there are positive signals. And then, of course, everything should return to political and diplomatic communication, negotiations, reaching agreements.
The Kremlin, unfortunately, uses the tactics of information blackmail: you see, we can attack. And the Western world, fortunately, cannot avoid reacting to it, because they used to let it pass by. Now it is impossible to forget about Ukraine and its participation in the international military conflict, where the Russian Federation is the aggressor. They talk about Ukraine and they know exactly where Ukraine is on the world map.
• When there were the “Caucasus-2020” exercises, the number of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border significantly exceeded the current figures, some 220,000 troops were spoken of at the time, some units were in strike formations. At the moment this is not the case. Somehow there was no such panic then, why has this story developed now because of a much smaller number of troops?
It is difficult to comment on the reactions of our Western partners, the political leadership in a number of countries has changed, the USA has a new president, Germany has a new chancellor.
Plus, the U.S. and NATO countries went through a shock after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, I call it the “Afghan syndrome”. Tragic images from Kabul, from the airport traveled all over the world, and in this stupor and this panic, the Ukrainian military acted calmly and helped evacuate, among others, citizens of other countries.
I think this “Afghan syndrome” is at work. Because of it, a number of foreign ministries have had to rewrite their protocols and make them more rigid, and today we see the embassies of the United States and several other countries have moved to Lviv, although they specify that temporarily, they have reduced their diplomatic contingents.
But unlike them, the European embassies have not evacuated, the EU embassy has announced its presence. I am in constant contact with the ambassadors, I was very pleased to see the photo of forty people standing at the meeting with our minister Kuleba. And today (16 February) about fifty ambassadors went or flew to Mariupol to participate with President Zelensky in the Day of Unity events.
So different countries react differently. All the same, any action that one country or another does, it does it in the interests of its people, its political agenda. We do not read everything that happens in the USA and elsewhere, we cannot measure them by Ukraine. We see the active position of the UK after Brexit. I do not think that if the UK were in the EU, we would hear such a strong stance in the interests of Ukraine from its prime minister.
• On the other hand, the Russian Federation is denying everything, claiming a partial withdrawal of troops and showing videos. Can we believe these reports, are we actually seeing a decrease in the number of forces near the Ukraine’s borders?
As of this morning (16 February), according to the report by the Defence Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, unfortunately, we have not yet recorded a real withdrawal of troops, which the Russian Federation is claiming. Small units are indeed being withdrawn for appearances’ sake, but this is not a total or even a significant withdrawal of troops. This coincides with yesterday’s statements from the United States that there is no withdrawal of troops.
• Chancellor Scholz after his meeting with Putin said that there are 100,000 military personnel at our borders, President Biden said 150,000. The difference is significant. How many are there really?
In this context Mr Scholz is very much mistaken, Mr Biden is close to the truth. If I am not mistaken, as of yesterday there were 125,000 ground troops, and if you take the naval and aviation component, it is somewhere around 140,000.
I watched President Macron’s briefing with the Russian President, where Putin said that there are 120,000 Ukrainian troops in the JFO area in eastern Ukraine. And that is absolutely untrue. Either he is mistaken, or he is being deceived by his own military, or he has once again told an untruth to the whole world. There are a lot of figures being voiced right now, and some of them are not entirely accurate, and some of them, as we can see, are either fake, or provocations, or absolute unprofessionalism of the intelligence community of one of the countries.
We estimate that there are 35 thousand people in the occupation contingent in the ORDLO — the first and second army corps of the Russian Federation, which is commanded by two thousand Russian officers. We have the same number of military personnel in the JFO area, give or take.
There can be no 120 thousand, it is easy to check. This would be visible even to the local population. Let the Kremlin have no fear of being misled, or otherwise do not deceive the world.
• And this refutes the thesis that we are allegedly preparing an offensive on ORDLO and Crimea.
We are not going to attack anyone for one very understandable reason. Unlike our unfriendly neighbours, we very much value the life of every citizen of Ukraine. Even if you have different political, religious or any other predilections.
