Operation UNIFIER: Reflections from the 2019 NATO – Ukrainian National Guard Professional Development Program

Captain Felix Odartey-Wellington speaks to National Guard of Ukraine (NGU) cadets about Strategic Communications at the National Academy of the National Guard of Ukraine in Kharkiv, Ukraine on May 22, 2019. Photo: NGU / Le capitaine Felix Odartey-Wellington s’adresse aux cadets de la Garde nationale ukrainienne (GNU) au sujet des communications stratégiques à l’académie nationale de la GNU à Kharkiv, en Ukraine, le 22 mai 2019. Photo : GNU

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Captain Felix Odartey-Wellington, Joint Task Force-Ukraine Public Affairs Officer

KHARKIV, UKRAINE. “In Donetsk I saw what insurgents achieved through the weaponisation of information,” Junior Lieutenant Sergeii Molotkov says through an interpreter on May 22, 2019. “What we learned here is important to face the challenges of that kind of warfare.”

The National Guard of Ukraine (NGU) Press Officer was a broadcast journalist in Donetsk. When insurgents took over his city and television station, he joined the army and later the NGU. He is one of ninety NGU officers and cadets participating in a NATO-Ukraine Professional Development Programme (PDP) supported by Operation UNIFIER at the NGU National Academy in Kharkiv.

Launched in 2015, Operation UNIFIER is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF’s) training mission to support the Security Forces of Ukraine, including the National Guard, which is a gendarmerie organisation. Working with international partners including NATO, UNIFIER seeks to help Ukraine remain sovereign, secure, and stable.

“Ukraine is a test case for the future of hybrid warfare combining kinetic, informational and various forms of unconventional warfare,” says Major Corey Anhorn, CAF Advisor to the NGU and one the organisers. “The CAF has a lot to contribute and learn here. Our partnership with the NGU in this regard is strong and that is why we are supporting the NATO PDP with resource persons.”

The PDP workshops cover subjects such as Strategic Communication, Spokesperson Training, Hybrid Warfare and Information Operations. Some of the officers like Molotkov have previously deployed in the Ukrainian Anti-Terrorist Operation and Joint Forces Operation (JFO) zones to secure or stabilise parts of the country after the start of conflicts in 2014, and they are very engaged in the workshops.

Molotkov’s evaluation of the programme is shared by his fellow Press Officers, Junior Lieutenants Bohdan Kondratov and Viktor Petrychenko. They all have recent experience in the conflict areas. “If we don’t provide the facts, our adversaries will provide alternative narratives,” observes Kondratov. “The workshops will help us prepare our commanders better as spokespersons and to also coordinate communication between the different security forces operating in the JFO zones.” For his part, Petrychenko says: “From the workshops we can see how Strategic Communication can be better integrated into operational planning.”

Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Tikhov, a senior NGU Press Officer is participating in the workshops and has also deployed in both ATO and JFO zones. He comments that: “These workshops did well to create awareness for potential NGU commanders. It is also important that Operation UNIFIER was able to provide military resource persons who could speak about Strategic Communications in a military context.”

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