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May 16, 2024, 4:09pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

Western military trainers will be sent to Ukraine ‘eventually,’ top US military official said

Insights from Carnegie Europe, The Moscow Times, and The New York Times

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Ukrainian servicemen fire a Leopard tank during a military exercise in Ukraine.
Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
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The News

The highest-ranking United States military officer said Thursday that Western armies will provide military trainers to Kyiv at some point — a step that would mark a significant departure from NATO countries’ reluctance to put boots on the ground in Ukraine.

We’ll get there eventually, over time,” Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. Gen. Brown stressed that doing so now would put “a bunch of NATO trainers at risk” and tie up air defenses that would be better used protecting Ukrainian soldiers on the battlefield, The New York Times reported.

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A growing number of European countries have signaled willingness to consider sending military personel to Ukraine in supporting or training roles. France’s President Emmanuel Macron went further, saying “nothing should be ruled out.” An Estonian official said they are “seriously” discussing the possibility of sending troops into western Ukraine in non-combat roles, while Lithuania’s foreign minister said training missions in Ukraine “might be quite doable.”

Other NATO countries have been more skeptical. When asked by Semafor at a briefing last week, Admiral Tony Radakin, the United Kingdom’s top military official, said the logistics and politics of training Ukrainian soldiers inside the country meant training outside Ukraine is “going to endure.”

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

European boots on the ground risks escalation

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Sources:  
Carnegie Europe, The Moscow Times

Western boots on the ground in Ukraine would help Kyiv ramp up training to help solve its manpower deficit, but it would also introduce a new level of risk for NATO. “Any stray missile from Russia could provoke a direct U.S.-Russia escalation,” the Council on Foreign Relations’ Liana Fix wrote. Moreover, if Western forces were wounded or killed in Ukraine, it could test the limits of NATO and the EU’s mutual defense agreements and potentially spark tensions within these coalitions, Ulrike Franke of the European Council on Foreign Relations said. Russian officials have frequently denounced Western counterparts who talk about sending troops to Ukraine; a Kremlin spokesperson called Macron’s refusal to rule it out a “completely new round of escalating tensions.”

Western training may have fallen short of Ukraine’s needs

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Sources:  
Politico, OpenDemocracy

Ukrainian soldiers have complained that Western training so far has prepared them for the wrong kind of war, focusing on counterinsurgency rather than on drone combat and trench warfare. But Western officials have said their training has evolved to better meet Ukraine’s needs, with one French trainer saying “the program is not set in stone, we have integrated those criticisms in the training preparation.” One Ukrainian soldier told OpenDemocracy that “it would be better if either [the instructors] came here to see what we’re facing or we went there to train their instructors to train our troops.”

Ukraine looks to boost troop numbers with mobilization reform

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Sources:  
Foreign Affairs, The New York Times

Ukraine’s new mobilization law comes into effect on May 18, enabling the military to summon more people to serve in an army that hasn’t had enough soldiers since the end of 2023. Mobilization and training means it will take months before a larger army emerges, but “increased capacity to train new recruits inside Ukraine will be particularly useful,” three defense experts wrote in Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, Russia launched a new offensive in Kharkiv in an effort to stretch Ukraine’s forces. “By thinning out the front line, you are increasing the odds of a breakthrough” for Russia, a military analyst said. To compensate for its lacking forces, Ukraine has been forced to move its best troops to wherever there is active fighting, meaning they have little time to rest and recover.

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