Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Ukraine plans to increase annual spending on defense and security next year by 16 percent to more than $9 billion even as Kyiv gradually moves forward to securing talks to end the Donbas conflict in the eastern part of the country.
Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk’s cabinet on November 5 unveiled a $44 billion 2020 budget spending plan that it will send to parliament for approval.
About 5.5 percent of economic output will go toward defense and security – nearly three times higher than NATO’s recommended spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product.
The Defense Ministry specifically is earmarked $4.8 billion and the Interior Ministry $3.4 billion.
The budget foresees an exchange rate of 27 hryvnias to the $1.
Ukraine has one of the European continent’s formidable standing armies that is battle hardened after more than five years of fighting against Russian-backed separatists in the easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.
According to former President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine had the equivalent of one brigade, or 6,000 soldiers who were in complete combat readiness and able to execute orders when Russia invaded the Crimea in February 2014.
Kyiv’s proposed defense spending hike comes after Ukraine had withdrawn forces from two settlements in the Luhansk region as a condition that was set with Russia to reconvene four-way peace talks that would include Germany and France to seek an end to the conflict.
Ukrainian and Moscow-backed separatists are supposed to pull back troops and hardware from a third settlement in the Donetsk region as part of the condition.
Next year’s proposed budget was published a day after Britain’s Defense Ministry announced that it is extending its training mission of Ukrainian servicemen to March 2023.
Called Operational Orbital, Britain established the training mission after Russia sent masked troops with no military insignia to take over Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in early 2014.
Thus far, more than 17,500 members of the Ukrainian armed forces have been trained since the operation started in 2015.
Following his visit to the Donbas conflict front line in September, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said: “My recent visit to the Donbas region made clear not only the costs inflicted by Russian-backed separatists, but also the resolve the Ukrainian Armed Forces have demonstrated in defending their territorial integrity.”
For this reason, Britain is “extending our training mission to Ukraine for another three years – so we may train thousands more Ukrainian personnel and continue to make a difference.”
Britain’s navy and marines mostly train their Ukrainian counterparts.
The U.S. Army Europe has trained Ukrainian servicemen in the western district of Yavoriv in Lviv region since 2015.
Its Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine uses a “train-the-trainer” approach to “improve combat training and increase training center capacity.”
Five Ukrainian brigades will be trained under the program in 2020.
Canada also has a separate training operation in Yavoriv and extended its mission until March 2022 earlier this year.
It will “continue to provide military training and capacity building assistance to Ukraine’s defense and security forces,” a statement reads on the Ukrainian foreign ministry’s website.