Sure enough, for the zombified TV watchers this might sound like something meaningful. But is it? Let's recall where the current Ukrainian military comes form by remembering what the Ukraine's military was at the moment this Soviet Republic became independent.
I have long destroyed my old archives and I simply did not want to scout the Internet for hours to find out what the Ukraine had inherited from the USSR. I knew that the Ukies had inherited what was called the "2nd strategic echelon" which translates into "not the newest weapons systems, but a lot of them". And today, I suddenly came across an interesting article in the Russian press which gave me exactly what I wanted: a description of what the armed forces of the independent Ukraine began with. As it turns out, the Ukraine had:
14 motorized rifle divisions.
4 tank divisions
3 artillery divisions
8 artillery brigades
4 Spetsnaz brigades
2 airborne brigade
7 attack helicopters regiments
3 air armies (about 1100 combat aircraft)
1 independent Air Defense Army
Not bad eh?
Today there are all sorts of figures thrown around about how big the Ukrainian military is, anywhere from several tens of thousands to a few hundred. It really all depends on what you count and how you count. We should stay clear from this kind of bean count and simply state the Ukrainian military is both unwilling and/or unable to crush a rebellion composed only of a few hundred armed men backed by a few thousand unarmed civilians (I am talking about the folks actually manning barricades and occupying buildings, not about sympathizers). In other words, the pro-Russian insurgency in the eastern Ukraine could be defeated with just one battalion of airborne troops. And yet, the regime cannot even muster that much.
There are two reasons. The first one is that there is a stream of consistent and mutually corroborating reports on the Runet (Russian Internet) which says that the pro-Russian insurgents and the Ukrainian servicemen simply do not want to shoot at each other, even when given the order to do so. Furthermore, they appear to be in regular contact with each other and there is an informal understanding that neither side will fire at the other.
The other reason is, of course, 22 years of "democracy". Keep in mind that only 9 years of democracy almost destroyed Russia which by 1998-9 was pretty close to a total collapse. Several factors contributed to avoid this outcome, first and foremost the nomination of Putin, but Russia came very, very close to simply disappearing as a unitary state. If democracy could do that to a giant like Russia in only 8-9 years, one can only imagine what it could do to a much smaller and weaker Ukraine over 22 years.
Keep in mind that if the military was simply neglected and abandoned, then the rest of the economy pro-actively pillaged by the oligarchs. Think Berezovsky, think Khodorkovsky, then multiply them by 10 or 20 and increase their period of malfeasance from 9 years to 22 years and it is outright amazing that there still is a little something left of the Ukrainian economy in 2014. True, most of that is located in the East and was kept on life support by Russian money. Still, I have to say that while I am most definitely not an admirer of the Soviet system, the fact that it took so long to truly obliterate the Ukraine is a testimony to the resilience and what I would call a "capital of momentum" left by the Soviet Union to its successor states. Even Russia survived the absolute horror of the 1990s only thanks to all the "momentum" it inherited from the USSR.
No wonder that so many people today are becoming nostalgic of the Soviet era - by a strange self-protection mechanism the human being remembers the good much better than the bad (anybody who has gone through bootcamp will attest to that). And it is undeniable that compared to the empty promises, and actual horrors, of democracy the Soviet system was much, much better.
What is clear now is that the Ukraine has eventually wasted all of what it had been given by the Soviet Union. There is no more momentum left. The Ukraine is at a full stop, and it is rapidly disintegrating.
So what about this idea of return to a conscript military?
It is, to put it mildly, of truly breathtaking stupidity. There is no other way of putting it.
First, and this might sound paradoxical, the Ukraine simply does not need a military at all, if only because it cannot afford one. In fact, a country is MUCH safer not having a military than having a useless one because the latter can always be used to justify an attack whereas a country without a military is extremely hard to attack, at least in political terms.
Then, it takes decades and huge sums of money to (re-)built a military. The Ukraine simply cannot afford that at all, so why bother?
Also, the military is not the correct tool to use to put down insurgents, not the Russian speakers in the East, not the Banderists in the West. That is a mission for Internal Troops which have a totally different training and equipment than the regular military. In other words, what the Ukraine needs first and foremost today are forces like the Berkut which the junta has destroyed.
Then consider the economy. How wise is it to pull out of the economy a large segment of young men precisely when they could be the most dynamic and productive? And for how long to do pull them out? It takes 4-6 months to train a solider. Then, a typical term of service would be no less than 6-12 months depending on your system. In other words, at the very least a young conscript would leave home and be pulled out of the market and the economy for a full year. Without a well-oiled system and legal framework this can be catastrophic.
Besides, what does a large, under-paid, under-fed, and under-trained force become? Slave labor for the generals. They can be used to make roads and build mansions, but as a combat force their value is zero.
Furthermore, what does a conscription look like in a country which is breaking apart? It looks like a free distribution of firearms.
Last but not least - Turchinov and Iatseniuk are kidding themselves: a bigger Ukrainian army by no means implies a less pro-Russian one. What is the point of creating a conscript army if all it does is increase the numbers of servicemen changing sides and helping the Russian-speakers? Did I mention that the biggest population centers are, of course, also in the East?
To put it bluntly: to propose to return to a conscript army for the Ukraine is nothing short of absolute and total lunacy. I can only wonder which crazies in the West gave Turchinov and Iatseniuk this crazy idea. McCain? Hillary? Kerry?
The good news is that this kind of lunacy shows that the leaders of the junta in power have completely lost any sense of reality and that every single measure they officially announce with great pomp and earnestness only makes their situation worse.
If this insanity continues at the same pace the end of Banderastan might be very near.