The media and expert circles are actively discussing possible changes in a number of Cabinet officials, including Defenсe Minister Andriy Taran. Taran is remembered, in particular, for the long conflict with the former Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Ruslan Khomchak, and the scandal with the food for service members: low-quality products were bought for them.
According to rumours, Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied TerritoriesOleksiy Reznikov, MP Iryna Vereshchuk, or Ukroboronprom Director General Yuriy Husyev, may be appointed in his place. Relevant NGOs in the defence sector urge not to focus solely on the identity of the current or future minister but to urgently focus on addressing key challenges for the defence ministry: from solving a critical staffing problem to introducing open procurement instead of inefficient defence procurement.
We call for a focus on the specific performance criteria that society and the government must demand of the incumbent minister. Or the indicators that should be expected from a future minister, if such a change really happens soon. We propose comparing the results of the official’s work in this position with the defined priorities and plan, and not with personal influence on the leadership of the state or loyalty to it.
There are enough specific guidelines that set the agenda for the Minister of Defence without reference to a name. Thus, the Government’s Priority Action Plan for 2021 envisages 23 measures of the Ministry of Defence, 15 of which should be implemented as of September. These include bringing military personnel policy into line with NATO standards, drafting a bill on defence resource management, and creating the necessary motivating factors for contract military service and military reserve service. And there are many other government decisions, strategies, and laws in the field of national security that have been significantly delayed.
When President Zelensky presented Andriy Taran in March 2020, he prioritized ensuring Ukraine’s high defence capabilities. In particular, there was a question of the worthy provision of the military with modern and effective armament, increasing the level of preparation, and strengthening of their social protection.
In practice, defence procurement was blocked for at least 6 months this year, the cost of military supplies was reduced, and the Ministry of Defence owed service members social benefits of UAH 5.7 billion.
In these circumstances, we urge the Minister of Defence, current or future, to focus on the following challenges:
Strengthening democratic civilian control over the armed forces
The crisis in the relationship between the Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, which is unacceptable for a warring country, exposed one of the main management problems in the defence sector: the Commander-in-Chief must report to the Minister. Instead, the Commander-in-Chief and the Minister of Defence now report directly to the President. This regularly creates conflicts and needs to be changed.
It is necessary to differentiate the powers of the highest military leadership in order to prevent conflicts and competition between the Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The bill will soon be considered in Parliament. We hope that the document will be in line with NATO best practices and take expert comments into account.
Democratic civilian control also stipulates that the Minister of Defence and his deputies must be appointed from among civilians: this is a requirement of the Law on National Security. This is one of the important factors that must ensure democratic civilian control over the armed forces. Instead, the current ministry still has the old tradition of post-Soviet countries: appointing military personnel to civilian positions without even enduring a cool-off period, i.e., waiting a certain period of time after military service before entering civilian positions.
Thus, Anatoliy Petrenko was appointed Deputy Minister for European Integration in 2017 while still in military service. He still holds this position. Similarly, Oleksandr Dublyan was appointed State Secretary of the Ministry of Defence a little over a year after his discharge from military service: this is not enough to be considered a civilian.
At present, military command and administrative subordination is still the norm in the Ministry of Defence. Instead, Euro-Atlantic standards and the National Security Act require effective civilian governance in the agency.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine are losing qualified personnel. This is evidenced by the results of the Return Alive Foundation’s study ”Why service members are discharged from the army.” According to Foundation Chair Taras Chmut, today in the Armed Forces there are more new equipment and weapons than personnel who are able to use it effectively.
This, in particular, indicates the critical need of the Ministry of Defence to reconsider personnel policy: both the system itself and the personnel. The human resources department must be proactive and make a real and effective selection of personnel who will be able to take responsibility for the result. It is necessary to finally carry out a qualitative reform of the central office of the ministry so that the agency is able to formulate security and defence policies.
Defence procurement reform
Meeting the needs of the army is perhaps the most important task of the Ministry of Defence. The progressive Law on Defence Procurement, passed by Parliament more than a year ago, should make defence procurement more transparent and efficient, and thus provide the Armed Forces with better weapons and equipment. Instead, the law has not yet been fully implemented and the procurement system has not been working properly for the past six months.
The Ministry must effectively apply the procedures of the new law on defence procurement. In addition, it is necessary to create a central procurement organization, without which it is impossible to professionalize the entire defence system of the state.
The transience of personnel in management positions in both departments of the Ministry of Defence also significantly reduces the quality of management processes.
Reducing secrecy in defence procurement
Procurement of weapons and military equipment in Ukraine remains almost completely secret, in the tradition of a post-Soviet country. The Ministry of Defence plans to spend UAH 95 billion on modernizing armaments and military equipment in 2021-2024. This is data the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (NAKO) received in response to a request for public information. All these purchases are classified, which makes public control over them impossible.
Reducing the level of secrecy in defence procurement is in line with the principles of democratic civilian control, as well as other principles and standards of NATO member countries. However, above all, it meets the interests of the Ministry of Defence, as it guarantees greater transparency, less corruption, and greater efficiency in defence procurement. Therefore, the Ministry of Defence should not only benefit from this process but also advocate changes in this direction, in particular, insist on new legislation, from regulations for implementing the Law on Defence Procurement to a new law on state secrets, which Parliament is currently working on.
Unfortunately, publicity, accountability, and transparency are not a strength of Ukrainian politics. But in a belligerent country, personnel decisions regarding the head and leadership of the defence department must be made with special responsibility, taking into account the results of the department’s performance of certain tasks. We hope that the above priorities will help Ukrainian society and Parliament to assess the progress of the current Minister of Defence or to identify challenges for the future Minister.
Svitlana Musiiaka, Head of Research and Policy Making, NAKO, with Gleb Kanevsky, Head of NGO StateWatch and Artur Pereverziev, Head of the Defenсe Procurement Reform Project