Therefore, we are not planning any forceful action, any military operations to the return of Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia with military operations. We will do everything politically and diplomatically. Citizens of Ukraine live there, even those who have taken Russian passports, they took them to survive. We are going the peaceful way, we will do everything calmly, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow Crimea, Sevastopol, Luhansk and Donetsk will be Ukrainian again, there will be Ukrainian flags and Ukrainian authorities. It will happen without violence because people want it.
• Let’s move on to the question of the concentration of Russian troops. Do we see preparations for escalation by Russia?
Pardon the banality. The escalation started in 2014. The war is already underway, its manifestations are changing, it is hybrid. That is why there have been cyber attacks on banks, the Ministry of Defence, etc.
Although this is ridiculous — why attack the Ministry of Defence website? This is an information portal. It’s where we post news. We can do it on Facebook, Instagram. If necessary, I will communicate with people on Tik-Tok. But no, they want to show our vulnerability. This is all just another phase of escalation.
• Speaking of “classic” escalation — do we see any tanks, missile systems, planes, helicopters moving into offensive positions?
They want to make the world scared. Their goal is not Ukraine. The goal is to break the unity of NATO and the EU countries, the recognition of Russia as the dominant actor in world geopolitics. They also made their claims. They said, ‘Guys, you have accepted 14 countries into NATO since 91, please, be so kind as to kick them out, because we believe that the Russian empire is the Baltic States, Poland, part of Finland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary. That is, they announced their appetite in public speeches.
If you read their ideologists, they generally say that they are “bored”, “cramped”, “crowded” and “offended” there. You should send people with such stories to a psychiatrist. It’s some kind of inferiority complex, but with strong muscles. They want to be considered, spoken to and most importantly, implored. But they have stated their grievances — to return everything as it was in 1991. They are telling some strange tale that somebody once promised them something.
Yesterday I talked to Ben Wallace, the Minister of Defence of Great Britain. I said to him, “You’ve been in politics for a long time. Tell me, could it be that NATO countries promised something to Russia that we all don’t know about, and the Russians remember and resent you?”. He replied that he had checked all possible sources, but nowhere was such a thing written down. Nobody knows who made them any promise. But now the Russians live in the certainty that they have been promised but deceived. At the same time, they quite successfully forget about concrete things — the signed interstate document on security guarantees in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — the Budapest Memorandum.
• Not even Russians, but one particular Russian.
No, not one particular Russian. The president of Russia is not one person. It is a group of individuals. Read the publications of ideologists, listen to the speeches of representatives of different departments. Their rhetoric is very much the same in many things. There are things where they act according to the political vertical, and there is a conditional freedom of manoeuvre. It’s a vision, it’s a philosophy, an ideology, they believe in it.
Look at the performances of some TV presenters who have manifestations of mental illness, right down to foaming from their mouths. This is the dominant faction that runs Russia today, this is political power.
• We have another “interesting” neighbour. The other day you had a conversation with Belarusian Minister of Defence Viktor Khrenin. This came as a surprise to some observers, because officially Ukraine does not recognise the de facto Belarusian authorities. What was the reason for this necessity and did you achieve your goal?
When there is a threat, when the people of my country are frightened and even our strategic partners make statements that within 72 hours Kiev will almost fall and an attack will take place from the north — from the territory of Belarus, through Chernobyl zone or somewhere else, then for me it is not regalia that matters. Do you remember the old expression — do you need fashion or function? I need function.
The Israeli Minister of Defence Benny Gantz, a former military general — I know him well — recently used to say something like this, “The commander, when sending a soldier to die in combat, must do all he can to avoid it. This was said by the Minister of Defence of a country that has been at war since its creation. And I don’t want to be a man who easily sends men to die either. I will do everything to avoid this battle, of course without losing the honour and dignity of the country, without retreating in any way.
Of course, I will talk to whoever is in charge of the army of Belarus today, to the Minister of Defence. Yes, we do not officially recognize the results of the presidential elections in their country. But we do not deny the existence of the republic, the Belarusian people and their army that is conducting exercises. After all, the Belarusians are frightened by the terrible Ukraine and the fact that we are almost preparing military offensives. I believe that ordinary Belarusian citizens should also be reassured. There is a government there, with which we have an Agreement on Additional Confidence- and Security-Building Measures of 2001, just about the mutual relations connected with the military activities.
I asked a question: what was it like before? We used to invite their attaché to exercises, and they used to invite our attaché to exercises. But due to political events we stopped doing that. Yes, I suggested a phone conversation with Minister Khrenin on topics of concern to me. I see the intelligence data, I wanted to hear his answers, and if he has any questions — to provide answers to them. In other words, my task was to lower the level of tension with Belarus.
• Do you think the degree of tensions has been reduced?
I think so. We had an hour-long conversation instead of the 30 minutes we were supposed to have. I asked him questions, named places, settlements, specific types of heavy weapons they have. This includes the Belarusian Uragans and Russian Iskanders. He also named the number of the Russian contingent there, even the places — the grouping of six thousand in the area of Gomel and three thousand, closer to our border.
The Minister confirmed these data, saying that there will be exercises, firing, which are not directed against Ukraine, this is their defence doctrine. He said that the enemy was not named, but a hypothetical enemy was used.
• Their hypothetical enemy is Dniprovia. It is easy enough to read who they are talking about here.
Yes, but they have not called Ukraine an enemy anywhere. And the Minister said to me the important words, ‘Hear me. There is no aggression, no threat from Belarus to Ukraine, and there cannot be any. But such an operation as “Polessye” raises doubts for us, there are many National Guardsmen there.’
I said, ‘Yes, but we also defended ourselves when there were migration risks. There are none now, but the AFU was not involved in those operations. Yes, there was a police operation, the population was nervous, but I can say that everything is under control.’
And we have found a solution. In order to avoid misunderstandings, accidental provocations or cases that could be used by someone else as a provocation, let us resume communication within the framework of the existing intergovernmental agreement — contacts at the level of military attachés, at the level of the armed forces and at the level of ministers. If necessary, we can have a call, discussion, and then close the subject.
He agreed to this, supporting my initiative. In order not to put anything off, we agreed that our attaché would be at their firing range during training exercises. And he was there yesterday. He was publicly introduced, the local and Russian press talked about it. And today their attaché is in Rivne at the training range, where our exercises are held. This is part of the Blizzard-2022 exercise, where we are demonstrating how effectively Ukrainian warriors are using the already Ukrainian Javelin, NLAW, Bayraktar and Stinger for defensive purposes.
I believe we have made a good step towards lowering the degree of tension between Ukraine and Belarus. We don’t need this tension. The purpose of any opponent is to weaken you by making you fight with others, by defocusing your attention. We will know the dangerous directions if the Kremlin makes a decision. And our AFU is ready for that. We will avoid fight to save our resources and to keep our focus and do not be distracted. That is the purpose of my call.
Yes, there are some political disagreements between Ukraine and Belarus, we will continue to take a stand for human rights. But as the Minister of Defence for defence purposes of my country I will talk to the Minister of Defence of Belarus, because it’s important for Ukraine.
• Speaking of threats, you mentioned that you understand where they might come from. How long would it take us to build up such a strong defence in this direction that such a scenario would not bother us even hypothetically?
I cannot answer that question. There are details that I cannot reveal because certain conclusions can be drawn from them. I will say one thing — the AFU today is positioned by the decision of the Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, an experienced combat general, so that we can respond anywhere, be ready and ensure mobilization if there is a need to bring up reserves.
Of course, the more and faster we develop our armed forces, the more secure we will feel everywhere. When you have an aggressor next door, you cannot sleep well, you have to live with it.
