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7 December

“We would like try to understand how the experience you have fighting the terrorists in the Donbas area may influence the way NATO does operations”

Deputy Chief of Staff of NATO’s Military Partnerships Directorate about the role of the Ukrainian military in the Alliance’s operations, and the interest of Western military in Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation and Russia’s Zapad 2017 exercise

Interviewed by Yuriy Lapayev

We know that for a long time there has been successful partnership between NATO and Ukraine. We understand why it is important to Ukraine. But what are the priorities for NATO in this collaboration?

When you underline that this is important for Ukraine, it is also important for NATO in order to get Ukrainian experience from the antiterrorist operation in Donbas, as well as the general experience that Ukraine has in the Armed Forces in order to develop better NATO concepts and doctrines for the future. You also said that there had been a long relationship for many years. We enjoy having Ukrainian troops supporting NATO operations, supporting NATO Rapid Reaction Force, supporting us in exercises. Also, supporting the pool of forces that are evaluated and certified as ready for NATO operations, which is extremely important for us. 

In the future, we think we will enhance this cooperation and build even a stronger relationship. 

You probably heard about the Comprehensive Assistance Package that was approved last year at the Warsaw Summit. It is addressing a wide range of capabilities and abilities to develop support to Ukraine. I can mention cyber defense, rehabilitation of wounded soldiers, command, control, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that are being developed. It is also about building support of your energy sector and protecting your infrastructure. 

And of course, since you have faced quite a lot of sophisticated cyber attacks, NATO is also facing that challenge. So it will be important for us to have experience from Ukraine in how you handle it, and to discuss it with NATO. 

So it is not only about the Ukrainian focus on getting support from NATO, but also about us getting support from you.

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You have mentioned that NATO will make some changes according to Ukrainian experience in the ATO. Can you speak more about it?

This is something that we want to learn more about. There are contacts established with the Land Command in Izmir, which is a part of the NATO command structure, and the Ukrainian land forces. And we would very much like try to understand how this experience you have fighting the terrorists in the Donbas area may influence the way NATO does operations and concepts of our own type. That is an important lesson learned. I don’t know the details, but it is certainly an interesting topic because we need to be able to meet the same type of challenge, a hybrid war.

Are you satisfied with the current level of collaboration with the Ukrainian side?

Let me say that it has been an experience with the relationship for many years. There have been the Ukrainian forces participating in several NATO operations, there have been Ukrainian units participating in the reaction forces, and they are following the training program that we are in charge of. There are four phases in that training program and it ends up with an evaluation of whether they are able to handle NATO doctrine. They have passed the exam all the time and done well in NATO, whether it is exercises or operations.

How can you evaluate the Ukrainian troops and their participation in NATO operations?

Ukraine is participating in naval operations and is involved in all the operations that we have on land. Their footprint is very limited, comparing to what they did previously. And we understand the reason for that because you fight the battle in your own country. There is no doubt that we understand it very well.  I think the question is what kind of standards Ukrainian units are showing in the operations they conduct. At a tactical level, your forces are just as equal as most of NATO countries. The issue that you can improve can be the level of English. It is challenging for all Ukrainians to speak English. In NATO, however, if you don’t master this language, you are in trouble. This is something that I would advise to all military persons in Ukraine: to improve their skills in the English language.

Also, I’m sure that Ukrainian Armed Forces can improve their education for military and for noncommissioned officers. This profession is extremely challenging. Being educated enough and trained well enough is something that has to continue. You can’t just say that you are good enough and then stop. You need to be able to continually improve yourself and to challenge your own way of doing things.

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You used to command cyber security units. What details of cooperation do you see for NATO and Ukraine in this field?

