The Territorial Defense System of Ukraine: New Innovations but Incomplete Approach
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 179
Ukraine is actively preparing to implement new legislation in the field of Territorial Defense (Armyinform.com.ua, November 2)—namely, the Law of Ukraine “On the Fundamentals of National Resistance,” which was signed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last July (President.gov.ua, July 29). This Law stipulates that Ukraine’s National Resistance will consist of three elements: Territorial Defense (TD), the Resistance Movement, and a system of preparing Ukrainian citizens to resist invasion or occupation (Rada.gov.ua, July 16). Thus, the military and political leaders plan to make Ukraine’s defense system more comprehensive and inclusive of broader society. Yet the primary purpose of the Law is to regulate Ukrainian TD.
The Territorial Defense of Ukraine will itself be divided into three components: military, military-civil, and civil (Rada.gov.ua, July 16). The military component includes command authorities and military units of the TD Forces (TDF), such as TDF Command, TDF Regional command agencies, as well as TDF brigades and battalions. From 2022, the TDF will legally be transformed into a separate branch of service, such as the Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Air Assault Forces (AAF) (5.ua, July 16), and subordinated directly to the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF). However, TDF Command will remain under the control of the UAF Ground Forces Command through the end of 2021.
The general structure of the TD will continue to be based on the administrative-territorial division of the country. Ukraine is already divided into 25 TD zones, overlapping with the country’s 24 unoccupied regions (oblasts) and the city of Kyiv. Exceptions are the territories of Crimea (forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014) and certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts temporarily occupied by Moscow (Okremi Raiony Donetskoi ta Luhanskoi Oblastei—ORDLO). A TD brigade is placed in each zone, which includes one brigade each in Kyiv Oblast and Kyiv city (Armyinform.com.ua, May 13). But starting in 2022, all other Ukrainian cities with more than 900,000 inhabitants could receive their own, dedicated TDF brigades, which would bring the total number of these formations to 28.
Following the last stage of administrative reform, the number of districts (rayons) in Ukraine has significantly decreased (Decentralization.gov.ua, July 17, 2020). And this has affected the structure of the TDF. From 2022, each rayon will correspond to a TD district and host a separate TDF battalion from the respective (oblast-level) brigade (Armyinform.com.ua, October 3, 2021). Moreover, additional TDF battalions will be created for the oblast administrative centers. These innovations will help coordinate the work of the civilian and military TD components as, previously, the number of battalions in the brigades did not coincide with the number of districts in the regions.
TDF brigades and battalions will continue to be cadre units with a limited (but growing) number of full-time military personnel. As of November 2021, each brigade was manned by only 20–25 permanent service members (headquarters officers). Other personnel consist of reservists and commandeered persons, recruited solely for training and performance of tasks needed at a particular time. This quantity of service members was naturally not sufficient to organize the effective operation of TDF military units. As such, the Rada additionally increased the number of full-time TDF personnel from 580 to 10,000. Additionally, 1,000 service members were added to strengthen the SOF and the Resistance Movement within the National Resistance concept (Ukrmilitary.com, July 16).
A further important innovation of the legislation is the reform of the TD military-civilian component, which, besides the establishment of permanent TD zones/districts staffs, will also include the creation of so-called Voluntary Formations of Territorial Communities (VFTC). The latter will offer an easier method for every adult citizen of Ukraine to potentially join the TD and National Resistance (Armyinform.com.ua, November 2).
The Law “On the Fundamentals of National Resistance” is the first in the history of independent Ukraine to entirely regulate the country’s TD activities. However, immediately after its signing, it became clear that the text of the legislation was incomplete and needed to be amended. Indeed, President Zelenskyy soon emphasized, “Some provisions of the Law do not fully comply with the Constitution of Ukraine” (Interfax, July 30).
The problems with the law occurred primarily because the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) had to pass the bill under a stringent timetable. This is due to the peculiarities of Ukraine’s budget cycle: the Rada had to vote on the proposed legislation by mid-July since, otherwise, the TD financing would have started only in 2023. Nonetheless, the Rada passed the Law on time, and so, in 2022, the state will allocate 2.5 billion hryvna (up to $95 million) to bolster and support the system of National Resistance (Lb.ua, November 3). Still, the lawmakers’ hasty work had consequences—namely, inaccuracies in the Law text, inconsistency with other legislation, and insufficient detail regarding some essential provisions. The main drawback of the adopted wording, however, is a lack of clear vision for the role and place that Territorial Defense should take within the wider National Security and Defense system. Amendments to the Law, which President Zelenskyy insisted on, had to be approved by the end of September, but this had not happened (Interfax, July 30, 2021). In addition, some of the presented amendments (from the SOF Command, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, etc.) have still not been approved and will not be considered this year. Moreover, the government requires that all bylaws related to the Law “On the Fundamentals of National Resistance” be prepared by the end of 2021. This means that bylaws are currently being developed based on an incomplete law.
For example, the legal status of VFTC members and their commanders remains unclear. Consequently, representatives of various UAF commands and General Staff departments lack a common vision of the VFTCs’ role within the TD system. It is impossible to draft high-quality bylaws in such conditions.
In the face of Russian aggression and saber rattling (see EDM, November 29), creating an effective TD system could provide Ukraine with a credible asymmetric response and a deterrent to further intervention. However, Ukraine’s military-political leaders will need to be more careful and active in both developing and implementing the necessary legislation first.