As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, no one knows when it is likely to end, not even Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey, who is a key negotiator between the two warring states.
To bring the prospect of victory closer, Mr. Bodnar stresses the need not only for tanks from its Western partners, but also for long-range missiles and fighter jets. Considerable military and technical assistance from our partners could bring the end of the war much faster, he told Defence Procurement International. And while the war may be draining western ammunition supplies, Mr. Bodnar is convinced that key allies such as the UK and US will stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine for as long as it takes to win the war against Russia.
Defence Procurement International (DPI): Ambassador, since the start of the war, the Ukrainian Army has demonstrated superior combat capability. How have the lessons and experiences gained from exercises with NATO member countries been in the Ukrainian Army's current success?
Bodnar: The success of the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian people on the battlefield is determined first of all by a high motivation to defend our country. There are numerous factors, which affect the efficiency of defence, like the skills and experience of Ukrainian soldiers, non-standard approaches, and well-planned operations. NATO and its member states have provided different forms of support to Ukraine.
Following the Russian military invasion of Ukraine in 2014, we prioritised joining NATO. Since that time, we have cooperated more closely with the Alliance. NATO has launched training on modern military tactics, combat medicine, civil contingency planning, and countering Russian hybrid warfare, from drones to phone hacking. After the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, thousands of Ukrainian military personnel have been training and mastering NATO-standard weapons, which are being supplied to Ukraine.
DPI: Western countries have finally agreed to supply Ukraine with a number of tanks. Is Ukraine planning an offensive in the spring to retake occupied territories, including Crimea?
Bodnar: We welcome the "tank coalition" which has finally been established following the key decisions taken by the US and Germany. By the way, the German position is changing positively and now I have information about a much large number of tanks. We expect the number of countries that joined this coalition to grow further. The provision of main battle tanks will allow us to conduct mechanised warfare to defeat the Russian military and liberate Ukrainian territory. Long-range missiles and fighter jets must follow to bring the victory closer. These weapons will be used only to defeat Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine, including Crimea.
DPI: Will you receive additional TB-2 Bayraktar UAVs from Turkey for close air support and surveillance?
Bodnar: Ukraine is very grateful to Baykar Makina and personally, to Haluk (Baykar’s CEO) and Selcuk Bayraktar(CTO) for providing UAVs, which played an important role in the defence and liberation of occupied Ukrainian territories. We are fruitfully cooperating with the Baykar company and receiving UAVs in accordance with existing contracts, as well as negotiating new contracts and the construction of a UAV factory in Ukraine. By the way, the Baykar company donated a number of drones, equipment and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. We count on Baykar Makina as a reliable and strategic partner. We believe that the Baykar factory and R&D Centre in Ukraine will start to operate in the next few years.
DPI: Ukraine’s Motor Sich, which is one of the largest engine manufacturers for aeroplanes and helicopters in the world recently opened a representative office in Turkey. What is the relationship between Motor Sich and Turkey?
Bodnar: Despite Russia’s war against Ukraine, Motor Sich continues to fulfil its contractual obligations to supply engines to different Turkish companies. In addition to the previously announced contracts, negotiations are underway to increase cooperation. From time to time, some logistical problems appear due to the ongoing war. Nevertheless, the Bayraktar KIZILELMA Fighter UAV is already making test flights with our engines. This is the future of our fruitful cooperation. Technical experts work tirelessly to ensure Ukrainian engines’ successful and speedy integration into Turkish platforms.
DPI: When do you think the war is likely to end? Is Ukraine looking to recapture Crimea?
Bodnar: We are doing a lot to bring peace to our motherland. First of all, we need to defeat the enemy. In this regard, considerable military and technical assistance from our partners could bring the end of the war much faster. Most probably the spring and early summer of 2023 will be decisive for the course of the war.
Secondly, we need the engagement of the world. I mean an implementation of the 10-point Peace Formula presented by President Zelenskyy on 15 November 2022 at the G20 Summit. This is an issue of global security and the international community must be more responsible in this regard.
I would reiterate that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine. The realities of 2014-2022 with the "frozen" "Crimean issue" no longer exist: The full-scale Russian aggression turned the occupied peninsula into a theatre of military operations as well as mainland Ukraine. With the liberation of Kherson and Lyman, the Ukrainian Defence Forces testified that Russian annexations are not an obstacle to de-occupation by military means. This principle also applies to Crimea. According to our military intelligence's estimate, Ukraine has every chance to return Crimea home.
DPI: Are there any concerns that western supply chains are struggling under the strains of critical material and munitions to Ukraine?
Bodnar: Yes, there are such concerns, because the reserves of the Western countries are not infinite, but there are still quite a lot of weapons in warehouses that Ukraine did not receive. Moreover, despite the existing deficit, there are other ways of helping Ukraine, such as the supply of humanitarian assistance, training, and medical recovery programmes. On the other hand, we and some western countries have taken decisions to significantly ramp up the production of ammunition.
DPI: Has Ukraine asked the US or UK how long it can sustain supplying weapons and munitions to Ukraine?
Bodnar: The Kremlin's efforts to significantly strengthen Russia's military machine will be a formidable military threat to its neighbours, including the whole of Europe, in the coming years, if it is not defeated on the battlefield of Ukraine. Taking into account the decisions regarding new large-scale supplies of tanks, artillery, armoured vehicles, and rockets for MLRS, and anti-aircraft systems, it indicates that our partners understand the importance of Ukraine's victory for European and global security. We are convinced that the US and the UK, as well as other allies, will continue to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes to win this war.