Roman Kostenko, Colonel of Security Service of Ukraine, Secretary of Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security
2023 was a successful year in terms of the military campaign: we destroyed hundreds of thousands of enemies and conquered the sea
25.12.2023 21:14

"2023 was a successful year in terms of the military campaign. We actually exceeded the plan. We need to evaluate real military actions, not talks about victory on television. Given the available resources, we have done even more than we could have done," said Roman Kostenko, Colonel of the Security Service of Ukraine, Secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence.

In an interview with Ukrinform, he spoke about the successes of Ukrainian servicemen in 2023, the development of a new mobilization policy, the current mobilization process, the effectiveness of recruiting to the Armed Forces, the likelihood of conscripts being dismissed after completing their service in a full-scale war, the key needs of the Ukrainian Defense Forces and the problems of the domestic military-industrial complex.


- Recently, one of the hottest topics of public debate has been the update of the mobilization procedure in Ukraine. How is the process of preparing a comprehensive mobilization plan progressing?

- I believe that a new mobilization policy needs to be developed now. This can be realized through the adoption of laws by the parliament, approval of bylaws by the government, and signing of decrees and laws by the president.

The President has instructed the government, in particular the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, to develop a plan for mobilization in Ukraine. This is a very sensitive issue for society, so it is necessary to develop clear rules on how mobilization and, possibly, demobilization should take place.

Proposals for the plan should be made primarily by the President as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, because he understands the resources needed, the Minister of Defense, and other government officials responsible for the economic component of army support. At the same time, the Verkhovna Rada can submit its proposals, allocate money from the state budget, and, if necessary, adopt a legislative act with certain proposals.

The Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are currently working on this plan. There is no final version yet. Certain members of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence are involved in this process, and I have provided them with my proposals for the plan.

- In your opinion, what are the key changes that should take place in the process of mobilization in Ukraine?

- There should be clear rules and clarity. When a person is mobilized, he or she should not go to the army until the war is over, they are seriously wounded, have a first-grade disability that allows them to be discharged, or die. There should be clear rules. This is very important both for those who are already serving and for those who are about to join the ranks of the Ukrainian Defense Forces.

Let's imagine a situation: we give a person a summons. What will be the reaction if you just send him to serve without any specifics? And what if you tell him that he has to serve for a year and a half? The second option gives you the opportunity to plan your life. It is necessary to create conditions so that people understand that they will be fighting for a certain period of time, after which they will be replaced. This should be confirmed by law.

- What proposals did you make to the mobilization plan?

- As a result of the work done by the working group, we were offered a version of the draft law that provides for the possibility of demobilization after 36 months of service. We can debate a lot about the timeframe, but I think these three years can be the basis for potential demobilization. Of course, during this period, servicemen will have the right to vacations, business trips, and sick leave.

My proposal is as follows: if a soldier has spent at least six months in the combat zone during 36 months, which is confirmed by the relevant combat orders, he will be eligible for demobilization after 18 months of service. Thus, a person who joins the ranks of the Ukrainian Defense Forces will understand that he or she must serve a total of either 36 months in the rear or 18 months if he or she has been in the combat zone for six months. Servicemen should have the right to demobilization. It should be possible for them to file a report and be demobilized after a specified period of time.

Some people believe that this division of service for combat and rear units is unfair. However, in my opinion, it is worthwhile. Defenders who are directly engaged in combat missions should be able to demobilize earlier, because the format of their service is significantly different from those in rear units. Most of those I talk to are not going to resign, although they want to have this right.

- If the wartime demobilization procedure is implemented, won't there be a problem with a shortage of military personnel?

- Such a problem may arise if the current system of mobilization does not change. You see, some people shouldn't have to pull the belt all the time, while others talk about the economic or some other "front". Mobilization must be fair. Everyone who can take up arms should do so now or be ready to do so if necessary.

Now we need to focus our efforts on saving the lives of the military. This should be a key aspect of the mobilization policy. Then people will be much more motivated to join the military.

We also need to change the information policy: not to talk about the imminent end of the war and the holiday season in Crimea, but to emphasize that everyone has to defend the homeland. No one will be spared.

There must be justice. Now so many citizens are serving, and in three years others will take their places. Gradually, everyone will have to be replaced. If we do this, everyone will know the schedule of their service. Alternatively, we can even send calls with the date of call-up, for example, in a year. Then a person will clearly understand when he or she will be called up for military service and prepare for it.

People thought that we would win soon, so they decided that they could live quietly, not prepare for mobilization, that the guys who are already at the front would do everything. And now the words about additional 450-500,000 mobilized people have become a cold shower for everyone.

But how many people are needed to replenish the sanitary losses during the year? How many are needed to form new units? Approximately the same number.

