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Report to Congress on Ukrainian Armed Forces

The following is the Jan. 26, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Ukrainian Armed Forces.

From the report

In 2014, the Ukrainian military, which observers noted had been weakened by years of neglect and underfunding, faced Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Since that time, the Ukrainian armed forces have made considerable improvements; they have undertaken efforts to adopt NATO standards and received significant NATO and U.S. assistance. Many of these reforms began out of the experience of defending against Russian aggression. Reforms range from the tactical to the strategic levels and include both political measures (e.g., increasing transparency, countering corruption, and ensuring civilian control over the military) and military reforms (e.g., modernizing equipment, reforming command and control, and increasing professionalization).

Significant hurdles remain, however, and the reform process is complicated by Ukraine’s Soviet legacy and the continued Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine. Since late 2021, Ukraine has faced a massive buildup of Russian forces on its borders and a potentially imminent threat of further Russian aggression. Members of Congress have expressed interest in understanding Ukraine’s military capabilities to help guide policymaking to support Ukraine’s defense of its territorial integrity. (For more, see, CRS Report R45008, Ukraine: Background, Conflict with Russia, and U.S. Policy, by Cory Welt.)

Key Policy and Strategy Documents 

Multiple military and national security documents lay out Ukraine’s military strategy, reforms, and defense policy. Ukraine’s 2016 Strategic Defense Bulletin outlined priority reforms to achieve NATO standards, and its subsequent State Program for the Development of the Armed Forces (2017-2020) outlined implementation steps. In 2018, Ukraine continued the reform process with the Law on National Security, which created a framework to coordinate and simplify Ukraine’s defense planning and to implement civilian control over the military.

Ukraine updated its National Security Strategy and its Military Security Strategy in 2020 and 2021, respectively, laying out the country’s security and defense policies and objectives. The National Security Strategy defines the main principles of Ukraine’s national security, which include identifying Russia as a long-term threat to its national security and developing closer relations with the European Union, NATO, and the United States. Ukraine’s March 2021 Military Security Strategy replaced its 2015 Military Doctrine.

Budget and Defense Industry 

The 2018 Law on National Security required that at least 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) be spent on security, with 3% of the total going to defense. Economic realities, however, often mean defense spending in real terms is lower (around 2.5% of GDP). Ukraine’s 2021 defense budget is 117.6 billion hryvnia ($4.2 billion), 127 million hryvnia ($4.6 million) less than 2020’s budget. Additionally, Ukraine’s defense budget allocations are split between funds necessary to maintain the military and funds to support its ambitious reform program.

Ukraine inherited a sprawling defense industry from the Soviet Union, producing a wide range of products, including tanks and armored vehicles, aircraft, radars and electronics, missiles, and ships. Defense conglomerate Ukroboronprom oversees the defense industry, which comprises over 130 state-run companies. In recent years, Ukrainian officials have made reforming Ukroboronprom and increasing transparency key goals, including passing a new law, On Defense Procurement, in July 2020 to implement NATO standards in defense procurement. Despite some progress, significant challenges remain with regard to corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency and political infighting, and low transparency.

Command and Control 

Command and control has been a central reform focus. Ukraine now requires the defense minister to be a civilian, a key NATO requirement. Some observers see continued threats to civilian control of the military, as former general Andriy Taran replaced Andriy Zagorodnyuk, the first civilian and pro-reform defense minister, in 2020.

The military also has shifted toward a command system more in line with NATO standards. Currently, the military reports to the commander in chief of the armed forces. Under the commander in chief, reforms split responsibilities between the chief of the general staff, responsible for strategic and force planning, and the commander of the joint forces staff, responsible for operations. The shift toward NATO-style command and control is an ongoing process, as many officers appear to remain influenced by their Soviet and post-Soviet military training despite an increase in NATO training and educational opportunities.

Download the document here.