Defense minister Umerov’s plan to reform the military – expert analysis

Ukrainian military personnel
Ukrainian military personnel

The Defense Ministry has presented a progressive program for the modernization of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the next five years — something that should have been done a long time ago, Roman Lykhachov, lawyer of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s Reception Centre, explained to NV on Nov. 8.

Defense Minister Rustem Umerov has recently approved the Military Personnel Policy Concept. Among other things, it provides for the transition to contract military service and intensive military training for citizens of service age instead of military service in peacetime. The implementation of the ideas described in the document aims at securing the army’s human resources needs and integration into the Euro-Atlantic security space.

Lykhachov analyzed the ideas outlined in the concept, and explained how they correlate with the stated goals and shared his own assessments.

Here is the expert’s direct speech:

Read also: Ukraine’s mobilization has not ‘stalled’ — Danilov

“The personnel policy change in the Defense Ministry is timely, but it has been timely since 2014. Unfortunately, we’re only thinking about replacing this system after almost 10 years. A lot of time has already been lost.

This [Military Personnel Policy Concept] is still a high-level strategy, i.e., these aren’t yet specific changes and steps, laws, and amendments to laws. Just a concept that outlines how things will change. Its main drawback is that we need these changes ‘yesterday,’ not in 2028. It costs us the lives of our soldiers.

Let’s start with the transition from conscript to contract service. It’s been discussed for about 20 years, and there were attempts to change it. Now the conscripts found themselves in such an interesting situation: they came for conscript service but ended up being mobilized. That is, their military service is indefinite.

As for military recruitment offices. They were called territorial recruitment centers (TRCs), but the work system hasn’t changed much there. Our laws aren’t bad, but we have a problem with local executors who interpret the law in their own way, which leads, unfortunately, to negative situations.

The recruitment system is good. I just recently visited the 3rd Assault Brigade and saw how the recruitment system works there. People are motivated. And we need a motivated army. There were no TRCs on Feb. 24, 2022, most of them were probably completely closed, especially in the east. But people came, and no one had to snatch them on the streets. The recruitment system should be implemented at the proper level, I agree with that.

But the question is the following. I read in the document about smart mobilization, etc., that it will be possible to enroll in specific specialties, let’s say, at your own will, drone operators and others. And many will sign up to become drone operators. But it’s no secret for anyone that infantry wins wars. And who will enroll in the infantry, who will serve there? People are told that they will sign up as drone operators under smart mobilization. But at the same time, they’re not told that after immediately calling a person as a drone operator, he can be immediately transferred to the infantry.

I have a criminal case: the guys who serve in the air defense passed the attack aircraft training in less than a month and ended up assigned to an assault infantry unit. Although they’re air defense specialists, and very good ones. And no one asked for their consent. So, my main question is where do we get the infantry then? Who will go to unpopular specialties? How will we motivate people?

The maintenance of a contract army has been relevant for a long time. It’s been almost two years since the full-scale war, but people who remain in the army don’t want to sign a contract. When I talk to them, because many are suing for various payments, I ask: why are you resigning? And they say that everything that was promised to us is not being fulfilled.

For example, the state promised they would still get paid an average salary, there would be a UAH 100,000 ($2,775) bonus, wages, everything would be fine. But in the end, the average salary was taken away, everything is murky with UAH 100,000 as it’s often not paid. So, a person finds himself in a situation where he cannot support his family, especially after inflation spikes. That is, the state promised one thing, but fulfills another.

I see such an interesting thesis here: ‘a people-centered approach to managing a military serviceman’s career.’ There’s a big problem here as we have a large number of social guarantees in our country, but in reality, many things aren’t implemented due to limited budgetary resources. So, when I read about social guarantees for military personnel, I remember that when they leave, military personnel are constantly underpaid and go to court. Our courts are currently filled with lawsuits from soldiers who have resigned due to injuries, veterans of combat units. First of all, they [lawsuits] relate to underpayment of ‘combat allowance’ and payments for injuries, and incorrect salaries. There are already numerous court decisions stating that salaries have been calculated incorrectly. And still they’re calculated in the same way. Payments to war veterans have been calculated incorrectly. I don’t even comment on pension provision: everyone who receives a military pension sues the state and it’s transferred through the court. Many appeals relate to medical bills that weren’t paid during treatment.

