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Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Lesson Right from the Front

The Territorial Defense Forces (TDF) must create an integral part of the modern army. The assumptions made years ago by Poland, the Baltic and the Nordic States have proved to be correct, which has been confirmed by the experiences of the war in Ukraine.

Several weeks after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the media informed the world about a worker of the Ukrainian Post Office (Ukrposhta), who shot down a Russian aircraft worth two million dollars using a MANPAD (man-portable air defense system). The hero was a retired officer, Capt (Res) Serhiy Chizhikov. After the war started, he volunteered to join the territorial defense, and later, equipped with the Igla-1 man-portable infrared homing surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, he shot down a Su-34 strike aircraft over Chernihiv.

Another time, Ukrainian soldiers of the 127th Territorial Defense Brigade from Kharkiv destroyed the enemy’s newest T-90M tank. The pride of the Russian panzer forces was struck in the heart from a Carl Gustaf anti-tank grenade launcher. The media also informed that the Ukrainian territorial defense troops caught a Russian major, a fighter pilot, after his aircraft had been shot down and crashed in Chernihiv.

There have been many more examples of the effectiveness of territorial defense in Ukraine. The media and social networks report on many military successes, including those of the territorial defense troops, in defending the Ukrainian capital, the Kyiv Oblast, Kharkiv, Chernihiv or Sumy.

Bottom-up Initiative

The Territorial Defense Forces (Viiska Terytorialnoi Oborony) in Ukraine became a standalone branch of the armed forces only two months before the outbreak of the war with Russia, and such necessity had been included a year earlier in Ukraine’s Military Security Strategy. The creation of the Territorial Defense Forces was also included in the 2021 law on the basis of national opposition, which assumed that the TDF would be given independence, broad competencies and a separate budget. It was also decided that apart from the main forces, in the event of a threat, diversion detachments (guerilla forces) can be formed ad hoc.

The sudden acceleration of work connected with the ratification of territorial defense was connected with the security situation in Europe. “The concentration of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border, and the vision of military aggression, caused a significant acceleration of organizational work concerning the formation of the new branch of the armed forces,” says Piotr Żochowski of the Center for Eastern Studies. This does not mean, however, that the Ukrainian army did not have territorial defense units before. Dariusz Materniak, PhD, the Editor-in-Chief of the Polish-Ukrainian website www.polukr.net and the founder of Fundacja Centrum Badań Polska-Ukraina [Poland-Ukraine Research Centre Foundation], explains that such detachments functioned, up until 2022, on the basis of presidential and governmental regulations. Their creation was connected with the events in Kyiv’s Maidan, and later with the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. “At first, companies of Maidan self-defense (sotnias) were formed, and later transformed into volunteer battalions. Many of them later fought in Donbas in 2014 and 2015,” says Materniak.

The Ukrainian soldiers themselves confirm that the territorial defense (TD) in Ukraine started in 2014. “For us, it all began eight years ago, when the first units of territorial defense were created. They were made up of people who had fighting experience from Donbas. Unfortunately, that initiative fell through, and after several years TD units were incorporated into the land forces. After 2014, many people applied to the army or to volunteer formations in order to learn how to fight and shoot. They felt such a need, so military trainings were organized in many towns,” explains Lt Andriy Kovalov, the spokesperson for the 112 Territorial Defense Brigade in Kyiv. He himself joined the army on February 24, 2022, i.e. on the day Russia attacked Ukraine. Earlier, he had worked as a journalist and a political analyst. In June, Lt Kovalov came to Poland for a study visit, upon an invitation extended by the MoND’s Operational Center. He came to Warsaw together with Capt Yuriy Myronenko and Pvt Serhiy Didenko.

“The implementation of the law enabled us to draft people with no military experience to the TD detachments,” adds Capt Myronenko, an officer of the 112th Brigade responsible for CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation). Myronenko has been in the army for three years. Earlier, he had worked for a Public Benefit Organization and had been the director of the largest chemical company in Ukraine.

The officers point out that the concept of “territorial defense in Ukraine” covers more than the military area. The Ukrainian territorial defense must be clearly divided into Territorial Defense Forces (TDF) – a branch of the armed forces, and territorial self-defense units organized by administrative and self-government authorities. “Initially, a group is formed, and after a while it chooses a leader and registers its activity. The self-government authorities are responsible for training and equipping them. People from such volunteer self-defense units cooperate with military territorial defense brigades,” explains Capt Myronenko. Piotr Żochowski also mentions the division into the territorial defense forces and self-defense. “This is a Ukrainian phenomenon. The volunteer territorial defense units, which are not subordinate to military authorities, are very large, and the people forming these groups are exceptionally determined and motivated to defend their territory against the Russian aggression,” he says. He also adds that the volunteer groups have been especially active in the south of Ukraine recently. “The Ukrainian experience proves how sensible it is to form territorial defense units. Young, motivated people with a high level of patriotism, give hell to the enemy. Russians had not been prepared for the Ukrainians to obtain such mobilization capabilities, or for the fact that people with a high morale would be prepared for an armed fight. They didn’t believe that the Ukrainian society would oppose them and be ready to defend their homeland,” emphasizes the analyst of the Center for Eastern Studies.

