Financial Times Admits It: Ukraine's Army Is Falling Apart

Article in the Financial Times exposes rampant disillusion within Ukraine's military - and within Ukrainian society as a whole - and growing support for Right Sector.

Mon, Aug 24, 2015
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Ukrainian soldiers - part of any army that is falling apart

The article in the Financial Times which we reproduce below is remarkable.

It completely contradicts the Western and Ukrainian media picture of the Ukrainian situation, which is of a Ukraine bravely resisting "Russian aggression".  

Some US commentators have even written - absurdly - of Ukraine fighting the Russian army to a standstill.

The reality - as the article shows - is completely different.  

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It is one of:  

(1) A deeply demoralised and disillusioned army, ill-equipped and poorly treated and trained, increasingly angry with Ukraine’s political and military leadership, which it feels has betrayed it;

(2) Rising support within the army rank-and-file for Right Sector - an organisation whose very existence and influence the Financial Times has previously sought to conceal or deny;

(3) Growing disillusion across Ukrainian society - not just the military - with a Maidan Revolution that has completely failed to end corruption and which is presiding over a collapsing economy;

(4) A collapse in support for Ukraine’s political leadership.  According to opinion polls support for Poroshenko is now just 14.6%, and for Yatsenyuk it is down to an incredible 1.3%;

(5) Growing demands from within the military for a resumption of the war as the only way to stop the army disintegrating completely.

This is of course the identical picture of the situation in Ukraine that Russia Insider has long been describing.

The article says that the governing coalition is not in imminent danger of collapse, despite the collapse of its popularity.  

Given the extent of political violence in Ukraine, a viable alternative to the Maidan movement is extremely difficult to organise.  It is not therefore surprising that as the mainstream of the Maidan movement has become discredited, support is drifting to its more extreme fringe - specifically to Right Sector.  

In practice, in conditions of economic and political crisis, a regime with so little support is unlikely to be sustainable for very long.

That this article - setting out the situation as it really is - has appeared in the Financial Times - a newspaper that fervidly supports the Maidan movement - is the best possible confirmation of how bad the situation in Ukraine has become.

This article originally appeared in the Financial Times


Echoes broader ebbing of public support for political leaders

On the road into Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, Vasyl, a Ukrainian army soldier, gestures at fresh roadside craters — the result of shelling by Russian-backed separatists the night before. His men face attacks almost nightly as they guard a checkpoint in this front line suburb of rebel-held Donetsk, he says.

Their only defences from the barrages are machine guns, a small concrete shelter and a decrepit, Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier.

“Why doesn’t the president come here?” spits Vasyl. “Then he’ll see first-hand how poorly supplied we are — although we’re dodging artillery almost every day under this ceasefire he himself brokered.”

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, seems to prefer visiting training grounds far from the war zone, testing advanced weapons that have yet to make it to the front line, he says, adding: “Our morale is burning out due to their actions.”

Vasyl asks not to be identified. But his comments are both typical of those heard among Ukrainian soldiers in the east these days, and significant. They reflect an anger and mistrust towards commanders and the country’s political leaders that has grown sharply in the past 12 months.

This time last year, Ukrainian forces were advancing and retaking territory from the rebels, before an invasion by regular Russian forces last August reversed their progress and led to a morale-sapping defeat at the battle of Ilovaisk. Today, they man Ukraine’s borders with two rebel-held regions amid a ceasefire that is constantly breached.

They complain they are exhausted, underequipped and feel like cannon fodder in an increasingly forgotten but still smouldering war.

The mood change among the military rank-and-file echoes a broader ebbing of support in society for Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leaders, seen — despite praise from international observers — as slow to deliver on pledges to reform governance and curb corruption.

It also suggests that if Russia’s continued backing for the eastern rebels is aimed at destabilising Ukraine, it may be gaining ground.

Most worryingly for Kiev, many frontline soldiers express admiration for Right Sector, a rightwing militia whose leader last week called for a national no-confidence vote in the government and a new revolution.

Further along the front line at Horlivka, 50km north of Donetsk, Yevhen, a 32 year-old Ukrainian soldier, mirrors Vasyl’s complaints over lack of resources. He points at the still-flying red and black flag of Right Sector, whose fighters have been withdrawn from the front line.

“We kept their flag up,” he says. “They’re our buddies, very brave in battle, and have risked their lives side by side with us . . . We respect them.”

Like other Ukrainian soldiers interviewed, however, Yevhen declined to say whether he supported Right Sector’s calls for a change of government.

Mr Poroshenko has repeatedly complained about Washington’s refusal to provide Kiev with anti-tank weapons such as the Javelin missile, which could deter further advances by rebel and Russian forces. But Ukrainian soldiers say they have yet to see even the much-hyped Stuhna, a Ukrainian-made anti-tank rocket.

“If the Russian army advances with tanks we’ll fight back, but obviously we won’t be able to stop them with our machine-guns and grenades”

Although US-supplied and domestically produced armoured vehicles are periodically visible rolling along highways in the east, advanced combat equipment seems absent from hotspots most targeted by rebel forces.

“If the Russian army advances with tanks — and they have tanks there — we’ll fight back, but obviously we won’t be able to stop them with our machine-guns and grenades,” says Yevhen.

Though fighting is far less intense than during last year’s heated battles, which claimed thousands of lives, more than 150 Ukrainian soldiers have died since February’s Minsk ceasefire accord. Scores of civilians have also perished, including five in Avdiivka last week when rebels allegedly shelled a residential building.

The country is meanwhile struggling with a double-digit economic contraction, plummeting currency and spiralling inflation — including a fourfold increase in utility prices that was a condition of securing a $17.5bn IMF bailout.

The IMF’s executive board on Friday approved the disbursement of the next installment of those funds, a $1.7bn tranche, after its first review of the programme.

“They call all this reform, but a retiree living with a pension of just over $50 per month can’t cover such bills and have enough left over to feed themselves” said Yuriy Lozytsky, a retired serviceman of 26 years now working as a car mechanic near Dnipropetrovsk.

Lingering war, economic despair and slow reforms are eroding trust in the leadership dramatically propelled to power by the pro-democracy revolution of February 2014.

Mr Poroshenko mustered 54 per cent support in presidential elections in May last year but would today garner only 14.6 per cent, according to a June survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. Arseniy Yatseniuk, the prime minister, would get only 1.3 per cent in a presidential poll.

“The honeymoon has long passed,” said Vadym Karasyov, a political analyst in Kiev, referring to the post revolution that propelled Ukraine’s present leadership to power. “These poll numbers are a warning from voters that clearly do not feel reforms in their pockets.”

There is no immediate sign of the governing coalition collapsing, and national elections are four years away. But opinion polls suggest support for fringe parties could surge in regional elections in October.

Mr Poroshenko has said he is committed to a negotiated peace in east Ukraine and last week backed an agreement, yet to be implemented, for both sides to pull heavy weaponry back 15km from the front lines. But some voices among the fighters say the way to address falling morale would be an advance.

“The army is demoralised because they’re being kept standing, told to hold position as they fall one by one,” said a scar-faced instructor, at a Right Sector base. “They need a victory. The enemy is definitely preparing an attack. The best way to pre-empt this is to go on the attack.”

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