Sometimes it gets ridiculous: I have a client who was injured. A military unit issued a certificate of injury and had to pay UAH 100,000 during treatment. In the response to the lawsuit, the military unit indicated that no one had provided it with documents about the injuries. Although I show the document, saying that you wrote it, you already have it, here it is with the original number. But no, the wounded allegedly had to provide it again. For what? We don’t know.

Many issues are timely, including digitalization, smart mobilization, etc. But I’m also interested in the protection of personal data. I’m afraid that with full access, any serviceman at the checkpoint can leak this entire database of all our conscripts to the enemy. So, the question is how will this base be unified and protected? Who will have access to it and which one, at what level? I’m afraid we might have problems with this.

Also, improved psychological support is one of the concept’s points. It’s necessary since the army has been fighting since 2014, so the question is how they work with servicemen, how groups of this psychological support and control of combat stress work, etc. In reality, the system doesn’t exist. I see that many have resigned under clause 17-b of Order 402, namely due to mental health problems. It’s necessary to constantly work with this in the army.

In general, I believe the main task should be not to recruit new people, but to work with those who are already there, to work on their motivation to stay in the army. It takes a long time to train a serviceman. Nobody will turn someone who was caught on the street yesterday into a motivated soldier in a day. I’ve served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine for 10 years, and I understand what motivation is.

The concept focuses on integration into the Euro-Atlantic security space. But I can’t recall a single NATO country that is at war now. I think we may now assume that our army is better and more professional in some ways, because it’s an army that is fighting a war. Therefore, the question is who and where should integrate. But on the other hand, NATO militaries have completely different salaries and social security, etc.

I often communicate with the military. A person shouldn’t think that he will die, and his family won’t receive the appropriate funds, which, unfortunately, is common for our state. I know many cases when families knock on the doors for six months, collect these certificates in despair, not knowing what to do. The commanders of fallen soldiers sometimes come from the front to help their subordinates’ families collect those certificates, because a TRC is not always able to help, or doesn’t want to. I know cases when military personnel themselves hire lawyers and outline in contracts, e.g., in case of my death, to provide legal support to my family in receiving payments. And it’s not normal. The number of court cases against the state is increasing many times. It shouldn’t be like this if we want to integrate.

By the way, I saw nothing in this concept about the veteran culture in our society. I would significantly describe this section. All these messages like ‘the military personnel sued a military unit,’ ‘a veteran appeals the decision of the MSEC [medical and social expert commission],’ all this demotivates people to join the army. On the contrary, we need positive cases, such as payments are being made, everything has been sorted out, everything has been paid. A soldier should simply follow orders and not worry about everything else. No one is talking about the number of those who voluntarily left the military units. And there are tens of thousands of such cases. And it’s necessary to do something about it.

Abandoning conscription is a good idea — it’s a relic. It has long been discussed that it should be replaced by reservist training. It’s right to change the recruitment system in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Because a person comes and is afraid of where he may end up. Maybe it’s necessary to adjust some specific criteria. There are none so far: you come to one recruitment center, they send you, for example, to a guard company, and then somewhere else. It’s necessary to change this system and carry out recruitment correctly. There’s excellent experience of IT companies that work with recruitment. The selection of motivated people, the creation of motivated teams is the right thing to do. I fully support the electronic military record system, but I would really like it to be secure and work for everyone. Maybe we would really see what’s going on with mobilization in our country, and how many people we still have that can be mobilized.

We need a transparent military financial support system because we often have a mess even with these UAH 100,000 that a serviceman can receive for performing combat missions. I hope it will be changed, because even in one military unit, sometimes someone gets this money, and someone else doesn’t.

Also, I didn’t see what would happen to that ‘ancient’ order about military medical commissions. This is exactly about the suitability, limited suitability of servicemen and the procedure for passing the military medical commission. It dates back to 2008 and remains in force. This Defense Ministry’s order was adopted a long time ago, not during the war, it’s outdated.

In general, the plan laid out in this concept is good, but I wish that everything it describes would work not in 2028, but yesterday. Because we pay with the lives of the military for every day that we don’t reform. We just have no time to delay.”

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine