The events in Crimea, in the southeast of Ukraine, and on the political Olympus are causing more and more emotional reactions. Under these circumstances, a frantic search for answers to the eternal Russian questions of “who is to blame?” and “what to do?” will hardly have a serious impact on the situation. It is easy to become a Captain Obvious [while] answering these questions – suggesting that those in power “take appropriate measures” to ensure proper functioning of a system that has been deliberately and severely destroyed over the last decade.
In the case of the RNBO[U] (National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine), we must not forget that its main tasks include operational and analytical support of governmental authorities, and strategic planning. Under current conditions of this “strange war,” the system should be coordinating and controlling the actions of governmental authorities. However, the condition of the majority of governmental offices is no less deplorable than the state of the RNBO itself (which is discussed in detail here in this article: “Ukraine needs to revive the RNBO”). Thus, they are also unable to fully perform their functions.
I’m afraid that under such circumstances, it is objectively impossible to ensure the fast and efficient work of this structure [the RNBO]. However, even under these circumstances, many things should have been done yesterday, and a fair amount must be done today already.
What we should have done yesterday
For the time being, I believe that the main problem of the Ukrainian leadership is that its approach to the enemy’s actions is constantly reactive, and often late. The state authorities were unable to leave behind the [previous] format – which, in principle, stands in the way of turning the tide from the strategic point of view. Moreover, in view of the catastrophic inequality of forces [between Ukraine and Russia], Ukraine must focus on giving asymmetrical responses to the aggressor. It must step away from standard responses, which any reasonably prepared enemy can foresee in advance. Out-of-the-box solutions, however, can throw a wrench into pre-approved plans and scenarios, making life more difficult for a strict hierarchy, which is exactly what Putin’s regime is.
Of course, absence of appropriate instruments (such as think-tanks within the RNBO) makes doubtful the very possibility to quickly improve the situation. For example, the RNBO must formulate the strategy and “technical specification,” while all other structures – MoD, General Staff, SBU [Security Service of Ukraine], Interior Ministry, etc. – must provide a clear step-by-step action plan for implementation of that strategy. I’m willing to go on a limb and say that such plans don’t exist. However, there is still a way out.
• Maidan, followed by the crisis in Crimea, has launched a multitude of community projects and initiatives – their names are well-known, and they do real and highly needed work. The RNBO[U] should – even must – establish contacts with them, and provide them with ideological and organizational assistance. They should receive support and a certain status – even if it is unofficial. In lieu of an appropriate state structure, we will have a network that is resistant to external influences and flexible in the context of the rapidly changing operational environment. For example, during World War II, coordination and assistance from the mainland transformed disparate militia groups into units that dealt great amounts of damage to the enemy, and were a force to be reckoned with.
• The gap left by lack of analytic instruments can be filled by cooperation with relevant NGOs. Some of them can teach their government colleagues a thing or two. They can assist in formulating proposals and developing scenarios, participate in informational and analytic work, etc. Therefore, functional gaps in the work of state structures will be temporarily filled.
• It goes without saying that the RNBO[U] must establish a “war room” (something like that probably exists already) as a main tool for coordination and rapid response to circumstances. Every meeting of such a “room” must finish with signing appropriate documents – agency-level orders and directives (otherwise the effectiveness of this tool will be approximating zero). However, that is not all yet – every day, a “message box” should be formed, to be strictly adhered to by the bureaucrats, the law enforcement, and the parliamentary majority leaders. Otherwise, we will continue to observe an uncoordinated choir of opinions that will completely demotivate Ukrainian servicemen and civilians alike.
• Of course, it would be beneficial to create a stream of official informational flow in foreign languages – at present, this function is carried out by Information Resistance, a number of political experts, and volunteer activists. In my opinion, if similar initiatives were centrally strengthened at least by the state media, we would be able to feel their effect rather quickly.
• As for the need to switch away from a purely reactive approach to Russia’s actions – we should consider maximizing the pressure field on Russia. We shouldn’t be simply sitting and waiting for the sanctions against the Russian Federation to intensify – but we must also actively search for new avenues and opportunities to intensify them, in Ukraine and beyond. There are many interesting proposals “floating” on the Internet already – from getting British courts to invalidate Ukrainian Eurobonds issued under the credit agreement between Yanukovych and Putin, to utilizing the USA’s offer to use some WTO [World Trade Organization] mechanisms in the context of the new economic war between Moscow and Kyiv. We should not forget about a rather successful legal precedent in the Vienna court of arbitration, where the German concern RWE defeated Gazprom on two issues – contest the unfair gas pricing formula (resulting in a ruling to refund hundreds of millions of euros to the German side), and abolish the “take it or pay for it” principle. These and other opportunities and threats will dissipate Russian resources. There are “positive” suggestions as well: for example, file a petition to the Paris Club of creditors and the London Club of creditors, requesting to write off half of the Ukrainian debt, due to force-majeure circumstances in place. By the way, one of the ways to provide informational support for the RNBO would be collecting such ideas and considering them further, for future implementation. This should be done by groups of groups in appropriate fields.