But the stress that you and I are undergoing now, including psychological stress, actually makes us stronger. We will get a certain immunity now. It’s like getting over the covid, but we will get a collective immunity. We already have it stronger than many other countries in the world.
• Then let’s talk about the “birds”. Recently, aircraft with military and technical assistance from our partners — Javelins, NLAWs, Stingers, SMAW Ds and so on — have been arriving in Ukraine almost every day. It would be incorrect to disclose the exact number of weapons received. But in general, what numbers are we talking about? Is it hundreds, thousands?
Please do not forget that we have very good Ukrainian developments of our own, which are called anti-tank missile systems…
• “Corsairs”, “Stugny”…
Absolutely right. If you put all anti-tank and other similar means of defeating armoured vehicles that we have in the arsenal together, then I can assume that we are in the top five countries in the world for such armaments. So, I can say that there are fewer targets than there are means of destruction.
• Are we being gifted all this or are we still paying for it?
All that we have received now — what we call in military slang “birds” — it is all free of charge. We don’t pay for it, it’s part of international technical assistance from various countries. It was in service, and they are handing it over to us.
What we buy for ourselves is separate and planned, people’s deputies in a special committee of the Parliament know about it. We do not take these purchases into account when we talk about these “birds. “Birds” are all gifts.
• British, American, Lithuanian, what else?
We are about to receive military and technical assistance from Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Canada.
• What other weapons and from whom would we like to receive in the future? And are there already any substantive negotiations on this subject?
It is not so important from whom. It is important for us to strengthen our missile defence and air defence. These are key and high-priority tasks today. This is what we are doing today: we are developing our own, and where possible we are trying to get more quickly from our Western partners. This is not quickly done, but we are working on it.
• You spoke to the German Minister of Defence the other day. How likely is it that we will get German weapons? Does it matter to us politically or just any specific names of German production?
I had an introductory conversation. It was the first video conversation; we were getting acquainted. We agreed to continue the communication. She suggested this formula: let’s talk to each other, not about each other in public. I accepted. And we agreed to meet in person in the near future.
If everything depended only on the Minister of Defence, I would understand it and I would do my best. But everything depends on a political decision by the ruling power in Germany. So for us now it is not so much about any weapons from Germany as it is about unblocking the possibility to buy weapons. The pressing question is — dear, our dear friends in Germany, stop blocking the possibility for Ukraine to buy defence weapons, even lethal ones for defence purposes from other countries, if you have veto power there. What are we talking about? First of all, it’s the NSPA agency — NATO Support and Procurement Organisation.
When we tried to buy sniper systems, parachutes and anti-missile guns from the Americans and Lithuanians, the German side used its veto power, interrupted the tacit consent procedure and thus blocked the purchase of the entire batch. Although they had already charged us for the account, we passed all the checks. Yes, then they start apologising, saying it was only about the Barrett sniper rifles. But they blocked everything and they know it.
At the same time, we are very grateful to our German partners for giving money for hospitals, treating our wounded since 2014. But I keep telling them: dear friends, if you stop blocking the purchase of defence armaments, the aggressor will understand that it is better not to spend money on any aggression. This means that they will not kill and wound our soldiers. It means that German taxpayers will stop spending money to treat our wounded.
• Are there any positive signs that this is possible?
It’s politics. Political issues, especially those that are enrooted, are not resolved quickly and easily. But I will say a simple thing. When I came to the US in my new status and asked for the Stingers, they basically twisted a finger at a temple — smiled delicately and told me at the highest levels that it was impossible. And the same they told our President, my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Head of the President’s Office.
And now you know the result. As of today, we have already received Stingers, they are already in the depots and our troops are already training with them. Yes, they came to us from friendly Lithuanians, but these are US-made Stingers, and they were supplied with an official agreement of the US authorities.
It took almost three months to get the situation moving. The President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Head of our Office, our Ambassador Oksana Markarova, and our attachés — all worked very hard to achieve this. This is the result of persistence and perseverance of Ukrainians. Therefore, I am confident that we will manage to get in tune with Germany and we will do even better.
