WARSAW — Numerous Eastern European allies have intensified their efforts to develop special operations units following Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and the role played by hybrid warfare in Moscow’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula.
The region’s increasingly shared threat perception is intensifying the cooperation among local allies with the aim of enhancing their special operations capacities.
“Some decision-makers from countries located on NATO’s eastern flank fear that the military scenario seen in Ukraine could be repeated elsewhere, in a different country, with the use of similar tactics,” said professor Marek Jablonowski, a political scientist from the University of Warsaw.
Drawing on the experiences from Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, the Czech Defense Ministry has decided to establish a special forces unit that will be able to carry out operations in a hybrid warfare environment. The move is caused by Prague's increased security concerns, which are rooted in Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics.
“The current complex security environment is characterized by diversified, complex means of combat, which requires the Czech Army to adapt itself and react to new threats,” Jana Ruzickova, the spokeswoman for the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, told local daily Lidove Noviny.
The new unit will complement the activities of the Czech military’s 601st Special Forces Group. It will be set up in Olomouc, in the country’s east, and is expected to reach initial operational readiness in early 2017. The unit will consist of 200 troops.
In Ukraine, which has served as the main outpost for hybrid warfare in Eastern Europe, Maj. Gen. Ihor Luniov was appointed the new commander of the country’s special operations forces (SOF) this month. Following his appointment, Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, Ukraine’s chief of the General Staff, said that Luniov’s main task for this year will be to set up the much-awaited SOF training center.
Ukrainian Special Operations Forces troops are currently deployed in eastern Ukraine where they are combating Russia-backed insurgents.
Muzhenko said that the new commander will need to ensure that relevant military units cooperate on training activities for Ukraine's special forces troops, as reported by local broadcaster 112 Ukraina.
Meanwhile, some Eastern European states that share Ukraine’s threat perception are increasing their commitment to the country’s special forces efforts. This January, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry decided to raise its contribution to the US-led Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, a task force set up with the aim of training Ukrainian special operations forces, and deploying more troops to the program, the ministry said in a statement.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said that cooperation on military training is one of Lithuania’s priorities in its assistance to Ukraine’s ongoing armed forces modernization. Vilnius aims to help Kiev overhaul its military, ensure its compliance with NATO standards and increase its interoperability with the militaries of NATO allies, according to Olekas.
“The role of special operations forces has grown amidst the current security situation and hybrid threats, therefore, we will give more focus to multinational initiatives aimed at assisting training the Ukrainian special operations forces as we cooperate with Ukraine in the security and defense area,” Olekas said.
“I am certain that the experience of the Lithuanian special operations forces in developing the force and serving in multinational operations will be … relevant and useful for the transformation of the Ukrainian armed forces.”
As part of the program, Lithuanian officers will advise representatives of the General Staff of Ukraine and the Ukrainian special operations forces. The setting up of the new SOF training center by the Ukrainian military could further enhance its international cooperation in this field.