Lecturers won't teach you this. What could Western armies learn from fighting in Ukraine

Politically, it is nearly impossible to justify direct intervention in a high-intensity conflict with significant human losses to voters. Opposition arguing against "our guys dying somewhere in the Donetsk or Tauride steppes" would likely hold a winning position in the debate and garner greater sympathy from the electorate. However, if we put aside the political context and focus solely on military rationale for deploying troops in Ukraine, there are compelling arguments in favor.

Читати українською.

The West needs experience on the battlefield

Despite Emmanuel Macron's bellicose rhetoric about sending troops to Ukraine, the likelihood of seeing tank and armored cavalry squadrons (the central tactical units in the French army) on our frontlines is slim. Instead, we are talking about the Foreign Legion. Similarly, other countries willing to follow France's example are also likely to opt for private military companies or units predominantly staffed by personnel from third countries, a choice deemed less "toxic" and politically contentious.

The Russian-Ukrainian confrontation is often compared to the Spanish Civil War. Let the word "civil war" not trigger the analogy: here, as in Spain, ideologies, values, military equipment, and other defense developments of countries in fierce confrontation clashed.

It was a kind of preview of the Second World War, when left-wing volunteers from all over Europe fought in inter brigades on the side of the Republicans, and expeditionary corps from Germany, Italy, and Portugal, where right-wing dictatorships ruled at the time fought on the side of the Francoists.

Today, when talk of the possibility of a major war between Russia and NATO is becoming more and more frequent, it is entirely appropriate to compare Ukraine in the 2020s with Spain in the 1930s as a theater of war. A direct clash with the enemy is worth thousands of command and staff exercises, closed and open defense forums, roundtables, security forums, etc.

Simply put, by fighting in Ukraine with limited contingents, Western countries can best study the enemy's tactics and strategy and prepare to repel future aggression.

The obvious strengths of the Russian army should be understood: it is a monolith with unified weapons, military equipment, and ammunition. They have established an effective use of division-army formations (as the Avdiivka operation showed).

The Ukrainian army, which is confronting this monolith, has a very diverse set of weapons, from the remnants of Soviet weapons to the latest ones received from different countries. In the case of repulsing Russian aggression, NATO will also face the need to integrate various weapons and equipment. The better this interaction is practiced, the less chances the enemy will have.

Training is not enough

The very fact of foreign military presence in Ukraine, which in 2022 seemed like something out of the realm of fantasy, is now gradually becoming a new reality. We know more or less how this can be useful for Ukraine. But what do our partners get? I'm not going to throw around big phrases like "defense of democracy", "common European values", and "the right side of history", although these are true.

However, for most of the military, these are empty talks of politicians. Meanwhile, the army has always been interested only in practice and real things. Here, we can talk about the most important thing our partners can get - the invaluable experience of a modern war against a strong enemy.

As one foreign officer once told me: "I have never participated in an exercise where our army would have lost". And that's the problem with any training - you can do as much modeling, simulation, or imitation as you want. However, no training can convey the real course of hostilities, especially against an enemy like Russia.

NATO's largest exercise, Steadfast Defender 24, is underway, and we've already seen many beautiful photos of "resolve and effectiveness". With all due respect to our esteemed partners, I would like to ask how they will fight when flocks of drones are flying in the sky, KABs and hundreds of artillery shells explode every hour, and the enemy does not count losses, sending wave after wave in meaty assaults. High precision does not work due to strong electronic warfare countermeasures.


When was the last time the fictional Bundeswehr repelled a mechanized attack similar to the first days of the offensive on Avdiivka? And when did it use those Tauruses?

And I haven't even mentioned NATO's main problem: interoperability. Because they have a lot of different systems that are not always "friends" with each other (somewhere the deputy for armament of a Ukrainian mechanized brigade, which may have several dozen different models of equipment from around the world with a difference of several generations between them, laughed out loud)," says Oleh, an artillery officer in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, a participant in combat operations and several international exercises with NATO countries.

For example, our deputy sergeants have already learned to put different equipment into service and deal with other ammunition. A knowledgeable and experienced Ukrainian mortar sergeant can give a fascinating lecture on working with varying powders for mines from the same mortar.


An air defense officer - on how to repel combined attacks by drones and missiles of different classes.

A Special Forces officer - on operations in the deep operational rear of Russian troops and the destruction of logistics in the "great railroad state." However, lectures will not ensure comprehensive preparation of the army for the next war.

Our war is unlike any other in recent history.

The conflicts in which NATO countries took part after World War II were like "colonial wars," when Western armies had an unconditional technical superiority over the enemy.

In Iraq, the Anglo-American coalition was confronted by Saddam Hussein's "small Soviet army," in Afghanistan by Taliban paramilitary units with light infantry weapons, and in Yugoslavia, it was a matter of complete air superiority over the air defense system of Milosevic's army. Russia is a much stronger enemy, and this is a challenge to all military thinking in the free world.