• Putin, after talks with the German chancellor, said again that the door to NATO must be closed to Ukraine so that Russia feels safe. Before this, our ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, made the controversial statement that in some circumstances Ukraine might consider not joining NATO. The Foreign Ministry denied this statement. According to your sources, is this a possible option?
No, this is the first time I have heard of such an option. In our constitution, joining NATO is written down as our intention and plan. I am double-checking sociological surveys: today, most Ukrainians are in favour of joining NATO. Accordingly, this will be mirrored in the Parliament. It will guide the President because the people elect him. Therefore, there cannot be any changes.
Moreover, Ukraine had non-block status in 2014. And that did not stop the Russians from attacking and occupying Crimea, Sevastopol and parts of eastern Ukraine. So, this cannot work with Russia. Our course is for full membership of the European Union, and NATO is written into the constitution as early as the sixth year after the aggression began, in February 2019.
But what has changed in the Kremlin’s rhetoric? They used to say you cannot take countries into NATO because NATO threatens them and approaches their borders. But here’s a funny story — the Russians themselves have started getting closer to NATO’s borders. They are conducting exercises in Belarus, which is literally on the border with Poland and Lithuania that a NATO states. They occupy the Black Sea, and Bulgaria and Romania are also NATO countries. They are going by themselves, not building any buffer zones. So they are being deceitful again here.
The second message is generally hilarious. They used to say that no one should be accepted into NATO and that they should return everything to the 1991 state because NATO would attack. They say you cannot take Ukraine because it will become dangerous for Russia.
Why are you suddenly afraid of us? Because you realised that we have become stronger, more confident and have moved far away from you after your aggression? We have indeed gone far in a pro-Western direction. We definitely do not want and will never go back to the Soviet Union and empire, forget it.
But we will not attack you, and we have a completely different type of thinking. We are not claiming your territories. We are claiming our territories that you snatched away from us, and you will return them to us peacefully. Moreover, your generations will pay us a massive amount of money in the form of a contribution. International law is not going anywhere. It will all happen, trust me. But do not forget, we are ready and will defend ourselves.
• Continuing with the ultimatums, a question for you as a Former Minister for Reintegration. Is it possible in the current situation to meet the Minsk agreements’ political requirements soon? And, according to your information, are there any steps being prepared in this direction?
We are ready to implement the Minsk agreements, as there is no other political and diplomatic platform today, but it is not ideal. The whole Minsk agreement cannot be executed now. You know my position on point 9. It is the order of priority — the border or the elections. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Government, the Office of the President of Ukraine, the whole of Ukraine stand in the same position. That is, no one has any discussions on this issue.
The Minsk agreements were, in principle, signed by Ukraine at gunpoint because the security situation was dire, and therefore we had to go for it. But how can we now agree to the political part of the agreements without closing the security issues.
So first of all, guys, let us solve the security issues, let us solve the problem of control over the border, withdraw your Russian troops and your mercenaries from there, and withdraw equipment and heavy armour.
I declare with all my responsibility. We see and know where you have everything, so you don’t think you are hiding it somewhere. You have no idea how well-informed we are without even crossing the line of contact. And today, our partners are helping us too. We see everything and know what you have and where. So don’t tell tales about tanks that have been lying around in mines since the Second World War and suddenly turned up.
• Considering the mentioned above, threats about recognition of the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions and so on, do you have a feeling that we are being pushed from all sides to implement the Minsk agreements on terms that are not suitable for us?
It’s not a feeling. It’s the truth. Since the signing of those agreements, we have been inclined to implement the Minsk agreements according to the Kremlin’s script. But that does not mean that we are inclined or intend to do so.
• Is it only Russia that persists, or is the West already too?
Everyone is pursuing their own policies. I will just remind you the beginning of our conversation. Everything our Western partners do, they do it in the interests of their own countries.