I am not in charge of that cooperation, I stay in the strategic military command. But when it comes to cyber defense, it is important to understand the challenges you are facing. NATO should also be able to be prepared for the same type of attacks. I hope that the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples is able to transfer their knowledge in order to enhance your own defense. A lot of it is about technical equipment and infrastructure, but it is also about knowledge and education. And it is not possible to solve this just by having a course or two. This is enhanced activity that will carry on for years. You need to invest properly, you need to educate and you need to build structures that are handling the incidents very quickly. In the cyber segment, we are talking about seconds sometimes, and there is a need to handle a situation in a prescriptive way in your country. Romania is the leading nation in NATO trust fund for the cyber segment in Ukraine. That is the way we do business in such issues in NATO. It is the nations that actually have capabilities. Romanian intelligence services are in contact with your national security services. I think that is the right way to start.

What can you say about Zapad-2017, the latest Russian military drills? What do they mean for NATO?

That is something we focused on very carefully. What I can share with you is that, first of all, it takes time to analyze what happened during this exercise. The way I see it is that Russia has communicated that this will take place in the very limited area: in Kaliningrad, in the Baltic Sea, and around Saint Petersburg. Of course, the experience we have is that this exercise was taking place throughout Russia. We saw activities in the Arctic, closer to Ukraine, as well as in Eastern Russia, even in the Abkhazian region of Georgia. That geographical footprint was much larger than communicated. Also, it was large in terms of the number of people (probably 17 to 20 thousand people took part), and the scope of military capabilities, warships, strategic submarines, all kinds of land capabilities (artillery, air defense, infantry, armored forces, special forces) and an intercontinental ballistic missile force of Russia. So, they have exercised all range of capabilities.

Like any other country, Russia has right to train their own forces. But the disappointment for us was that they did not communicate how big that exercise would be prior to it. So they violated the Vienna Document. They missed the opportunity to be transparent. 

As you can understand, when you have military exercises of that scope, NATO countries which have borders with Russia would be a little afraid of what is going on. It is a little bit too early to draw conclusions, but this exercise focused on the defense side in the very beginning, and then they reversed to attack at the end of the drills, which is worrisome for us in NATO. It then tells us that the attack that was rehearsed was directed to touch some of our neighbors. And that is what we have seen so far. More analysis will come out of this exercises in the future I think. So it will be interesting for us to follow it closely. I don’t know how Ukraine looked at this exercise but I think it is certainly important for your country.       

Some people in the Baltic States are still feeling unsafe, even with NATO battle groups deployed. Are there any plans to increase that presence?

It is important that the population voice its concern about that because it is also about how much resource NATO should deploy in those areas. The Enhanced Forward Presence that we have currently is four battle groups. Everybody understands that we are not deploying sufficient forces to defend the whole of NATO with those four battle groups. This is just a signal to send to Russia, so they see that we are willing to commit all countries to the defense of these states in case they are being attacked. We understand that we cannot just defend these four countries with four battalion groups, this is not advisable in the military meaning. But the political signal is that all NATO is focusing on defending, and if they are attacked, the attacker will meet all the nations, which is quite serious.

BIO

Major General Odd Egil Pedersen was born in 1959 in Ringebu, Norway. He began his career in the Norwegian Armed Forces in 1978 as an NCO at the Infantry NCO School and went to the Army Military Academy. He worked for six years in various positions as platoon commander, staff officer, Electronic Warfare (EW) officer and exercise planner. He was appointed Commander of the Norwegian EW Company in 1990, and moved from there to the Army Staff in Oslo in 1992 as a staff officer C4IS. After two years at the US Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, he was promoted to Lt. Col and appointed Military Assistant to the Chief of the Norwegian Defense. He deployed as the Contingent Commander Norwegian Forces in Afghanistan in 2007, and was appointed Director of Land Power and Operations in the Norwegian Army TRADOK late in 2007. In 2010-2012, Major General Pedersen served as Director of Intelligence, Allied Command Operations, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). He served as Director at the Plans and Support, Norwegian Intelligence Service, and as CO at the Norwegian Armed Forces Cyber Defense in 2013 – 2016. 

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