Perhaps the direct participation of Western military units in our war will help create the technological advantage over the enemy that Valery Zaluzhny wrote about in his article for The Economist. This advantage will allow us to stop the enemy in Ukraine, thus making it impossible for him to advance further in Europe.

They will be better prepared for the next war after our 'training ground

"Teams from different countries (I've read about Israel) are already studying our experience of using marine drones. This war has turned everything upside down and caused a change in strategy and tactics. It turned out, for example, that the same aviation with dense air defense is not a factor of victory. It turned out that millions of rounds of ammunition were needed to wage a continental war, not a colonial one.

The fact that strike drones have become a real factor was also a discovery for them. Western armies need to study all this. Let them study it. They will be better prepared for the next war after our 'training ground'," says Olena Bilozerska, an officer in the Ukrainian army.

Boost your own confidence

In addition to war's technical and tactical aspects, the moral and psychological component is no less critical. After the Second World War, the USSR and then Russia created the myth of an "invincible and legendary army" and, admittedly, not without success.

Suppose we recall the forecasts before the full-scale invasion, when the duration of Ukrainian resistance was estimated at two weeks. In that case, we can see that the capabilities of Putin's army are greatly overestimated in the West. Today, if you look at the government's "risk analysis for civilian protection" published in the German newspaper Bild, a clash with the Russian army in Germany is assessed as an inevitable catastrophe with an invasion of German territory that should end with "a ceasefire agreement no sooner than a few months later."

This is a disappointing forecast. What is most disconcerting about it is the absence of a scenario for a counterattack by NATO troops, the encirclement of Russian forces, and a liberation campaign in East Prussia.

This pessimism is born when the enemy army is considered solid and invincible. This was the case with the Wehrmacht in World War II: before the Battle of Stalingrad, few believed that the army machine that had conquered Europe and reached the Volga River could be defeated, forced to retreat and seize the strategic initiative.

The Western armies needed a successful landing in Normandy to believe in their strength. Similarly, today, the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance need to learn from their own experience that the Russians have their vulnerabilities, that they can be beaten, that their kilometer-long armored columns can be stopped, that their "elite" airborne divisions can be dispersed, that their missiles and aircraft "have no analogs."

If the military of Western armies experience this firsthand, they will have a completely different perception of the enemy.

"The specifics of participating in a new generation of warfare are drones, FPVs, Eagles, the destruction of the myth of the invincibility of the "valiant" Russian troops in the minds of the people, understanding the tactics and strategy of the occupation forces for their further destruction. It should also be noted that the use of scorched earth tactics and war crimes by the horde will be able to eliminate illusions about negotiations, truces, and trust in promises and agreements.

This is extremely useful when considering plans for counter-strategies and the use of the principles of humanism backed by international conventions and guiding documents. The enemy, with its inhuman methods of warfare, will free the hands of Western military formations to use forces and means to localize and destroy their positions, logistics routes, headquarters, bases, and military infrastructure," said one of the officers of the 54th Hetman Ivan Mazepa Mechanized Brigade.

We pay a terrible price for our experience. Instead, our partners just need to come and get it with little or no hassle

Professional military officers cannot help but feel interested in the Ukrainian experience and want to put it into practice.

"We pay a terrible price for our experience. Instead, our partners just need to come and get it with little or no hassle. And it's not that French soldiers should be on the front line tomorrow. Mine clearance, air defense, logistics, operations planning, intelligence, development and use of various unmanned and robotic systems, software development, communications, and medicine - there are many areas where the Armed Forces have unique knowledge that can be transferred away from the front. I am sure, or rather I know, that the military is well aware of this. After all, it is in their interests.

Now the main thing is that they manage to convince their politicians and explain it to the citizens. Preferably as soon as possible. Because unfortunately, it seems that everything is heading towards a major war in Europe, and now is the last opportunity for Western countries to prepare for Russian aggression.

It is also worth mentioning that our enemies are also well aware of this, which is why the Russians are actively sharing the experience of the "SVO" with their allies - Syrian artillerymen are firing under the guidance of Russian instructors, Hamas is using drops from quadcopters, and Hezbollah is training to hit the enemy with FPV drones," says artilleryman Oleh.

Putin's policy has always been to test what is permissible. He has already accepted the fact that the West is ready to support Ukraine with weapons and finance. However, the direct participation of French or any other regular NATO troops in battles against the Russian army would be a kind of cold shower for him: no one seriously fears his army and is ready to humiliate it in a direct clash.

The next manifestation of proactivity would be to move the war to the territory of the Russian Federation along with the parallel development of national liberation movements of the peoples subjugated by Moscow, as well as the fracturing of the Caucasus and the Volga region. However, the next step, which seems unrealistic today, will be discussed tomorrow as a completely workable scenario.

This article was originally written in Ukrainian. It has been translated into English using AI tools such as DeepL, ChatGPT, and Grammarly. If you encounter an error that requires immediate attention, please inform us via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Your understanding and support are appreciated.

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