Interests may change, the names of chancellors, presidents, prime ministers may change, policies may vary. It is why they behave differently. For example, we understand that several countries are directly interested in trading with Russia, but they have to support sanctions, although many do not want to.
• Do you think recognition of occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions by Putin is possible?
Yes, absolutely possible. It will be used to blackmail and brag about. I foreshadowed this scenario last time month ago. Now the Kremlin leader will play a game of recognising-not recognising. But they are falling into their own trap because the recognition of these terrorist organizations, which call themselves pseudo-republics, in fact, means that the Russians have withdrawn from Minsk.
Then there is the question of the sanctions package, which they have tried in every possible way to remove. So why do they keep pushing us into direct negotiations? If we start talking to the ringleaders, the Russians will instantly begin to state again that they are not the aggressor, they are not a party to the conflict at all, this is Ukraine’s internal affairs, so lift the sanctions.
• At the beginning of February, the President announced a new phase of defence reform. Among the initiatives is the abolition of compulsory military service. How much time is allocated to adopt a law on this subject, and when will an alternative to ‘conscription’ in the form of intensive military training appear?
We are not ready simply to cancel conscription today. That is why the idea of this alternative training appeared. I assume that it will be based on the training methodology of the Territorial Defence Forces. Ukrainian instructors are already working on it.
At first, we will test such training. The presidential decree says that we have to prepare a regulatory framework within two years and start implementing it, see how it works. The law says to ensure an intensive military training system as a possible alternative form of compulsory military service. We are working on it with the Parliamentary Committee.
We are also working with the National Security and Defence Council and related bodies to finalise the draft law on the Cyber Defence Forces and discuss the primary draft. The presidential decree says it is necessary to create a cyber army, but we talked to experts from different countries and agreed that it should be a force. It gives additional legal options, a little wider than that of the troops.
• How much will it cost to create a Cyber Defence Forces, and when will they appear?
We are now working on the legal framework. First, the law will specify what these forces will look like and their structure, and then it will be clear how much funding is available for this and how long it will take to deploy them.
• A stage of the defence reform envisions the growth of the Armed Forces by 100 thousand personnel by 2025.
Within four years, we must create the conditions for increasing by 100 thousand. But from the moment parliament adopts the decision.
• Essentially, we are talking about a transition to a fully professional army. Military experts say that in that case the number of military personnel is decreasing. And the reinforcement comes at the expense of automated control systems (ACS), high-precision weaponry and unique reconnaissance systems. So, what place do these 100 thousand soldiers have to occupy in the national defence system. What tasks do they have to accomplish?
Let’s take the state of Turkey as an example. They have ACS, excellent equipment, their Bayraktars show high-efficiency today, but they have an army of half a million soldiers.
Many experts analyse modern armies that are not fighting and have no threat in principle. If we take the size of NATO armed forces in Europe today, they are paltry because they rely on the support of the United States, Britain, Germany and France within the Alliance.
We are already in the eighth year of confrontation with an army that is among the five largest in the world. So we need to get stronger so that our defence is more robust, but we need a balance for that. That is in numbers and the quality of weapons and command-and-control systems.
It does not mean that once we have 100,000, we will not develop ACS. We are doing it here and now. And we want anti-missile, anti-air and anti-aircraft weapons here and now. But this all takes time. The Ukrainian missile programme needs ten years of development and colossal sums of money, 250 billion are invested today.
So yes, we are forming a professional army. It should become the most interesting employer, so that people want to serve there for a long time, to sign long-term contracts. It is reasonable to invest in a serviceman ready to serve for ten years. But he gets motivational things in return: guaranteed housing, decent pay, conditions for his family and children to get an education and so on.
Training a soldier from scratch costs about 1,5 million hryvnias. Of course, it is not profitable for him to leave in a year. That is why we must create conditions for a man to want to be in the military profession for a long term. In fact, the possibility of the abolition of conscription is also one of the steps to abolish “compulsoriness” and the transition to a highly motivated professional army.
