Ukraine’s Military Reform Marred by ‘Generals Scandal’

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 198

On October 14, President Viktor Yanukovych launched the advanced stage of Ukraine’s military reform by issuing a decree canceling the compulsory draft to the armed forces in 2014 (http://dt.ua/UKRAINE/v-ukrayini-skasovano-obov-yazkoviy-prizov-na-strokovu-sluzhbu-v-armiyu-130046_.html). However, Yanukovych’s announcement nearly coincided with a scandal involving three top Ukrainian generals in the General Staff (GS). The Ukrainian media defined the scandal as a “Russia-linked conspiracy” and underscored incidents of “corruption” related to the case. More likely, however, the GS scandal actually represents a power struggle reflecting the decay of governance in the Ukrainian security and defense sector.

At the center of the scandal is Admiral Igor Kabanenko, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff. In late September, over the course of 3–4 days, as many as 20 officers of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) inspected the files in the offices of generals responsible for defense planning and readiness of the Armed Forces. The objective of the inspection was to review the observation of secrecy procedures by GS personnel (http://www.kommersant.ua/doc/; http://dt.ua/UKRAINE/pislya-obshukiv-sbu-u-genshtabi-ochikuyutsya-kadrovi-perestanovki-130499_.html). SBU officers allegedly found copies of secret documents in some offices. As a result, the SBU canceled Admiral Kabanenko’s state secrecy clearance. Reportedly, the SBU also plans to apply similar sanctions to the deputy chief of the GS, Lieutenant General Yuriy Dumanskiy, as well as the head of the Chief Directorate of Defense and Mobilization Planning, Lieutenant General Volodymyr Askarov.

Reportedly, the SBU’s inspection of Kabanenko’s office lasted no less than ten hours (http://kommersant.ua/doc/2327672). So far, the SBU did not open any criminal or misdemeanor proceeding against Kabanenko. Yet, the cancelation of his state secrecy clearance is a tough reprimand and could lead to Admiral Kabanenko’s removal from his position. According to an October 25 article by Kommersant, the SBU sent the results of its inspection to Minister of Defense Pavlo Lebedev.

Admiral Kabanenko has also been accused of corruption. The investigative TV program Hroshi (“Money”—running on the 1 + 1 Media Group owned by oligarch Igor Kolomoyskiy) accused him of having received five apartments allocated by the military that are currently owned by his family and relatives (http://tsn.ua/ukrayina/ukrayinski-admirali-otrimuyut-vip-zhitlo-na-vsih-rodichiv-poki-viyskovi-tulyatsya-u-gurtozhitkah-315709.html)—an allegation that Kabanenko denies.

Furthermore, a member of the Ukrainian parliament from the opposition Batkivshchyna faction, Oleg Medunytsia, wrote in a Facebook entry (e.g. http://glavcom.ua/news/161331.html) that the SBU was “cleaning up the agents of a foreign state [clearly referring to Russia] that multiplied during [Dmytro] Salamatin’s time.” Dmytro Salamatin was the Ukrainian defense minister (February–December 2012) and the former CEO of the state weapons trader Ukrspetsexport. He was a Russian citizen until 2005 and became a member of the Ukrainian parliament from the Party of Regions in 2006. He is known for having participated in two physical brawls on the floor of the parliament. Citing media reports and his own sources, journalist Omar Uzarashvili from Lviv’s Vysokiy Zamok wrote in an October 15 piece that Salamatin was the target of an SBU investigation into alleged small arms sales by state military companies to some private Ukrainian companies. According to Uzarashvili’s article, this investigation apparently included SBU raids of state company offices in the first week of October (http://www.wz.lviv.ua/ukraine/124332).

However, in a follow-up piece on October 24, Uzarashvili openly questioned the “conspiracy case” being made publicly against the GS generals (http://www.wz.lviv.ua/ukraine/124412). He admitted that “influence agents” might exist inside the General Staff, but he questioned the notion that uncovering foreign agents was the reason behind the SBU’s September investigations of the GS offices. Uzarashvili quoted Razumkov Center military analyst Mykola Sunhurovskiy who argued that the GS investigations were actually a cover for scrutinizing Admiral Kabanenko. Sunhurovskiy gave three possible explanations for why the SBU investigations from September had recently become a “generals scandal” in the media: conflicting interests of oligarchic clans working with the defense bodies; bureaucratic “revenge” by new managers against the “old guard”; or someone trying to appoint new people to replace Admiral Kabanenko and other generals.

Military analysts Ihor Koziy, of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, and Colonel (retired) Ihor Kozyrkov also both told Jamestown on October 24 that the “generals scandal” had more to do with politics than counter-espionage. Evidence of this theory can be found in reporting by Kommersant-Ukraine. An October 25 article by this media outlet relied on sources from the Ukrainian defense ministry and the GS who alleged that some generals did not agree with the Armed Forces reform program, which aims to professionalize the military. These dissident generals, apparently, wished to expel their managers (http://www.kommersant.ua/doc/2327672). Former Chief of the General Staff (1993–1996) Anatoliy Lopata, meanwhile, told the publication Glavcom that a possible reason for the SBU’s search was to investigate those GS generals who oppose President Yanukovych’s reform plans to reduce the Armed Forces. The same Glavcom piece also cites “credible sources” who noted that the GS generals oppose the reform program’s planned disposal of military equipment worth more than $1 billion (http://glavcom.ua/articles/14901.html).

The situation in the Ukrainian military sheds light on the institutional decay in the security and defense sector, which is also a reflection of Ukraine’s overall poor governance. Ukraine’s defense-sector reform moves at a slow pace and, as the “generals scandal” appears to illustrate, lacks full support within the General Staff. In fact, the transition to an all-volunteer service by 2008 was among the list of goals for former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in 2007. That deadline was then regarded as unrealistic by many. When it failed, however, Tymoshenko’s party blamed the former president, Viktor Yushchenko.

The parameters of Yanukovych’s military reform, on the other hand, have changed several times during 2011–2013. The reform is significantly austerity-driven—in essence, it calls for the reduction of the Armed Forces to 122,000 by 2017 (from 245,000 in 2006, and 182,000 today). Furthermore, the number of personnel in combat units will be reduced from 70,000 to 65,000, according to Defense Minister Lebedev (http://www.mil.gov.ua/index.php?lang=ua&part=news&sub=read&id=30831). Risks that the reform will fail are high, first of all due to problems with financing; the defense ministry asked for a 70-percent funding increase for 2014. But an even greater risk is perhaps the continued lack of professionalism, leadership and integrity in the governance of the defense sector—in part explained by the “generation gap” of the 1990s when “the best and the brightest” officers were often forced to leave the service out of difficult economic considerations. Until these problems are addressed, military reform in Ukraine may continue to be sidetracked by scandals involving top generals and defense sector personnel.