American military expert offers advice on future of volunteer battalions after ATO ends in Donbas

Philip Karder


2014/11/21 • Analysis & Opinion, Military analysis

Currently there are 37 battalions involved in regional defence in Ukraine. American military expert Phillip Karber advises retaining all of the volunteer battalions following the end of the ATO.

The volunteer battalions that are presently fighting in Donbas should not be disbanded following the end of the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Eastern Ukraine. They should become part of the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Defence and in that way continue with their work of regional defence. Such was the opinion of American military expert, Phillip Karber, in an exclusive interview with He is among those who are currently actively lobbying in Washington on behalf of the interests of Ukraine with regard to the attainment of weapons to fight against the separatists and the Russian army.

In Ukraine there is a widely held view at various levels of government that the key groups of volunteers must be disbanded. They have been established under very specific conditions. Some bureaucrats have expressed concern that the battalions (and there are 37 of them) could be transformed into micro private armies.

“I understand the political pressures for this line of thinking about disbanding the battalions. Some of the battalions very specifically are concerned solely with the defence of their towns and villages from the separatists, from the Russian army and the agents of the FSB. These ones are already a part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, from what I understand, so there should be no problem. These are good soldiers, highly motivated, doing the right thing. In other words, from the very beginning that all this started, they cooperated with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, very sincerely and very correctly, based on the defence by people of their own land and homes,” says Karber. The problem, according to him, is that in the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone there arose a situation of misunderstanding with regard to the chain of command of the battalions.

“As soon as these young men began to deploy at the front lines and engaged in action, they unexpectedly came under the command of the army officers and command structure. It is therefore understandable and even predictable that during the Ilovaisk tragedy, for example, miscommunication meant that the left hand did not know what the right was doing and through its indecison cut off the left hand. In other words, the one army was not integrated into and consolidated with the other army. Herein lies the problem. Ukraine now requires several levels of development and reform,” explains Karber.
The first steps consist in the necessary reform of the territorial militias. Each city needs to have its own territorial militia units, led by an officer-reservist. This person could even be retired, but, nonetheless, qualified to be in command and in command of other people. I am saying that every village and town in the country needs to do this.

Next, under whose juridiction these territorial militias fall will be a political decision, whether under the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Defence. But the territorial defence units that must be created and trained will have a second task in defence and safety.

More specifically, their work will also be the added security at airports and borders. There will be assignments enough for everyone in the defence of the regional infrastructure,” remarked the military expert.

Karber also says that “broad based cooperation with the Ministry of Defence is a requirement. Those units that undertake the training and are willing to take part in difficult and consuming combat work, such as that in Donbas, must become a constituent part of the army. A serious shift in mentality is required as such work is an entirely different level of defence.

This is no time to be throwing innocent sheep to the wolves. We need people with training and with weapons who know how to defend themselves. As a result, such brigades must be part and parcel of the army. Any volunteer battalions who engage in combat at the front must belong to the army itself, with all the correspondent consequences: well provided for but also well disciplined.”

Karber detailed the steps to be taken so that the battalions might become a constituent part of the Ministry of Defence. “Do you suppose that they will know what to do with the tanks as soon as they get them? This example shows the complications of the situation. Tanks must be coordinated with heavy artillery, along with qualified operators.

Next, a strong and dependable system of communications is needed, as well, to keep them protected. From what I’ve learned, such is already the arrangement with battalion Donbas. In truth, the army needs to think much more strategically. The situation in Donetsk or Luhansk is only part of what must be considered for the successful counter action along the entire front. Defence needs must be considered all the way from Kharkiv to Chernihiv because that is the route Russia is likely to force its way through with its tanks; and they will move fast.

In addition, thought must be put into how best to utilize and incorporate the ground forces and air force for optimum effectiveness,” advised Karber.

In the interview, he also offered his expert recommendations for the effective reform of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Translated by: Jeffrey Stephaniuk
Edited by: Olena Wawryshyn

  • Michel Cloarec

    One army ! The ukrainian ! But nothing wrong if battalions want to have own honor and pride.

  • Paul P. Valtos

    There is nothing wrong with pride in one’s unit. In the US military we all had units we were assigned to and every time I was reassigned I was told by its members that the unit was the best. Being in the Air Force there was a certain amount of competitiveness between squadrons, first ace, first to complete 50 counters (combat missions) and go home. Some guys did not want to leave their squadron and go home. Morale, no matter what happened was always high. It was said that the Air Force took care of its troops. That’s where you need to concentrate attention. A soldier, airman or sailor needs good food unless they are in a fox hole and even then they can be relieved to go back to eh rear for good meals and more rest and recreation. Actually if Ukraine asked for help in building an effective force there would be many Americans who would volunteer to help out especially those who are retired and have a wealth of knowledge and experience. C’mon Ukraine. Ask for some help and you will get it just like Lithuania who wound up with an American Colonel I believe that went back to his country and helped set up their military. There is precedent.

  • Murf

    Ukraine needs to shed it’s Soviet past as quickly as possible. A “Well regulated Militia” to quote the US Constitution, is the corner stone a of a true democracy. That is a militia that is integrated with the standing Army, not just a bunch of clowns with machine guns. In the US you can have 4 Guardsmen for every one active duty soldier.
    During this war they have developed an Esprit de Corp, a fighting sprite. This cannot be bought for ANY mount of money. It has to earned with blood, suffering, loss and triumph.
    These Battalions are the beginning of a tradition that can protect Ukraine for generations to come.

    And it can be destroyed with the flick of a short sighted pen.

    • Paul P. Valtos

      I agree. As with any war you have to have the most qualified people in decision making positions where they constantly ask how will this help the troops, what effect will it have on them and how can we support them further. A big problem in any state where there is corruption is whose fighting and who is hiding. That was the problem in Austria Hungary prior and during WWI. Nobility or those with strings wound up in papershuffler positions calling shots when they were never in the trenches. Secondly, Hungary was more interested in protecting its nobility and Honved rather than the state they belonged to. In America we had a problem with Robert Mc Namara who thought he was still running a car company and not a war.

      • Murf

        I recently read that Yats has put 50 officers from the general Staff under Lustration review. even if only a few get dumped that will be an improvement. It takes only one hide bound outdated officer in the wrong position to mess up an entire army.
        McNemara is the classic example of the kind of guy who thinks he is the smartest person in the room and won’t listen to any one.