Defence reforms in Ukraine: the potential and limits of international cooperation

Sat9  Apr04:00pm(10 mins)
Umney Theatre


Bettina Renz


Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war it instigated in eastern Ukraine propelled the need for systematic military reforms to the highest level of Kyiv’s political agenda in 2014. A wide-ranging reform programme, strongly supported by NATO and Western partners, was announced in 2015. Reforms have led to serious improvements in the armed forces’ tactical and operational capabilities. Yet doubts remain about the prospects for achieving the programme’s stated goals: the provision of national defence and full interoperability with NATO.

For the Ukrainian government, Western backing is crucial, given its weak economy and the urgency of the task in hand. For NATO and the West, demonstrative support for Ukraine is politically imperative in the face of fears about an increasingly aggressive Russia. In spite of these understandable motivations on both sides, the question remains whether a Western model of military reforms is what Ukraine really wants and needs in terms of delivering the goal of providing national defence independently in the long term. Drawing on documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews, the paper will investigate the views of Ukrainian actors involved in defence reforms and that of their Western partners. To what extent is there agreement on what kind of armed forces Ukraine requires? Do all sides involved share the same vision about the purpose and extent of cooperation towards the end of defence reforms?

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