Total strength of Ukrainian army will be reduced from 184 thousand to 122 thousand soldiers, press office of the Defense Ministry reports. Last week the Cabinet approved the army reform state program for 2013-2017, which provides for the optimization of the army to ensure its combat capability, which will be achieved primarily by reducing the number of personnel, without affecting the fighting capacity.

Moreover, the program also foresees improvement of social protection for militaries and their families, as well upgrading of equipment and armament. The press office also reminds that the last conscription will held this autumn, and the last conscript will leave the service in 2014.

As ForUm wrote in the article "Volunteer army: inevitable or incredible?", the authorities have been talking about contract-based army for a long time. Despite permanent lack of finances, the Armed Forces already have an experience of forming divisions and corps by this principle. Thus, in 2000 the Armed Forces numbered 28.8 thousand contract militaries, and in 2004 - 40.7 thousand soldiers. As of February 1, 2013 the Armed Forces of Ukraine consist of 33% of conscripts and 54% of contract militaries.

Considering coming cancellation of compulsory military service, ForUm wonders: what are the probabilities to switch to the contract army by 2014 and reform the Armed Force by 2017?

Yuri Samoilenko, MP (Party of Regions faction), chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee on national security and defense:

- Switching to the contract army will do no harm. Our strategy is to compose small in number, but mobile, well-trained and equipped army.

The only question is how well our economy will work and how much finances will be allocated for the army. We will discuss this issue with the government at the sittings of our committee.

Valentyn Badrak, director of the Center for army, conversion and disarmament research:

- Cancellation of compulsory military service by 2014 is quite possible. It will enable the state to remove social disparity, when some young men get drafted, while others manage to escape. However, this solution does not help to create mobile and highly professional army, as a contract soldier, who will start the service in autumn, will be no better than a conscript, meaning he will not have proper training. Moreover, there is no motivation package for young men to come to the service, like adequate salary, benefits, provision of accommodation, decent pension. All talks are hypothetical, as no practical steps have been taken yet.

Besides, it will be inexpedient to spend more money on expensive contract army having the equipment and armament of soviet times. The attempt to solve social disparity by 2014 is a noble task, but it should not be confused with formation of adequate professional army of European model.

Gennady Moscal, MP from Batkivshchyna faction:

- Switching to the contract army may not be difficult, but it does not change much. I feel sorry for our army, considering its state. Conscripts mostly include those young men whose parents could not help them to escape the draft, and the situation will not improve if we simply change the name.

Our army does not have adequate equipment and armament, and cannot defend Ukraine from enemies. In my opinion, the first thing to do is to work on technical re-equipment, and contract soldiers will come after.

Serhiy Hrynevetskiy, MP (Party of Regions), member of the parliamentary committee on national security and defense:

- The tasks set by government can be fulfilled only if Ukrainian army is provided with proper personnel and is well-financed.

The biggest problem of the contract army for the moment is low salary. Average salary of a contract soldier is less than national average salary. In particular, a contract soldier earns about one and a half thousand hryvnias, while other people earn around UAH three thousand on average. There is also a problem with provision of accommodation. So what motivation a contract soldier may have to join the army? Moreover, 92% of army armament is 20 years old or more.

These problems can be solved if we follow the law. First of all, the financing of the Armed Forces should make no less than 2% of GDP.

Kost' Bondarenko, expert, political scientist, chairman of the Institute of Ukrainian politics:

- If the Defense Ministry has made the calculations and says there are means to switch to the contract army, it means the decision has been made and we can hardly change it somehow.

The majority of countries have contract armies, and this fact is determined by the modern philosophy of war. Now we have wars of machinery, not people. For this, it is the task of specialists to defend the country, not of first year conscripts who will become food for powder without proper training. Thus, such switch is justified and will hardly cause disputes in the society.

Oleksandr Paliy, independent expert:

- We can switch to the contract army already today, and leave only defense minister in its ranks. It And we will have legal fiction called "Army". Or we can dismiss army in Ukraine at all.

The problem is that Ukraine's Armed Forces are the poorest army. German army, for example, has ten times bigger budget, Polish army - six times bigger financing, and Russian army - 40-50 times. Moreover, Hungary (10 million population) and Romania (22 million population) have larger armies than ours. Instead of improving battle readiness and creating an army which will be able to protect 45 million people, they are speaking about reduction. Come on... The army goes from bad to worse. Such attitude to the national security is very irresponsible.

Volodymyr Lupatski, expert, political scientist, executive director of the Center for social study "Sofia":

- The point of the reform of the Armed Forces is not to have or not to have the contract army. The point is to determine common strategy of reformation and defense doctrine and to create the defense industry complex. 

Unfortunately, I believe the announced terms are technical. It is more important to carry out the reform in an integrated manner for the contract army not to become an end in itself. Other key tasks should not be ignored.

The reformation must be carried out step by step. Otherwise, we can easily ruin one system not having created another one. And the million-dollar question is how to provide the transition period. Maintenance of the contract army requires budget stability and financial resources. Can Ukraine afford it under the current financial crisis? If we answer these question, we will know how efficient the reform of the Armed Forces can be, including the contract army.


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