Russian aggression has cost the lives of thousands of Ukrainian servicemen and civilians, caused injury to tens of thousands of people, and displaced over a million residents of Eastern Ukraine. Between June 16th and 23rd alone, the National News Agency of Ukraine reported over 66 Russian ceasefire violations and the launch of a Russian UAV drone over the line of contact. As a result, one soldier was injured by a bullet, another soldier received a shrapnel wound, and local resident standing in his yard was shot. Despite thevaliant efforts of Ukrainian servicemen and occasional tentative gains, the steps taken since 2014 have neither reversed the course of Russia’s invasion nor deterred all furtherRussian attacks. With the aim of modifying stale policies and making new strides, Ukrainian leaders now seek to modernize Ukraine’s approach to defense—both by strengthening collaboration with the international community and by reforming the Ukrainian military organization.
On June 18th, British destroyer HMS Defender docked in Odesa in preparation for an elaborate series of Black Sea training exercises carried out jointly by the Special Forces of Ukraine, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In addition to preparation for boardings, soldiers practiced tactical maneuvers, cargo transfer while on the move, and emergency assistance procedures. All the while, the teams used “Killer Tomato” targets and signaled in English following the international MTP system, both of which are hallmarks of NATO member states. While aboard HMS Defender on June 21, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Oleksandr Myronyuk, and the UK’s Minister of Defense Procurement, Jeremy Quinn, signed a joint memorandum on maritime partnership. The memorandum falls within a framework of agreements surrounding UK lending to Ukraine, and it sets out a clear vision for areas of cooperation. As a result, the Ukrainian Navy awaits the transfer of two British Sandown class minesweeping ships and eight British missile boats.
However, controversy arose surrounding the drills following the Russian Ministry of Defense’s claim the HMS Defender entered the territorial water of Russia while crossing the Black Sea. As a result, Russian leadership maintains, a Russian patrol ship fired warning shots towardand a Russian plane dropped explosives near the destroyer. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense Press Office steadfastly denies both that it passed through non-Ukrainian territorial waters and that these shots and explosives targeted HMS Defender. According to the UK “the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity.” In connection with the dispute, the Russian Ministry of Defense summoned the British military attaché for a discussion.
The organization of joint operation Sea Breeze 2021, set to occur between June 28th and July 10th, continues as planned. The exercise will include over 5,000 troops, 18 special operation and dive teams, 40 aircraft, 32 ships, and 32 countries, with Ukraine and the United States hosting. However, further U.S. aid to Ukraine was recently called into question. The Washington Post and Politico report the Biden administration froze the recent aid package, but the Biden administration denies any such freeze and claims further “contingency” aid is available.
Domestically, Ukraine is working to note and address structural and systemic flaws in its military. The Ukrainian armed forces generally suffer from poor organization, convoluted leadership systems, and a lack of funding. Very few Ukrainian military officers have received military training certificates from NATO countries or can communicate in English. The Ukrainian Special Forces, in particular, require higher rates of personnel retention, reconstruction of the Maysky Island base, improved technology, and greater resource appropriation.A new draft law introduced by President Zelensky aims to increase Ukraine’s military budget as well as the size of its armed forces from 250,000 to 261,000 personnel.Minister of Defense of Ukraine Andriy Taran asserts that, from September 2021, Ukraine will start training officers according to NATO standards. However, with Ukraine’s current rate of economic growth, some argue such reforms are unrealistic and greater use would come from increasing efficiency within the armed forces.