Russia has amassed an army near Ukraine. According to an official assessment made by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and seen by the Center for European Policy Analysis, over 126,000 Russian service personnel, including more than 50 battalion tactical groups, have massed near the border. In the Black Sea, 30 Russian ships are gathered. Russia has now also sent troops and air defense batteries to Belarus.
But Ukraine is not alone. Relationships between the country and the West are strong, some with roots dating back as far as 30 years when independence was declared following an overwhelming referendum result. There are numerous military, governmental, and private sector teams in the country, and the help of various types, including advanced weaponry, is arriving from the West. And while Germany has stated that it will not offer defense related to Ukrainian forces facing imminent assault, others have begun to reverse course and offer material. On January 21, the Netherlands indicated that it was poised to join a growing list of NATO allies to promise military assistance.
Western militaries have long offered training and equipment to the country’s armed forces. According to a recent New York Times report, the US has more than 150 military advisers in the country, including special forces troopers. The Biden administration meanwhile has given another $200 million in aid to the armed forces, including badly needed ammunition supplies, which is now being delivered.
The UK too has stepped in. It also has a long-term training mission (Operation Orbital) with about 100 personnel in the country. A further 30 are being sent to instruct Ukrainian forces on how to use around 2,000 British NLAW anti-tank weapons delivered in the past week. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are also sending anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. US and British cyber-warfare experts were deployed to the country last month. A small group of Canadian special forces has been deployed to Ukraine and other NATO members have also sent advisers.
Many of the personnel are stationed at a training ground near Yavoriv, a city located in western Ukraine, but the West’s relationship is far broader. In the case of the US, the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the State Department, launched the State Partnership Program, whose goal was to “assist the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet states in their democracy efforts and reform their defense forces following the Soviet Union’s collapse.” Founded in 1993, there are nearly 90 partnership programs around the globe.
Throughout this near-30 year relationship, American national guard units and advisers have helped the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense implement defense reforms and to modernize the military. Numerous NATO countries have also participated in training exercises with Ukraine, and have assisted with defense modernization. The mentorship and guidance from these programs have vastly improved Ukraine’s interoperability with the West.
This is not just a one-way street. Ukraine has been a cyber testing ground for Russia for nearly two decades, making the Ukrainians well-versed in Russian cyber capabilities, and Western countries such as the US and the United Kingdom have taken an interest in learning from that experience. Likewise, the Ukrainian military has something to offer in sharing experience of fighting Russian forces, which interests Western militaries. The US and Ukraine also hold an annual Cyber Bilateral Dialogue, to discuss cyber security matters. During these exchanges, the US gave millions of dollars in cyber assistance to Ukraine so that this country can “prevent, mitigate, and respond to cyberattacks.” Meanwhile, the UK has provided its own cyber defense assistance.
Outside of defense aid, formal and informal advisers from the West have consulted Ukraine’s political bodies. For example, Ukrainian officials meet frequently with representatives from international organizations such as the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, US Agency for International Development, Open Government Partnership, the European Endowment for Democracy, and the Ukrainian World Congress. The sessions are used to discuss democratization efforts, civil society initiatives, and anti-corruption reforms with the Ukrainians. In many cases, Ukraine is at the helm of these Western programs.
Having previously worked as an aide at the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), this author attended meetings between Ukrainian members of parliament and Western advisers and consultants. These Westerners hailed from democracy-development organizations, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector, and offered counsel on topics ranging from the proper implementation of anti-corruption reform to the organization of multilateral events so that Ukrainian MPs could meet with American and European dignitaries.
Finally, there has been a significant Western private-sector involvement with the government. For example, firms such as McKinsey & Company, Deloitte, and Roland Berger have provided consulting services on Ukraine’s financial, infrastructure, agriculture, energy, and technology sectors. McKinsey and Roland Berger helped the banking sector reform and promote transparency. Deloitte has worked on Ukrainian energy independence.
If it needed saying, Ukraine is no longer a mirror image of Russia in 1991. The country has moved on, and while it would be foolish to deny that very significant problems remain (like corruption), it would also be foolish to deny the progress that has been made. Vladimir Putin’s animosity toward the country is actually a back-handed compliment; so different has Ukraine become that it is reasonable to suggest the Kremlin now fears the example it is beginning to present to oppressed Russians.
Ukraine’s hopes are pinned on the West and its fears to the east. There will be more help, but the country is not a NATO member and will be asked to fight alone. Many Western training missions and advisers may well be ordered to leave, in the event of war.
No one knows how the current situation will play out, but one thing is certain. The country will not willingly return to the Russian fold. Any attack, however “limited,” will simply deepen the steadily growing hostility of Ukrainian public opinion toward Russia.
Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.