• Increasing the number of AFU troops, arming new units, raising salaries and improving living conditions. We understand that this is a lot of money. How much money is needed for this? And do you have guarantees from the Cabinet, the President and Parliament that all these steps will be financed appropriately?
I know how much is needed for each of these programmes. These are big numbers, these are huge numbers, but it is realistic. I do not have some concepts approved yet, and when they are approved, I will be able to publicise the figures and how I see them. A lot of money is needed.
Politically, I have the green light from the President and the Prime Minister. Still, pragmatically on the financial side, I understand that a balanced approach and consideration of state budget possibilities is needed. That is why we sit down and work it out due to the discussion. After all, not only the Armed Forces of Ukraine need to be supported, but also the State Border Guard of Ukraine, National Guard of Ukraine and National Police of Ukraine, and teachers and doctors. That is why we are looking for that balance every day.
• We had a resonant story about military registration for women. But, unfortunately, the list of specialities and professions was cut down substantially in the end. When will it be implemented? And how does the state generally see women’s participation in the country’s defence?
Together with the General Staff, we decided that so many professions on the list of women military personnel are now unnecessary. Therefore, we have simplified it, agreed on it with our colleagues, sent it to the Ministry of Justice and are waiting for their approval, after which it will come into force. But the General Staff has the right to make amendments depending on the threats and challenges.
• Last Friday in Kharkiv, the President said that there are problems with staffing in the Odesa region, Mariupol, Rivne and Kyiv regions and recommended the local authorities to solve this problem with the help of the military; otherwise, respective decisions on the authorities will be made. Is it possible to rectify the situation?
It was not a question of manning the Territorial Defence Forces. It was a question of premises for them. Today, unfortunately, ten Territorial Defence battalions in Kyiv do not have their premises, so we are waiting for the Kyiv authorities to provide them. I communicated with the administration of the Odessa region, and I think everything has been resolved there, and I hope this will happen in the other areas as well.
• So we have no problem with manning the Territorial Defence Force?
In one month, the peacetime Territorial Defence Forces has already been staffed by almost 70% — that’s 10,000 people. Next will be 130,000 reservists. There is a problem specifically with housing the units.
To recruit 130,000 people, you have first to create these military units, to have arms rooms, ammunition rooms, secret rooms, and so on. Then people can be recruited. This is the challenge now. Local authorities and administrations should help here.
• Does Ukraine need a satellite for its defence needs, are there plans to launch one?
A satellite is always needed everywhere, but as for the launch plans, this is not a question for me. The space agency is under the supervision of Pavlo Borysovych Riabykyn, the Minister for Strategic Industries.
• When will the Ukrainian army be armed with Bayraktars made in Ukraine, and how many of them do we need?
According to my information, we should reach the plant at the beginning of the summer, and it is being built quite quickly. My feeling is that they will appear within a year. The amount we already have is not bad, and soon we will have more, according to the contract signed last year, and that will be enough even before the factory is built.
• Is the legalisation of weapons for the self-defence of civilians being considered within the concept of all-encompassing defence? Or the introduction of the Swiss model, given how our Territorial Defence Forces are growing, when its members are be able to keep military weapons at home?
I am a long-time supporter of the legalisation of guns for several reasons. First, as a lawyer, I believe that, in principle, there should be a law that regulates the circulation of weapons; it still does not exist. Guns should be legalised, describing who should have what firearms. People should have the right to keep — not carry — a handgun, many countries have this, and it increases citizen security, helps law enforcement, reduces crime, that’s for sure.
As for the Territorial Defence Forces, combat weapons are to be stored in arms rooms in military units. As necessary, reservists who have signed a contract will receive them for training exercises or, God forbid, when the forces are deployed.
These are different types of weapons, and one is not related to the other. But when potential malefactors know that Ukrainians are legally in possession of several short-barrelled guns and other weapons, it is an additional factor to ponder the price of the aggression.