Surplus equipment that the United States and other countries send to Ukraine might be battle-ready earlier if one retired Army officer gets his way.
As a private citizen over the past year, Vindman watched the slow Russian buildup along Ukraine’s borders and, he said, became concerned about how Kyiv would support and sustain a long conflict. Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny, also an Army officer, were born in Ukraine and immigrated to the U.S. as children.
Since the invasion last year, the Biden administration has approved hundreds of Bradley fighting vehicles, Strykers, Humvees, mobile howitzer systems, and now Abrams tanks for shipment to Ukraine. But those machines must be taken from Ukraine to Poland or other NATO countries for major repairs, costing Ukrainian forces weeks as they wait for their armored vehicles to come back.
“We’ve got all sorts of resources going into depots and advanced bases in Poland, mainly, and inside Ukraine, basically they’re on their own,” Vindman said in an interview. “It’s something he hopes to change in the coming weeks if the money, the support, and the workers can be lined up.”
There are already a handful of contractors working on systems donated by their countries inside Ukraine, but those Polish and Czech mechanics are relatively few in number and go for short stints only.
“The biggest challenges are that the U.S. government currently is deeply reluctant to put defense contractors on the ground,” Vindman said. “That means that people are getting paid to repair stuff in Poland, but that doesn’t satisfy the warfighting capability of the Ukrainians. So this would be a kind of a policy change.”
How We Got Here
Most media reports say the Russo-Ukrainian war began in 2022. That is not quite accurate. The most current and most violent phase of this war began in 2022. But it is a conflict that has been simmering for decades.
The roots actually go back to the dawn of the Soviet Empire in 1920. But for the sake of brevity, we will pick up the story after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In the mid and late 1990s, several former Soviet bloc countries joined NATO. Ukraine debated the idea as well. This affiliation made Russian strongman Vladimir Putin very nervous. He did not like the idea of a potential adversary on his border. After what happened to the country in World War I and again in World War II, his misgivings are understandable.
In the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, pro-NATO candidate Viktor Yushchenko faced off against pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko, who was poisoned during the campaigns, allegedly by Russian agents, lost to Yanukovych. The country’s Supreme Court annulled that result, citing massive electoral fraud. A healthy Yushchenko beat Yanukovych in the rematch.
Four years later, Ukraine and Georgia formally applied for NATO membership. NATO, seeking to avoid a hornet’s nest, rejected the applications but reassured these nations that NATO would eventually accept them. As we all know, “eventually” can be a long time.
Pro-Russian Yanukovych became Ukrainian president in 2010. Over the next few years, he supported a number of pro-Russia initiatives, including making Russian Ukraine’s official language. These positions angered members of parliament, who voted to impeach Yanukovych, who then fled the country.
Russia used all this controversy to spin the narrative that ethnic Russians in the eastern part of the country weren’t safe. After a few minor clashes, Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 in what Putin called an “anti-terrorist operation.” The parties signed a truce in 2015, an agreement that both sides sporadically broke.
In March 2021, Putin became determined to bring Ukraine to heel. Russian troops massed near the border and invaded in February 2022. Initially, it looked like Russia would roll over Ukraine. But the Ukrainians pulled it together and pushed the Russians into the eastern areas of Ukraine. Putin has announced plans to annex this territory.
Contractors Before Battle
The Russo-Ukraine war started before the shooting began. Likewise, a successful anti-insurgency or other military campaign starts before the shooting begins, usually with training and evaluation.
A well-trained security force often deters insurgents. If government soldiers are little more than guys with guns, most insurgents like their chances. But if the soldiers are well-trained and well-motivated, many bad guys think twice before they begin large-scale campaigns.
Some experienced trainers are not good teachers. But contractors are excellent teachers. That is one reason the company hired them. Furthermore, contractors do not just teach by the book. They know some effective anti-insurgency strategies that are not in textbooks.
A well-trained security force prevents most anti-insurgencies, but certainly not all of them. If fighting breaks out, someone needs to assess the situation. Then, contractors give decision-makers accurate information about the threat and the resources needed to counter that threat.
Contactors During Battle
Contractors do not go home when the shooting starts. U.S. law does not allow contractors to participate in offensive operations. But plenty of other chores need doing, such as:
- Escort: As mentioned, contractors must survey the situation to accurately assess it. VIPs must do the same thing. VIPs also need protection in a war zone. Contractors provide that protection without drawing resources away from other operations.
- Security: The quietest checkpoint in the country could be the scene of the next insurgent attack. In fact, insurgents often attack soft targets to gain a quick victory and boost recruiting efforts. Contractors must not only check IDs. They must be ready at all times and proactively assess potential threats.
- Intelligence: Weapons do not win wars unless the people operating those weapons know how to use them. During insurgencies, it’s often hard to tell the bad guys from the not-so-bad guys. Contractors use their relationships with locals to obtain vital intelligence that gives government security forces the edge.
Gunshots are not the only threat during combat operations. In fact, they are not even the greatest threat. Generally, diseases, falls, and other non-combat-related injuries cause most casualties of war.
Contractors After Battle
For many contractors, when the shooting stops, the real work begins. Rebuilding a war-torn country like Iraq is arguably more important than winning the battles in the war. Refugees usually do not come home until basic education, healthcare, and other services are available. They also do not come home until they have someplace to work and a means to get there. While the country is in ruins, insurgents thrive, often with a “the government doesn’t care about you, but we do” line.
So, large capital projects are the first priority. Usually, everything else falls into place after these projects are completed. Contractors usually supervise these projects, keeping them moving forward and under budget.
Security contractors have a role to play in the rebuilding process as well. In fact, many large projects require more security contractors than worker contractors. Securing construction sites in Kandahar is much more difficult than securing construction sites in Kansas City.
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