Ukrainians say that the war united the society and all of the people have one goal: to protect the country from the Russian attack. “Inside offices, it’s easy to talk about drafting, training, equipping the soldiers, or the requirements towards them. The situation changes completely when there is a war going on,” says Capt Myronenko. The officer mentions that when the first bombs fell on Kyiv, the soldiers immediately reported at their units. “There were 100 people at the headquarters of the 112th Brigade. After the first battles we understood there were too many Russians for us to handle them alone,” says the Ukrainian officer. “Then, volunteers came to the rescue. It was a real surge of people willing to fight. Several hours later there were already 1,200 of us. After a brief training we gave them weapons and sent them to fight. Kyiv, Sumy, Chernihiv – these were the places where territorial defense troops stood against the Russian tanks and regular forces.”

Pvt Serhiy Didenko (four months ago a journalist and a publisher) is certain of the effectiveness of the Ukrainian territorial defense. “The Russians very quickly realized we had the advantage. The Ukrainians were fighting on a territory they knew very well, they were confident and motivated. We organized a safari and we hunted the »orks«. We were supported by huntsmen. Russians were so afraid that they stopped coming to the city centers,” recalls Didenko.

Initially, the volunteers were activists, patriots, people ready to fight for their homeland. “The war mobilized and united us. We have been developing territorial defense in the time of war, with all the advantages and disadvantages of the situation,” says Lt Andriy Kovalov. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy decided that territorial defense would not only act locally, in their districts. The soldiers from the formations are directed to the front line. Piotr Żochowski adds that currently – in case of another large offensive by the Russians – significant reserves of territorial defense troops are maintained in readiness in western Ukraine. Additionally, there is the National Guard functioning in Ukraine, subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. These forces are also well-trained and well-armed.

Inspiration from Poland

Let us focus on the territorial defense forces which answer directly to the minister of national defense. The Commander of the TDF is Gen Ihor Tantsiura, who is subordinate to the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. When creating the new branch of the armed forces, the Ukrainians formed 25 brigades, one for each of the 24 oblasts into which the state is divided, and an additional 112th Territorial Defense Brigade in Kyiv. It was assumed that first of all, reservists and people with military experience would be admitted for service, although, obviously, there could be some exceptions from the rule. The territorial defense units were to be prepared to operate in particular towns and their relevant oblasts. Additionally, territorial defense troops were to train reservists and support civilians in the event of crisis or war. The length of training for a newly admitted soldier was to depend on their experience, but in the case of people without any military training a course of several weeks was planned, followed by several-day-long rotational trainings organized once a month already during service.

Ukrainians admit that solutions used for territorial defense in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia significantly influenced the process of creating the new branch of their own armed forces. “Lithuanians from their territorial defense helped us a lot in organizational and legislative matters,” says Lt Kovalov. However, it is hard not to notice that the structure of the Ukrainian territorial defense forces bears a significant resemblance to the solutions adopted in Poland. BrigGen Maciej Klisz, the deputy commander of our TDF, admits that information about the Polish TDF has been transferred to Ukraine since 2019. “A lot of questions were still asked three and two years ago. Military diplomats of both states were engaged in cooperation in this area and the transfer of related documents,” says the general. “The shape of the territorial defense component in Ukraine is very similar to ours. We have a similar structure of brigades, battalions, companies. We also see that, like us, Ukrainians have both professional and non-professional soldiers in their units, they also take advantage of the state’s administrative division and demography similarly to Poland,” adds the officer.

Polish TDF’s command admit that in the recent years, the volunteer formations in many countries have been growing in numbers. “There are no more doubts as to the necessity of having such formations in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Czechia, Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. I also don’t think there is any more doubt as to the validity of the solutions adopted several years ago regarding the establishment of the Polish TDF. Since February 24, 2022, the fighting Ukraine has been a clear confirmation that there is a need to create this type of formations,” emphasizes Gen Klisz. He also adds that the Ukrainian TDF focuses on urban combat, building observational posts, destroying logistics and enemy command systems, and helping civilians. “They are putting our mottos into practice: »defend and protect«, and »always ready, always close«,” he concludes.

Gen Klisz points out that the top commanders in NATO all agree that national defense is not only the responsibility of the armed forces, but the entire society. “That’s why our task is to combine the military with the civilian, to increase the state’s defensive capabilities, engaging various institutions which will play a key role during an armed conflict,” he says. Therefore, the TDF command, basing their decision on the experience of Ukraine, accelerated the implementation of some agreements with institutions such as the Prison Service, Polish State Railways, State Forest Holding, and Polish Post. The territorial defense soldiers have already had their first trainings with railway men and foresters. “Our society has resources, but we need to be able to use them. We have been preparing for some of these contracts for a longer while now, but I must admit that February 24 became something of a catalyst for many issues. For example, we very quickly signed the contract with the Polish State Railways. Why? The situation in Ukraine has shown that the railway is of key importance when it comes to the army’s mobility,” emphasizes Klisz.