We need to plan not for two months, not for six months, but for years, because the war, from a military point of view, can last for a long time, and from the point of view of the influence of political processes, it can end tomorrow, but no one knows. We have to prepare for the worst case scenario.


- Is the issue of discharging conscripts after completing their service in a full-scale war currently being discussed?

- According to the latest version of the committee's discussions, yes, they are going to be dismissed. As far as I know, the dismissal of conscripts after completing their service is supported by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi. Perhaps something else will change.

But we have to understand that the conscripts will have to be replaced by mobilized people, since the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine plans to cancel conscription. The state will need to recruit mobilized people in accordance with the number of dismissed conscripts. This could be a big problem, as mobilization has slowed down significantly recently. I think that we may face the fact that we will not be replenishing or forming combat units, but simply putting people in the places of conscripts who were mostly performing tasks to protect facilities in the rear. We will need to recruit people to simply fulfill the role of conscripts who are to be demobilized.

Perhaps conscripts should be dismissed, but I think we should think carefully about the abolition of conscription, so that it does not become another political decision that will have negative consequences for defense. Of course, the issue of discharging conscripts is long overdue, and they need it, but everything must be done correctly and clearly, without compromising national security.

- Is the mechanism of signing a contract in demand among conscripts?

- This mechanism is provided for by law, but they do not want to sign contracts. Some have signed, but the majority do not, because the contract is binding. If you're mobilized, you say "I'm honored" when you're demobilized and go home. If you are a contract soldier, you have to serve until the end of the contract.


- Are there any plans to further regulate the mobilization of women?

- This issue has been discussed. But it is not even about mobilization. Our society, when it hears "army," "registration," "women," immediately imagines women going into battle with assault rifles. The Ministry of Defense only offered us to enshrine mandatory military registration. This does not mean that women have to be mobilized.

The Verkhovna Rada passed a law that stipulates that only women with medical education have to register, and all others have to do so voluntarily. That's it, the issue is closed. If a woman wants to, she goes to the military enlistment office and is mobilized. No one forbids her to serve. We have many women serving now, fulfilling their duty to the state, but of their own free will. No one is going to force them.

The President recently said that he would not sign a legislative act that would provide for the mobilization of women. 90% of our committee is also against returning to this issue. We already went through this two years ago. Do you remember what the reaction was? Why do it again? I think this issue will be resolved when a comprehensive plan for mobilization in Ukraine is developed, and we will not return to it again.


- The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has recently launched a recruitment project for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In your opinion, how effective is this mechanism for attracting citizens to serve?

- It is relatively effective. I think it will yield a certain number of soldiers. However, given the numbers we need to replace, demobilize, and eventually replace conscripts, mobilization will still be the main mechanism.

Recruiting should help attract people to certain specialties. The main thing is for the Ministry of Defense to control that people who have signed up for specific specialties get into them.

A high-quality information policy is also very important. It can happen that a person applies for a drone operator position, for example, and fails. Then he or she will need to be moved to another position. There may also be times when a person is sent to the wrong place. This should be explained immediately.


- In your opinion, was 2023 successful or not in terms of the military campaign? Do you have a vision of the strategy for the next year?

- I believe that our strategy now should primarily focus on the destruction of enemy groups. The liberation of territories will be a consequence of this strategy. Of course, compared to the results that everyone expected, this year can be called unsuccessful because we did not reach the Sea of Azov... However, in my opinion, 2023 was successful in terms of the military campaign. We did not lose any new territories, fighting against an army that is several times larger than us in terms of resources. We destroyed several hundred thousand Russian soldiers, several thousand tanks, a lot of artillery, and ammunition depots.

We have developed a system of drone operations. We can say that Ukraine is the first country in the world to actively use drones in the fight against the enemy. The military-industrial complex has grown significantly, and we are very grateful to entrepreneurs for that.

We have won back the sea from a maritime country that has three fleets - the Baltic, Pacific and Black Sea. We forced the Russians to withdraw their ships from Crimea so that they would not be impressed by Ukraine, which, in fact, did not have a full-fledged fleet at the time of the Russian invasion. There was one frigate, the Hetman Sahaidachny, which is lying on the bottom in one of the ports. We will raise it when the war is over. Our Navy, our Security Service, and the Main Intelligence Directorate forced those who sing "Sevastopol is a city of Russian sailors" to withdraw their fleet from there and keep it off their shores. This is an achievement.

The Russians are now unable to fully utilize even their civilian vessels. We have done this and will continue to increase our influence. I'm not talking about strikes on Russian enterprises, which will continue. These are our military victories.

I believe that we have actually exceeded the plan. We need to evaluate real military actions, not talk about victory on television. Given our available resources and compared to the enemy's resources, we have done even more than we could have.


- Outline the key needs of the Ukrainian army for combat operations in the short term.

