How NATO members train Ukraine for the spring offensive?

A senior Ukrainian diplomat has stated that he is “satisfied” with the progress of Ukrainian troops being trained abroad by NATO countries as the vanguard of Kyiv’s planned spring offensive.

Kyiv’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, told reporters at a Media Center Ukraine news conference on Wednesday that Ukrainian troops are adopting specialized skills from NATO and partner nations to use against Russian troops in Kyiv’s next push.

“The most efficient is the progress of the special forces that will carry out those counter-offensive operations in Ukraine,” Prystaiko said, responding to a question about the status of Kyiv units being trained in the UK. “I am satisfied with what I have seen,” the ambassador said of his visits to British military training centers.

“Great Britain invited instructors from different countries,” added Prystaiko. “Canada, and countries like New Zealand and Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Baltics – they all sent instructors to train our staff.”

“And each country transfers some very special knowledge. For example, instructors from Finland teach our military how to wage war in the snow, in winter conditions.”

Since last summer, some 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers have passed through UK training camps, and the British government announced earlier this month that another 20,000 – including sailors and pilots – would receive training this year. Infantry, tank crews, and artillery teams are among those receiving training in the UK, Prystaiko said.

The UK and its NATO allies are trying to train Ukrainian soldiers to NATO standards in order to outperform their Russian adversaries. Since 2015, the United States has trained some 23,000 Ukrainian soldiers. 

US instructors have also trained nearly 3,100 Ukrainian troops in the use of advanced weapons such as howitzers, multiple-launch rocket systems, and armored vehicles since the full-scale invasion of Russia began last year. More Kyiv soldiers will need Western training as more NATO weapons are sent to Ukraine. 

This week, for example, the first Ukrainian tank crews began learning how to use German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks in Polish training camps. Kyiv hopes these platforms will play a role in its upcoming spring offensive.

New 155mm caliber howitzers will soon arrive in Ukraine, Prystaiko said on Wednesday. 

The main engagements of the war to date have been marked by intense artillery duels, with the Ukrainians often outgunned and both sides thirsty for more shells. “Ukraine needs many,” the ambassador said, “and our staff is being trained on them very intensively.”

The war has hardly been fought at sea, given Russia’s naval dominance; however, this has not prevented Moscow from suffering several high-profile and humiliating losses, such as the sinking of the Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva.

Ukrainian forces have resorted to asymmetric weaponry, trying to drive Russian warships offshore using aerial and naval drones, ballistic missiles, and other long-range fires. Ukrainian sailors are currently receiving training in Belgium in the use of underwater drones, while Prystaiko stated on Wednesday that Ukrainian sailors are also preparing to receive Australian military vessels.

The United States has already included ships in its previous aid packages to Ukraine. Last summer, the Pentagon said it would send more than 20 Metal Shark military vessels, and in November, it announced the supply of 40 armored riverboats.

So far, the Ukrainian leadership has not procured NATO-made fighter jets, but the British government announced last week that it would start training Ukrainian pilots on Western platforms.

Prystaiko told reporters on Wednesday that the UK “is clearly the leader in some processes, and they put pressure on other countries to make these kinds of decisions regarding the supply of arms and weapons to Ukraine.”

Kyiv has been aware of the need to train its military pilots for “years,” Prystaiko said, adding: “That is why we have already reached an understanding and started training our pilots before the political decision is made… Our British allies said they will prepare Ukrainian pilots for fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.”

Ukrainian leadership continues to push for fighter jets, and Kyiv has made an official request to the Dutch government for US-made F-16 jets.

The Dutch government is taking the request “very seriously,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said this week.

“We have to discuss it with our partners and the United States,” he said. “It will take time, and it is better to do it behind closed doors.”

President Joe Biden poured cold water on the US’s proposed supply of F-16s in January, though reports indicate talks between the White House and Kyiv are continuing behind closed doors. British and French leaders have also suggested that the supply of Western-made fighter jets remains open.

Ukrainian officers have consistently expressed confidence that the fighters will eventually get the green light, insisting that their supply is a matter of Western political will rather than logistical or tactical adequacy.