NewsWestern troops head to Ukraine: A controversial training mission

Western troops head to Ukraine: A controversial training mission

A Ukrainian soldier during training in June 2024. Western instructors are soon to be sent to Ukraine.
A Ukrainian soldier during training in June 2024. Western instructors are soon to be sent to Ukraine.
Images source: © Getty Images

12:43 PM EDT, June 12, 2024

This marks a significant breakthrough: for the first time, Western soldiers will head to Ukraine to train Ukrainians. The decision is raising concerns in Germany and other countries. "Soon, once it becomes clear that this has not triggered NATO's Article 5 or World War III, everyone will see this as a reasonable move," says U.S. military professor Jahara Matisek to o2.pl.

The initiative came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who announced over the weekend that within a few days, France would form an alliance to send the first Western soldiers to Ukraine as military instructors. Earlier, in February, Macron broke a taboo by becoming the first Western leader to state that he didn't rule out sending troops to Ukraine.

For participation in the coalition, Macron invited several countries: the Baltic states, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden. He didn't disclose which countries accepted the invitation but assured: "We are not alone, and in the coming days, we will launch the coalition."

According to "Le Monde," several hundred instructors may initially be sent to Ukraine. Macron's plan is praised by Jahara Matisek, a military professor at the Naval War College, a research institution belonging to the U.S. Navy. "Placing soldiers from the U.S., Canada, or European countries west of the Dnieper River should be the minimum plan. They could, for example, go to a training center in Lviv. That would be a good first step," says Matisek, a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force on active duty and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to o2.pl.

"Soon, once it becomes apparent that this has not triggered NATO's Article 5 or World War III, everyone will see this as a reasonable move. Currently, Ukrainian soldiers need to be sent for training in European countries, which is a huge burden in terms of time and resources," he adds.

Russia threatens, Matisek reassures: "A simple reason"

The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday that Brussels is" resistant" to Paris's initiative and that "most EU countries would oppose training in Ukraine."

For example, Germany, which Macron did not invite to join the coalition, is reportedly concerned that training in Ukraine would create a "risk of escalation and drag the West deeper into the war." Italy and Spain are also reportedly expressing similar concerns.

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergei Lavrov, has already stated that Western instructors in Ukraine would be a "legitimate target" for Russia.

"I don't buy all these 'red lines' drawn by the Kremlin. Suppose, purely hypothetically, that there are soldiers from Poland in a training center in Lviv. I wouldn't worry about an attack from Russia on such a location. Why? For a simple reason - Russia understands how escalation management works. And in the event of such an attack, it would be Russia that causes the escalation," says Matisek.

"Besides, regardless of which European forces are present in Ukraine, they will certainly have a strong anti-missile defense system. So there will be absolute certainty that there will be no accidental attacks," he adds.

Matisek does not rule out that Western soldiers might eventually end up on the front lines in Ukraine, but he points out that such a scenario is "very, very distant." When could this happen? "If Russia, despite warnings - as communication channels are open, behind-the-scenes talks are ongoing between the U.S. and Moscow, and warnings are being issued - started opening more fronts. That would make it easier for the West to decide."

When asked about the flaws in the West's current strategy, Matisek emphasizes that "he wouldn't call it a mistake, but the West - especially Washington and Berlin - has long done what it could to avoid any escalation." "Of course, we can be pessimists and constantly assume that we are on the brink of World War III. But we would be allowing Putin to blackmail us. And we cannot view such important issues as peace and stability in Europe in that way," he said.

Training of Ukrainian soldiers
Training of Ukrainian soldiers© Getty Images | Dmytro Larin

He also stressed that he does not fear that the deployment of instructors in Ukraine will lead to escalation, because "every time Russia decides to take a step, it receives a response from the U.S." - A great example was recently - last month the Russians opened a new front in the Kharkiv region. In response, the Americans allowed the Ukrainians to attack targets in Russia with American weapons," he said.

Joe Biden gave permission for attacks in Russia at the end of May. However, it applies only to targets "just across the border," as Russia attacks the Kharkiv area from these border regions.

Ukrainian tank during exercises
Ukrainian tank during exercises© Getty Images | Ukrinform / Future Publishing

"No one is talking about sending NATO troops to the front. We're not even talking about a NATO mission. It's about training soldiers in the much safer western part of Ukraine," he concludes.

War in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has been ongoing for nearly two years. When will it end? "I expect it to end within the next year or two," says Matisek.

"The tipping point may come when Russians from the cities get mobilized for the war. Not many residents of Moscow or St. Petersburg are going to war right now. If that changes, it could lead to a collapse in Russia," he adds.

He also mentions that both the U.S. and European countries underestimated the threat from Russia for too long. In his opinion, only Poland and the Baltic states, countries closest to Russia, recognized the dangers.

"Europe was unprepared for what came. But Poland knew that the Russians would return to their imperial policies. About a year and a half ago, I visited an airbase in Poznań. Whenever I talk to Poles, they point out that Americans have considered Poles to be Russophobes for years. And now they can say: 'Didn't we tell you?'" he declared.

Jahara Matisek
Jahara Matisek© Licensor

Advice for Poland and other countries on NATO's eastern flank? "Now, the most important thing is deterrence. You need to invest heavily in weapons, systems, and training. Russia must know that you have a much better army, much better trained, and much more effective than theirs," Matisek stated.

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