Secretary Of Defense William S. Cohen
[This activity occurs at the Academy of the Armed Forces Ukraine, Kiev where Secretary Cohen is joined by Ukrainian Minister Of Defense Oleksandr Kuzmuk.]
Secretary Cohen: We have just concluded roughly an hour and twenty minutes of a conference in we discussed a variety of issues. Specifically, we talked about the importance of the NATO-Ukraine Charter -- what that means for the future of Ukraine -- how that is going to continue to play a leading role in helping to promote democracy, stability and prosperity in Europe. We also talked about ways in which the Partnership for Peace program can be enhanced in the future, ways in which the United States could cooperate in sharing information and technology, helping to develop the non-commissioned officer corps, sharing in military mapping techniques, military medicine, and other forms of cooperation that we intend to build upon.
The minister and I met in Washington a couple of months ago. We established a very quick friendship. One that we have built upon with my visit here -- and it's one that I can assure you is going to be long and enduring.
Minister Kuzmuk: First of all, I would like to say that this is our second official meeting with the Minister of Defense of the United States, Mr.Cohen, and we are friends with him. It is a great pleasure for me to stress that, because Mr. Cohen is an outstanding political and military leader. And the main, special feature of our relationship is that all our plans will be realized.
Q: Earlier today you encouraged Ukraine to increase its military spending under tax reforms, but other allies have questioned the need for increased spending and suggested that this push is coming from arms manufacturers. Why is it necessary and warranted now that the threat of war has never been lower?
Secretary Cohen: I think each country that we have talked about -- and I would include Ukraine in that category -- needs to upgrade and modernize its forces in order to maintain an acceptable level of security for its citizens. One can never foretell the future with any degree of certainty, and I think it is the responsibility of military leaders to make sure that their security is adequately protected. I find it somewhat curious that countries that are suggesting that the United States has any ulterior motive might be among the first who wish to sell military equipment to the region.
Q: Mr. Minister, could you give us the top three priorities for your military needs now? This is a very big country, and still a powerful but poor country. What are the top three priorities that your military needs to improve now?
Minister Kuzmuk: I am surprised that you have selected only three priorities, because I have many more priorities. First of all, I'd like to stress that Ukraine has a very powerful military potential and we need much money to maintain this potential. Today the economy of Ukraine is not able to provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with all the necessary material. And the military budget does not correspond to the requirements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. But we are realistic, and we can easily understand that this budget is the maximum capacity possible in Ukraine. And that is why, in speaking about priorities, we determined some of them. First of all is the social protection of the military. The second priority is maintenance of combat vehicles and equipment at the appropriate level of combat readiness. There are some sub-priorities within this priority. What we need, first of all, for the defense of Ukraine: air defense systems, information data processing, electronic equipment, electronic warfare and aviation. The next priority is the Navy, and it's quite understandable from a political point of view. Now we are practically implementing the agreement concerning the division of the Black Sea Fleet. We have already taken our fifteen vessels from the Russian fleet and we need to make some appropriate preparations. And the next priority is training of personnel -- first of all, training of headquarters' staff, training of experts of the highest level. So, those are our priorities.
Q: The question is about the last exercise that took place at Yavoriv military training area. Is it beneficial for Ukraine, and will it become a systematic practice to conduct such exercises in this area in the future?
Minister Kuzmuk: I can say that the Yavoriv military training area is one of the best in Europe, one of the most modern ones. Geographically, it is located in the center of Europe, and that gives us an opportunity to conduct major exercises with the involvement of as many participants as possible. So, conducting these exercises becomes systemic, and our experience gives us an opportunity to draw some conclusions: soldiers who participated together in multinational exercises will never look at each other through gun sights. It is a new form of cooperation between military institutions and between states. We have experience in implementing combat tasks in Bosnia. And we would not like to have such experiences in the future in any other area of our planet, but we should take into consideration the possibility of crises. And, taking into consideration this experience, we can say that it is better to train and prepare our personnel not in combat conditions but in training centers that are fully equipped and prepared. And so, it's much better to organize the development of interoperability issues -- first of all for the headquarters' personnel -- in peace conditions. And so, for today, the Yavoriv military training area is not only a training range, it's a major source of information. And I would like to say that today the president of Ukraine, Mr. Kuchma, permitted to me to take the initiative concerning conducting one more peace-keeping exercise in this area in 1998. Addressing the economic side of your question, I'd like to stress that each country gives its own contribution to conducting such exercises. Ukraine does not spend budget funds on conducting these exercises.
Q: According to the Charter on Distinctive Partnership between Ukraine and NATO, we should achieve the appropriate level of interoperability with NATO headquarters and units. How much time does Ukraine need to achieve the appropriate level, and what steps should be made in this direction, especially concerning the achievement of military-technical interoperability?
Minister Kuzmuk: First of all, I would like to stress that the Charter is probably the most democratic document I have ever seen, [in] that it does not include any pressure on Ukraine, and there are not any obligations and not any commitments for Ukraine to re-equip its armed forces or achieve NATO standards. Ukraine is an active participant of the Partnership for Peace Program. Our four years' experience in participation in Partnership for Peace events pushes us toward the need not only to meet NATO standards but to elaborate new world standards -- which are understandable for all the military all around the world like an SOS signal. And today we discussed some issues related to this problem. For example, we discussed some issues related to the creation of a Ukrainian-Polish battalion. This battalion will be armed with our weapons, but it will be equipped with the appropriate communications means which meet NATO standards.