WASHINGTON - U.S. service members in Germany have begun training Ukrainian soldiers on key systems being used to defend Ukraine against the Russian invasion, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said today.
"These efforts build on the initial artillery training that Ukraine's forces already have received elsewhere and also includes training on radar systems and armored vehicles that have been recently announced as part of security assistance packages," Kirby said.
U.S. Army Europe and Africa is organizing the training in coordination with Germany.
Florida National Guardsmen â€” who were part of the Joint Multinational Training Group in Western Ukraine and were ordered out of the country as the threat of the Russian invasion intensified â€” have reunited with Ukrainians in Germany and are again working to give the Ukrainians the knowledge they need to defend their country.
"The recent reunion of these Florida National Guard members with their Ukrainian colleagues, we are told, was an emotional meeting, given the strong bonds that were formed as they were living and working together before temporarily parting ways in February," Kirby said.
The United States is not the only country training Ukrainian service members. Yesterday, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said Canadian service members were training Ukrainians on the M-777 howitzer in Europe.
This training effort is in direct support of recent U.S. security assistance packages "designed to help Ukraine win their battles today and build strength for tomorrow," Kirby said.
These systems are necessary to counter Russia's new push into the Donbas region of Ukraine.
This training package is just the latest in an effort that goes back to the break-up of the Soviet Union, but that intensified after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and illegally annexed Crimea. "We're here today talking about the Florida National Guard," he said. "But as you all know, they were preceded by others of their colleagues going back over the last eight years."
That training effort has been key to Ukraine's stout defense of its capital city of Kyiv and the fight they are putting up in Donbas. The training helped transform Ukraine from a Soviet-style military to a more agile and deadly force. "They have better command and control," Kirby said. "They have better battlefield initiative. They have a competent noncommissioned officer corps that is empowered on the field of battle to make tactical decisions. That didn't happen by accident."
The bulk of the training on the new systems Ukraine is getting will be performed by the Florida Guardsmen. They can, of course, call on Army units in Germany to assist if they need it, the press secretary said.
U.S. officials want to make the training useful and constructive, but not onerous â€” meaning the Ukrainians are fighting a war in their country and do not have the time for long training classes. As such, the Ukraine military chose artillery personnel to learn to operate the M-777 howitzer. They have the background needed to operate artillery and just need to learn the peculiarities of the American system.
The same is true of radar operators. While they will receive American systems, these soldiers have already learned about radar and just need to learn what buttons to push, or what pulses mean on American sets.
These Ukrainians soldiers will then go back to Ukraine and teach their fellow soldiers how to use the equipment effectively.
"As you might imagine, these soldiers are eager to learn these new skills, but they're also eager to apply those new skills in the conflict," Kirby said.
The press secretary was asked about Russian nuclear saber-rattling. He said the United States continually watches the Russia's nuclear preparations, and officials believe U.S. deterrence is positioned correctly. He said the United States takes any threats seriously and is prepared.
"I'm not going to go into the psychology of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin," Kirby said. "It's hard to look at what he's doing in Ukraine, what his forces are doing in Ukraine and think that any ethical, moral individual could justify that. It's difficult to look at some of the images and imagine that any well-thinking, serious, mature leader would do that. So, I can't talk to his psychology. But I think we can all speak to his depravity."