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Did a Ukrainian Politician Really Say Ukrainian Troops Can’t Learn How to Use American Weapons?

Ukraine -- US and Ukrainian soldiers attend an opening ceremony of the joint Ukrainian-US military exercise 'Fearless Guardian' at the Yavoriv training ground in the region of Lviv, April 20, 2015
RIA NOVOSTI (Rossiya Segodnya)

RIA NOVOSTI (Rossiya Segodnya)

Russian state-funded news agency

HEADLINE: “In Ukraine, they admitted the Ukrainian army can’t learn how to use American weapons”

A Ukrainian politician spoke about the Ukrainian military’s difficulties in implementing NATO standards.

On April 10, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti ran a story headlined: “In Ukraine, they admitted the Ukrainian army can’t learn how to use American weapons.” In it, they quoted former Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bessmertny, who appeared as a guest on the Big Evening talk show on Newsone, a Ukrainian news outlet. According to RIA Novosti, he said that there was no specialized training in the Ukrainian military to effectively use American equipment, such as counter-artillery radar systems and military vehicles.

“I'm not talking about ‘Hummers’, which we simply cannot service,” RIA Novosti quoted Bessmertny as telling Newsone. “To date, on the territory of Ukraine all UAZs (Russian light utility vehicles) have been bought up, starting from the [UAZ-]452 to the [UAZ-]469, because it turns out that our soldiers are, of course, accustomed to using them. Also, [they use] diesel technology.”

The topic of the Newsone talk show episode in which Bessmertny was interviewed was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s Draft Law on the National Security of Ukraine, which Ukraine’s parliament passed on April 5. The law calls for implementing NATO standards in Ukraine’s military, and the talk show hosts discussed that issue. While the RIA Novosti article links to this interview, the broadcast is entirely in Ukrainian, a language many Russians do not understand.

In the interview, Bessmertny expressed doubt about Ukraine’s ability to achieve NATO standards within a reasonable time frame. He talked about a lack of qualified trained personnel to effectively utilize weapons and equipment provided by the U.S. He did not, however, suggest that it is impossible for Ukrainian soldiers to effectively use Western-made equipment.

The U.S. Army, along with other NATO military forces, has been providing training and instruction to the Ukrainian military via the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. In addition to providing training and advice, the JMTG-U has also organized large military exercises involving the Ukrainian armed forces. While the Ukrainian military still suffers from problems such as corruption and backward, Soviet-era practices, Bessmertny did not suggest that Ukrainian soldiers simply cannot be trained to effectively use American military technology.

The RIA Novosti article uses Bessmertny’s real concerns about training problems to suggest that Ukrainian forces will not be able to use the new Javelin anti-tank missile systems which have been approved for sale to Ukraine. On March 1 the U.S. State Department approved the sale of Javelins, which are man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missiles, to Ukraine. The $47 million deal also includes the cost of instruction and training in the use of the weapon, and Ukrainian armed forces began training with the Javelin system in January of this year.