How NATO Training Has Revolutionized Ukraine’s Military

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been active in revitalizing Ukraine’s military forces since the Maidan Revolution of 2014. NATO-led commanders have trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers annually and have been integral in transforming how the military operates. Given the context of NATO’s efforts, Ukraine’s stellar military performance over the last six weeks is not surprising.

In contrast, Russia’s military is still operating with 20th-century Soviet strategies that lack involvement from professional civilians, external auditors, or logistical specialists. Furthermore, Kremlin officials believe that success is rooted in the number of weapons and soldiers, which means officers give little attention to actual strategic planning. Conversely, Ukrainian commanders from their NATO training have learned to maximize the effectiveness of their troops and utilize an ambush and retreat strategy. It has proven highly effective when small, mobile units attack vulnerable Russian convoys and disrupt their supply chains. We saw one example of this on Twitter where Ukrainian forces ambushed a Russian armored personnel column.

NATO trainers also introduced the concept of noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to help strengthen communication between soldiers and commanders. The NCOs are experienced soldiers that serve as intermediaries between enlisted soldiers and top commanders. This decentralizes the decision-making because high-ranking officers set general goals but then allow lower-ranking commanders to make decisions on the battlefield. However, the Russian armed forces still follow a centralized philosophy where senior officers give strict orders that soldiers must carry out. Additionally, the Russian military continues to face historic issues of corruption and low morale. Troops sent to Ukraine have largely been conscripts serving their mandatory time with little interest in becoming professional soldiers.

The differences in military philosophy reflect Ukraine’s evolving political landscape. Ukraine has sought to decentralize its political system, root out corruption, and orient itself toward NATO-member countries. In contrast, Putin and his advisors have centralized their authority over the last 20 years and continue to lean on Soviet-era institutions to run the country. Russia’s military may be more impressive on paper, but inefficiency seems to be nullifying those advantages. Ukraine’s army has maximized its NATO training and has continued to repel Russia’s offensive by exploiting strategic weaknesses.


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