What other things have the Polish TDF learned from the war in Ukraine? TDF’s command officers point out that the emphasis put on professional development of the personnel, particularly the younger commanders, was certainly a good call. The undertaking covers commanders of sections, platoons and companies who must understand the “mission command” tactics, i.e. exercising authority using mission orders. “This approach is put into practice through the Sonda School for NCOs, the creation of the TDF Training Center, and maintaining mobile training teams, which ensures the same standards of training in the entire formation,” says the deputy commander of the TDF. The future plans for the TDF are to focus more on talent management, in order to adequately use the potential of soldiers and their unique competencies.

“Ukraine reassured us that it is crucial to be familiar with your own environment and region, and that adopting the rule of division according to territory, i.e. permanent regions of responsibility for particular battalions, was a good decision. We see the huge importance of good communication, proper equipment and the capability to operate on the battlefield at night. But on top of everything, integration with the operational forces is key in a defensive operation,” emphasized the general. In the case of the Polish TDF it is already happening. TDF soldiers take part in all major exercises of operational forces.

Difficult Neighbors

Not only Poland, but also the Baltic States, whose solutions inspired Ukrainians, are committed to developing the territorial defense forces. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are small countries, both as regards territory and population. This translates into their limited defensive potential, particularly in comparison to the resources and capabilities of the adversary, which is most likely to be Russia. Therefore, volunteer defensive formations were in fact created in the Baltic States right after they had regained independence at the beginning of the 1990s. Within the following three decades, the extent of their responsibilities, their organizational structure, subordination and training models have undergone some necessary modifications.

The Baltic States’ elites have closely observed the course of the Russian aggression in Ukraine since 2014. They watched the growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and the concentration of Russian forces along the borders with Ukraine since spring 2021. They reacted with multiple initiatives undertaken by the governments, aimed to increase the states’ own security. Some of the taken steps were connected with collective defense within the North Atlantic Alliance. Others were to prepare the states for a possible aggression. Some of such initiatives have been, for instance: increasing military spending, noticeable particularly in Estonia. Between 2020–2021, the defense budget of the state was 2.3% GDP, and it is assumed it will reach even 2.5% GDP in 2022. Tallinn’s military expenditure is to reach a total of even 3.8 billion euro between 2023–2026 (with the 2021 budget of 645.5 million euro). Some of this money is to be spent on building up territorial forces – the Estonian Defense League (Eesti Kaitseliit). The plans cover, i.a., increasing the number of soldiers, creation of new companies, procurement of equipment and ammunition, as well as development of military infrastructure for the needs of the League, and offering broad training programs on operating military equipment. In total, up until 2026 Estonia is to spend over 250 million euro on territorial defense.

Latvia’s plans are no less ambitious. In September 2020, Riga adopted a new defense strategy. In comparison to the former strategy, this one puts more emphasis on the development of universal defense, which consists mainly in organizing a system where defending the state is not only the responsibility of the armed forces, but of the entire society. Therefore, universal defense includes the military realm, as well as the civilian one, using all resources of the state to ensure its security. There is also a plan to promote in the society the “culture of readiness” for any possible crisis situations and to prepare the inhabitants to oppose a possible aggressor in the event of an attack. The Latvian strategy also assumes systematic reinforcement of domestic armed forces through the broadest possible participation in the volunteer Latvian National Guard (Zemessardze), which is equivalent to the Polish TDF. The Latvian Guard counted about 8,300 people in 2021, but the government plans to increase this number to 10,000 in 2024 and to 12,000 over the following three years. The financing of the military (including the Guard), which reached 2.2% GDP in 2022, is also to be raised.

The Commanding General of the Latvian National Guard, BrigGen Egils Leščinskis, said in April 2022 that after the February aggression of Russia in Ukraine, there has been a surge of volunteers wanting to serve in territorial defense.
Lithuania, on the other hand, has National Defense Volunteer Forces (Krašto Apsaugos Savanorių Pajėgos – KASP). Their main task is to prepare volunteers to the task of defending the state in the event of a threat, but also to support national institutions in crisis situations. The interesting fact is that the soldiers who serve in the Lithuanian territorial defense can participate in foreign missions, e.g. the international operation led by the UN in Mali. In March 2022, the Lithuanian parliament decided to increase the defense spending to the level of 2.52% GDP. It was also announced that the level will be further raised to reach even 3% GDP, some of which will be allocated to territorial defense. In the public debate, there are also ideas inspired by what the Latvians are doing – to reach for solutions connected with universal defense.

Difficult neighbors and Russia’s imperial ambitions are the main reasons why volunteer defense formations are rapidly growing and developing, not only in Poland or the Baltic States, but also in Georgia, for example. The painful example of Ukraine proves that it is worth to get ready for a potential conflict beforehand, according to the saying: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek, Robert Sendek

autor zdjęć: DWOT, Eesti Kaitseliit

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