A Ukrainian combat training center engineer kicks in a door after using a breaching charge while training with Canadian and U.S. Army engineers near Yavoriv, Ukraine, on Feb. 23, 2017.

A Ukrainian combat training center engineer kicks in a door after using a breaching charge while training with Canadian and U.S. Army engineers near Yavoriv, Ukraine, on Feb. 23, 2017. U.S. Army / Sgt. Anthony Jones

Ukraine Wants More Exercises, Training with US

Russian military buildup is “atypical,” Ukrainian officials say.

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia—The frozen conflict between Russia and Ukraine has entered a dangerous new phase, according to Ukrainian officials. More Russian troops and arms have been sent to the Ukrainian border, and strategic bomber flights in the region are up as well.

Last week, Ukrainian defense officials went to Washington to ask for more military help. On Saturday at the Halifax Security Forum here, they said they are also looking to train and exercise more with U.S. forces.

“We have a plan for further training of these kinds, and aspirations to put as many training centers in Ukraine as possible,” said Anatolii Petrenko, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister. “Those instructors who train our military take experience from our military as well.”

That amounts to a request for additional U.S. military personnel in Ukraine at a time when Russian forces are massing on the border. While Russia has claimed the large-scale deployments don’t foreshadow an invasion but the Ukrainians say the current buildup and Russia’s recent actions are far from ordinary.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, Russia and Belarus developed a joint military doctrine,” Petrenko said. “They started patrolling [the] Belarus borders with air patrols, including Russian bombers, strategic bombers like Tupolev [Tu]-160, Tupolev [Tu]-22. And this is atypical.”

Among Russia’s 100,000 or so troops currently in Ukraine, Petrenko said, many are from the Central Military District or the Western Military District, closest to Ukraine. The heavy naval buildup on the illegally-annexed Crimean peninsula is also a growing worry.  

“We are concerned about possible use of missiles, which could impact our civil, critical infrastructure. We are very much concerned about tactical operations emanating from Crimea,” he said.

The Ukrainians are asking for more ground-based air defenses, better air reconnaissance drones, help with offensive cyber operations, and medical support tools. 

“We learned the lesson of 2014. You have to save the lives of soldiers. You have to give confidence that if something wrong happens, they will be treated to the best of our ability and they will be returned to their units or their families with complete rehabilitation,” Petrenko said.

Since 2014, the United States has given Ukraine military equipment and set up a training mission in the Western portion of the country, away from the contact line. U.S. troops have helped Ukraine stand up better special operations units. 

“It’s a new branch established in 2016,” said Roman Mashovets, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office. “Before that was Spetsnaz for special reconnaissance and direct action. Now they have a new direction in psyops or [psychological operations] civil affairs, and special reconnaissance direct action. It’s a very new structure and they are still getting a capability for full capacity and full range.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Monday that the buildup shows “Russia’s government is playing a dangerous game. The Biden administration must work with our allies to demonstrate to Mr. Putin that further actions to destabilize Europe’s security will bring about devastating consequences for Russia’s economy and its further isolation from the civilized world.​​”