Analytics 17:28 01 Feb 2023

Scaling up Ukraine's reserve forces: key trends in Ukraine's wartime reality

Ramstein, Azov and the scandal in the Ministry of Defense - events in Ukraine are developing rapidly. Analysts' forecasts differ, as do the moods within society. And yet, some of the events occurring right now determine Ukraine's future. We analyzed the week's main news in the domestic and foreign arenas.

Internal Affairs

The whistleblower piece in the Ukrainian media ZN.ua about the higher-than-average contract prices on food supplies procured by the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine for the Armed Forces and further harsh public reaction resulted in corruption prevention in the MoD procurement system. It might not be a coincidence that prices in the contract were suddenly amended weeks before the arrival of the US delegation, which must review how Ukraine spends defense budget money. Russia might have used its insider connections in the government agencies of Ukraine to initiate a corruption deal to compromise Ukraine in the eyes of the Western allies. 

Several military units, founded by former members of the "Azov" volunteer movement and operated under the Command of Special Operation Forces, became the backbone of the Ukrainian Land Forces as the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. Scaling up the battle-hardened volunteer "Azov" regiment units into Brigade comes along as Ukraine assembles its reserves in preparation for the major counteroffensive later this spring. This decision fits well into the strategic plans of destroying Russian intentions to seize Donbas as the newly formalized Brigade is actively engaged in battles near Bakhmut.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy issued a formal decision to organize additional military reserves to allow for a more frequent rotation of the units engaged in active battles on the frontline. Additional value to the decision comes in terms of the preparation for a major spring counteroffensive as Ukraine races to assemble battle-ready forces before russian generals do.

The G7 Ambassadors met the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) and were briefed on the anti-corruption and legislation policy priorities. The Ambassadors emphasized the critical importance of tackling corruption, especially regarding the growing foreign financial and military aid during the war and post-war period. Additionally, a group of US officials, including from the US Government Accountability Office, came to Kyiv to oversee the military aid coming from the United States.

International Developments

US President Biden announced substantial addition to the latest security aid packages for Ukraine, the decision to send 31 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine. The decision follows the statement made by official Berlin to not only allow the third countries to send German-made Leopard 2 MBTs to Ukraine but to scramble German's own tank reserves to contribute to the collective effort.

The US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated russian "Wagner Group" PMC as a significant transnational criminal organization, imposing restrictions towards numerous entities and individuals on multiple continents in support of the Wagner Group's military operations.

War/Security Situation

Russian forces continue to amass and conduct active assault actions against Ukrainian positions on the Eastern front, drawing more Ukrainian reserves there while trying to assemble what appears to be a sketchy assault force on Zaporizhzhia direction, with the Wagner/mobilized mix of manpower on the first line with regular paratroopers and marine units in main strike groups. It seems to be a blueprint for the hybrid assault force composition general Gerasimov has in mind in terms of the anticipated Russian offensive.

Conclusions and recommendations

  1. The whistleblower piece in ZN.ua about the higher-than-average contract prices on food supplies procured by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine for the Armed Forces and further harsh public reaction, though successful in corruption prevention and public debate, raises further concerns on the problems with MoD procurement system, corruption issues and how Russia is poised to use any weakness or problem tied to the Ukrainian government to destabilize the domestic situation.
  1. The integration of several units of the Special Operations Forces of Azov volunteer movement into the Ukrainian Land Forces as the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade comes not only as a substantial capability boost to the active Army units in terms of the coming major counteroffensive, but also an efficient model for integrating other volunteer regiments into the military/security institutions thus generally  strengthening Ukrainian national security apparatus.
  1. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's decision to organize additional military reserves for a more frequent rotation of the units engaged on the battlefield is a way to prepare battle-ready reserves for the counteroffensive and avoid the political risk of the new mobilization wave. The newly-organized reserves need further close coordination with battlefield-experienced units and those undergone extensive training in the Western allies' national military.
  1. The G7 and the US officials once again stressed the urgency of anti-corruption issues in Ukraine, both during wartime and the post-war recovery period. The moves come as the amount of foreign financial/military aid to Ukraine multiplies in the wake of a major counteroffensive, reminding the official Kyiv to keep up with the implementation of other civilian reforms.
  1. US President Biden announced substantial addition to the latest security aid packages for Ukraine, the decision to send 31 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine in a move to further firm the "tank coalition" within Ramstein initiative, speed up the process of MBTs deliveries to Ukraine and press on with reaching an agreement on providing Ukraine with modern military aircraft as another essential victory tool.
  1. The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Russian "Wagner Group" PMC as a significant transnational criminal organization in a move to degrade further Kremlin's ability to wage aggressive war in Ukraine and to sabotage its preparations for a major offensive on Ukrainian forces within the next few months.
  1. The activities of Russian forces in the Eastern and Southern directions clearly indicate they are preparing for the major offensive, diverting Ukrainian forces from the future assault vectors and testing Russian hybrid composition of the future assault forces.

This policy brief was prepared exclusively for "Rubryka" by Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation as part of a project "russia-Ukraine Conflict: from Full-Scale War to Conflict Resolution and Post-War Reconstruction" implemented in cooperation with the Razumkov Centre with the support of the MATRA program of the Embassy of the Netherlands. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the Embassy's official position.


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