• Today, RNBO[U] should formulate today a request for possible military and technical assistance on behalf of Ukraine. We should request those weapons and systems that we are unable to produce in Ukraine, or those that have been manufactured in Russia. It would be a mistake to fail to outline our request and receive a “pig in a poke” as a result. We must increase the effectiveness of our Armed forces in a short period of time, and there is no room for error in this matter. By the way, involving the facilities of the Ukrainian MIC [Military Industrial Complex] (by way of government procurement orders) will allow us not only to upgrade our equipment fleet, but also to decrease the level of social pressure in some of the eastern oblasts [regions].
• It goes without saying that the RNBO[U] should have frozen and reviewed the decisions of Yanukovych’s regime – from confiscation of the MoD’s land and real estate, to abandonment of certain weapons systems. I don’t understand why they haven’t yet cancelled the shameful resolution of Azarov’s government (#503 of July 3, 2013), under which six buildings of the military compound #63 at 28 Povitroflotskyi Prospect in Kyiv were transferred from from the Ministry of Defense to the Supreme Specialized Court for Civil and Criminal Cases. It is obvious that Yanukovych didn’t have an interest in training senior commanders for the Ukrainian army, but the situation has changed now. The same applies to the famous decision by the former Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev, to withdraw long-range air defense systems from combat duty. In any case, we must find replacement for them – which should be done now.
• It seems that particular attention should be paid to one delicate problem – the issue of preserving state secrecy over the past four years. The possibility of the enemy getting his hands on cipher codes, “friend or foe” codes, and other secret information can become a point of critical importance for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. To quote a classic, “I am plagued by vague doubts” [reference to the 1973 Soviet film by L. Gaidai] that people previously in charge of law enforcement, who quickly packed up and ran for Moscow together, brought many interesting things along with them, state secrets included. This means that everything [in terms of codes] must be changed, and immediately.
What must be done today
After stabilizing the situation with the structure’s [RNBO’s] operational work, we must take the next step – restore the efficiency of the government itself. It’s best if the system that guarantees the national security of Ukraine is restored comprehensively, meaning that the reforms affect all relevant police and government agencies.
• However, in this context, we are mainly talking about the RNBO[U]. Because we must restore the structure by restoring its staff. Of course, it would be easy to just sit down and “draw” a staffing schedule that would provide for a reasonably sustainable operation. However, in the current conditions, the staff must be tailored to the tasks at hand, or rather, for specific work directions. Obviously, there has to be a power block, an information security block, a national security block (responsible for interior politics, interior economics, humanitiarian and social processes), as well as an energy security block, etc. The Crimean issue may become a separate work direction – it is now obvious that we need to prepare for a long game here. For the RNBO itself, the situation is complicated by the fact that only the new President of Ukraine will give a definitive answer to the question about the range of problems at hand.
• In the nearest future, the RNBO must create a system for comprehensive monitoring. Pertaining to informational space – we will be able to identify the beginning of an informational operation, or to broach the issue of banning a particular channel is not based on feelings, but on the basis of objective data. In terms of situational monitoring, we will be able to make decisions and build public policy based on the actual situation in the country. The bottleneck of such a project will be finding the right people – without trained specialists with the capacity to process information and draw conclusions, the proverbial tenth wave of information will turn into white noise, which causes more interference than help.
• One of the paramount tasks of the RNBO[U] should be developing a scale of threats. A striking example of such a scale in practice is the United States. The President makes a political decision and announces which color-coded threat level is in place. Based on that, all governmental and enforcement agencies have clear instructions on what should and should not be done. Of course, this is a task of truly epic proportions – it would require to, first, draft the relevant legislation, and then prepare a multitude of agency-level instructions. But if this was accomplished, recurrence of the 2014 Crimean crisis would become impossible.
• It might be useful to consider subordinating the National institute for Strategic Studies [NISS] to the RNBO, or to create appropriate scientific and analytic groups. The purpose of this would be ensuring that the RNBO regains the opportunity to engage in fundamental research – the ability to play a “long game” and carry out strategic planning. Unfortunately, the staff will be swamped with current work and won’t be able to cover all work directions. Furthermore, specialized analysis institutes can be created on the base of the NISS affiliates in different regions – for example, the Crimea institute in Odesa, the Southeast institute in Dnipropetrivsk, the Russia institute in Kharkiv, the Europe institute in Lviv, and the GUAM [regional organization of four post-Soviet states – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova] institute in Uzhhorod. This is a nominal classification, but it would be hard for us to succeed without strategic planning in these areas.
• By the way, I would like to say a few words regarding the foreign policy component. We would like to see our country set an ambitious, even audacious, goal of becoming a regional leader. Perhaps we would have do a lot of work with GUAM to achieve this goal. However, as a donor of security and influence in the region, we will be a valuable player, for example, to the European Union. This direction can also become a priority in the work of the RNBO.
• And finally, in the near future, we should expect a systemic reform of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the SBU [Security Service]. The court system reform is underway. We probably shouldn’t trust the above agencies to reform themselves – that can end sadly both for the country and the agencies. This is why the RNBO can become a “rally point” for the efforts of the state and civil society alike.
Of course, the list of necessary steps and changes for the RNBO does not end here. It can continue forever. However, that would cause us to drown in details. We must all remember – we have practically no time to hesitate or warm-up. We must act. We must be strong, decisive, and wise. And then we will succeed.