Ukrainian military recruits need training. Only one of the European giants makes its weight – POLITICO

LONDON – They come to the UK in their thousands – Ukrainians from all walks of life, in dire need of military training to protect their homeland.

From lawyers to masons, they arrive by plane from all over Ukraine. The goal is to turn new recruits into soldiers in just five weeks, providing basic military skills – infantry tactics; handling of weapons; to patrol; FIRST AID; Evacuation – before they return to fight on the front line.

Since June, the UK has trained nearly 5,000 first Ukrainian recruits under Operation Interflex, a program which aims to support 10,000 new soldiers in a year at a network of British training camps. Interflex is the successor to a longer-running UK program, Operation Orbital, which trained more than 22,000 Ukrainians between 2015 – shortly after Russia’s initial occupation of Crimea – and May this year.

Now in its third iteration, Interflex has been redesigned several times based on Ukraine’s evolving military needs. The program was deemed successful enough that more than half a dozen military allies – Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand – all sent trainers in the UK to accelerate its implementation.

Andriy Yermak, senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, made it clear this week that Ukraine needed “a massive program of joint training and maneuvers” with Western allies. Britain says it is ready to go further, with Defense Secretary Ben Wallace confident London has “much more capability” to offer.

“We have set a target of 10,000 troops – but through this pipeline I envision we will continue to train as many troops as Ukraine sends,” he told Britain’s parliament last week. “We are already seeing that it makes a difference to Ukraine’s combat effectiveness.”

On the other side of the Channel, the picture is very different.

France – the other major military power in Western Europe – has decided not to launch a mass training program for Ukrainian soldiers, an adviser to French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu has said, in line with the wishes of the French president. Emmanuel Macron to “remain a balancing power”.

According to official French government figures, France has trained a grand total of 40 Ukrainian soldiers since the start of the war, mostly in the use of French Caesar self-propelled guns.

“Emmanuel Macron was very clear: Ukraine will and must win, but Russia must not be humiliated,” the adviser said. “Our line is to show our solidarity with Ukraine to help it win – but if not, to be able to play a role when the conflict stops.”

The adviser said France had chosen a more low-key approach to support Ukraine, citing Macron’s negotiations over the protection of Zaporizhzhya, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, as an example of the role France can play.

The official also hinted that other French-led “specialist” training could take place in the shadows.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron | Alexei Furman/Getty Images

“The UK has chosen to go ahead with basic training. We do more specialized training,” he said. “We’re not going to tell you everything we do.”

It is certainly true that “a lack of transparency” about French activity hampers informed judgments about what France is actually doing, according to a researcher working at a French military institution.

“Everything is classified”, complains the researcher, who wished to remain anonymous. “In France, we don’t know what’s going on… Even the strategy behind it isn’t clear. We don’t know if it’s politics, or the military — or if training programs will be launched later,” he said.

Retired French colonel and military consultant Michel Goya is convinced that France’s position on training is a direct political choice.

“We could have done the same [as the British],” he said. “We could have taken Ukrainians into camps across France and turned them into soldiers. We’ve done that before with African soldiers.

But retired French general Jérôme Pellistrandi said French forces are also caught up in overseas deployments in the Sahel and the Middle East, and are therefore less able to host large-scale training programs at home. them.

“There is a question of what forces are available at the moment. [The British] have fewer commitments abroad than the French. So we aimed for quality, not quantity, in military training,” Pellistrandi said.

“Classic EU”

Admittedly, nothing indicates that Paris is changing course in the short term.

French officials have said France will participate in an EU-level military training program set up by Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief envoy, but those talks are still at an early stage.

“It’s ‘classic EU’ in terms of speed,” said Ed Arnold, a European security researcher at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank. “It’s not a very difficult decision for the EU, but it takes a bit of time. EU members who joined the British framework probably did so out of opportunism.

Ukraine’s training needs are huge and the British initiative alone will not be enough to meet the demand, according to a military official working for a Western ally involved in training.

Specialized training is already underway in some European countries such as Poland, where Ukrainian troops are trained in the use of anti-aircraft defense missiles donated by the British government. In July, the Polish government said it was ready to invite the Ukrainian army for anti-mine training. Details of these missions, however, are kept as secret as possible for security reasons.

Ukrainian military recruits need training. Only one of the European giants makes its weight – POLITICO
Ukrainian volunteer military recruits take part in weapons training while being trained by members of the British Armed Forces | Leon Neal/Getty Images

There have also been quiet talks of the prospect of NATO setting up its own training framework – but some allies fear such a program could lend wings to the Kremlin’s claim that NATO is not is not simply a defensive alliance.

The Western military official quoted above said that over time, allies should consolidate and simplify the training programs available. But he expressed skepticism about any prospect of a merger between the successful UK scheme and a possible EU-led training scheme, given the state of post-Brexit relations.

Speaking off the record, a French minister insisted there was ‘no reluctance’ in Paris to coordinate training efforts with the UK

Despite its recent military breakthroughs, Ukraine’s military – still considerably smaller than Russia’s – desperately needs more troops and precision weapons to make up the difference.

Future needs

Ukraine must also hone its skills in offensive warfare, having spent eight years defending its territory against further Russian advances.

Under the British programme, Ukrainians are already trained in urban warfare – skills needed to retake key cities such as Kherson or Melitopol while causing minimal destruction. At a site in Kent, they learn modern combat techniques in the same built-up areas where the British Army trained for deployment to Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq.

As the Ukrainians advance into Russian-held territory, they will also need training on how to tackle Russian fortifications such as minefields and help strategize how to get there. to air dominance, a Western official said.

Retraining an army to become a successful attack force could take at least a year, the adviser added.

“It’s like asking the goalkeeper to become the striker,” he said. “Getting from Schmeichel to Messi – it’s a long road.”


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