- The main thing is that we need artillery shells of various calibers. They are needed on the battlefield so that we can conduct active combat operations. We need powerful artillery. The current supply includes equipment, ammunition and barrels.

We need a large number of drones of various types and ammunition for them. We also need air defense systems so that we can shoot down as many drones and missiles as possible.

We have to prove to our partners that the missiles we shoot down in Ukraine with their weapons could someday hit their cities if the supply of the relevant air defense systems stops. They should understand that they are simply giving us resources so that they do not have to fight.

As for next year. I think that the war will be about the same as this year, a positional war with elements of active operations. Therefore, it will be a year of mobilization and preparation. And it would be right to mobilize and prepare. Our task in the short term is to prevent the enemy from advancing further and inflict maximum losses on them, thus creating conditions for further advancement and liberation of territories. To do this, we need long-range missiles that can hit enemy headquarters, warehouses and logistics at operational depth. Of course, it would be nice to have missiles that could reach the territory of the Russian Federation, its infrastructure and military facilities. I hope that we will have such an opportunity.

- What needs of the Ukrainian Defense Forces can be met by the Ukrainian military-industrial complex?

- Not in the proper quantity. The Ukrainian military-industrial complex does not fully meet the needs. But this is also because for a war with Russia, you need to have a ready-made military-industrial complex at all times, not create it on the fly, during a full-scale invasion. There are 30 countries in NATO, and their military-industrial complex was not ready for mass production of shells.

If we're talking about artillery, what does it even mean? For example, there is a projectile and a shot. A shot consists of a projectile, a powder charge, an explosive and a fuze. In fact, we can only make duds [artillery shells without explosives]. We can fill it with explosives. But gunpowder is a problem for the whole world. If we don't have it, if we don't find it or produce it, if we make only dummies that can only be delivered and dropped by drones, it will not fly anywhere.

We need to produce gunpowder on our own. There must be an appropriate state policy. We need to open a number of high-tech enterprises that will produce components for gunpowder production, as well as a plant where these components will be mixed. Until we learn how to do this on our own, we cannot talk about any independence of the Ukrainian military industry.


- President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky announced the production of one million drones in a year. Is this realistic?

- Currently, most drones are produced by Ukrainian private entrepreneurs. How did the drone industry develop in Ukraine in general? At the beginning of the war, the Ministry of Defense did not pay attention to it, considering it a third-rate weapon that would not play a role on the battlefield, relying on conservative weapons such as tanks, artillery, and combat vehicles. At that time, private entrepreneurs and volunteers, together with the military, made primitive weapons to compete with all artillery and modern ammunition.

Objectively speaking, drones are now hitting many times more equipment on the front lines than artillery. Drones are more efficient, economical, and accurate in destroying enemy equipment than shells that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

A few months ago, I traveled from east to south and talked to brigade commanders. Let's just say I conducted a face-to-face survey, asking them how many vehicles were hit by drones and how many by artillery over the past two months. The overwhelming majority answered that artillery hit zero or a few, and drones hit ten or twenty, depending on the direction. Perhaps there is a different story somewhere else. This does not mean that artillery is no longer needed at the front, its sector of work is clearly defined and always relevant. I'm talking only about the destruction. The drone industry in Ukraine has developed a lot. The government has now paid attention to it. And we will make a million, maybe more, drones if the state provides normal conditions for the development of this sector, and does not hinder the work of manufacturers with unnecessary bureaucratic procedures and criminal proceedings with unnecessary inspections.


- Finally, I would like to ask you about the provision of international military assistance to Ukraine. How active is it?

- The world is changing, new conflicts are emerging, and states are focusing on internal issues. Ukraine is moving a little further down their political agenda. Ukraine's problems are increasingly becoming a matter for Ukrainians. We have to understand this.

However, the process of providing international military assistance to Ukraine continues. We are gradually receiving the promised aid, and sometimes the aid that has not yet been promised. Some countries are providing everything they agreed on, while others are not adding anything yet. In general, the receipts are somewhat limited, but they are coming. And it is important for us to continue to work hard in this area with our partners.

Angelina Strashkulych, Kyiv

Photo by Kyrylo Chubotin

While citing and using any materials on the Internet, links to the website not lower than the first paragraph are mandatory. In addition, citing the translated materials of foreign media outlets is possible only if there is a link to the website and the website of a foreign media outlet. Materials marked as "Advertisement" or with a disclaimer reading "The material has been posted in accordance with Part 3 of Article 9 of the Law of Ukraine "On Advertising" No. 270/96-VR of July 3, 1996 and the Law of Ukraine "On the Media" No. 2849-Х of March 31, 2023 and on the basis of an agreement/invoice.

© 2015-2024 Ukrinform. All rights reserved.

Website design Studio Laconica

Extended searchHide extended search
By period: