NATO soldiers are already in Ukraine for arms control, intelligence operations and training |

Emmanuel Macron broke the taboo this February. NATO assists Ukraine in practically every possible area, from providing weapons and information on Russian targets and flying enemy bombers to training thousands of Ukrainian troops in Europe. But until the French president suggested it, no one had dared to propose that soldiers of the Atlantic Alliance take action to stop the Kremlin from its invasion. Macron has not only opened a debate, his words have also served to confirm that there are already military personnel from NATO countries on Ukrainian soil, although without taking part in combat operations.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on the 8th at a conference in Warsaw: “There are already NATO soldiers in Ukraine, and I want to thank the embassies that have taken this risk. Unlike other politicians, I will not say what countries they are,” Sikorski said. The last sentence was a criticism of the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who at the end of February revealed that British and French soldiers are in Ukraine. Scholz argued that his Government would not provide Kiev with its long-range Taurus missiles because it would require, as has happened with the British-French Storm Shadow / Scalp rockets, to send military technicians to program these weapons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) greets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 16.Anadolu (Anadolu via Getty Images)

The presence of soldiers from NATO countries in Ukraine is nothing new. Pentagon spokesman General Pat Ryder confirmed in October 2022 that the United States had military representatives assigned to supervise the supply of weapons. In confidential Pentagon documents leaked in April 2023, the US Department of Defense indicated that five countries of the Atlantic Alliance – the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and the Netherlands – had nearly a hundred special forces in their embassies in the country.

The Czech president, Petr Pavel, a retired general and former president of the NATO military committee, recalled in a television interview on March 10 that the soldiers of the Atlantic Alliance have been present in Ukraine for more than a decade, not in combat units, but as trainers of the army of this country. Pavel was referring to the Yavoriv base, near the border with Poland, where an agreement between NATO and kyiv has allowed a thousand soldiers from 15 countries to pass through it, according to Pavel. The Czech president stressed that military training programs on Ukrainian soil were active when Russia annexed Crimea by force in 2014 and during the Donbas war, started by pro-Russian separatists and with the support of Moscow. The Yavoriv base was bombed in March 2022. Ukrainian authorities indicated that 61 soldiers lost their lives, while Russia raised the number to 180, many of them foreign soldiers.

Informants in the field

Luke Coffey, a researcher at the Hudson Institute, a US center for analysis of international and defense policy, sees it as difficult for US military personnel to be able to move freely through Ukraine: “I would be very surprised if US troops have freedom of movement to move around the country to monitor the situation. I know that US Embassy staff even need a permit to go to Odessa. And before 2022, American instructors were not allowed to go east of the Dnipro River, I doubt they can now.”

Olga Husieva, a researcher at the Institute of Security Policy at the University of Kiel, differs from Coffey and assumes that there are envoys from Ukraine’s allied defense ministries collecting data on the ground. According to her assessment, they can obtain fundamental knowledge to improve the preparation of their armies and the use of their weapons; They may also have the mission of ensuring that there are no weapons that end up on the black market, as happened after the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 of the Western coalition led by the United States. “It is also no secret that there have been troop instructors in the country since the beginning of the invasion,” adds Husieva.

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The expert emphasizes that, above all, these are private government initiatives, although she highlights that there is coordination between the United States and the United Kingdom, and of these two, although to a lesser extent, with Poland and the Baltic countries. This expert warns that Germany is being withdrawn from this cooperation due to fear of infiltration by Russian spies into its intelligence services. Lukasz Maslanka, a researcher at the Polish Center for Eastern Studies, also believes that “there is probably coordination and mutual transmission of information, but each country makes its own decisions.”

Coffey concedes: “There may be limited, technical reasons for having NATO personnel on Ukrainian territory, but it should be avoided. “Suppliing it with civilian professionals would be better.” Husieva points out that the case of the Storm Shadow missiles cannot be the only one, and assumes that NATO instructors will be assigned to Ukraine when the first American F-16 fighters arrive this year. She will also, she indicates, increase collaboration with the use of artificial intelligence to coordinate attacks. For this researcher from the University of Kiel, in addition to the possible presence of engineers who monitor the entry into service of advanced weapons, it is always necessary for military personnel to be present. The Ukrainian president himself, Volodymyr Zelensky, gave as an example the 11th in The world the possibility of French Caesar howitzers and German Leopard tanks being repaired and produced in Ukraine with inevitable military assistance on the ground.

Maslanka agrees with Husieva that the call by political leaders like Macron for the participation of NATO soldiers in Ukraine is above all a strategy to not be intimidated by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin: “It is about causing a dilemma for Putin and adding a new risk factor. Husieva says that he sees it as “very possible” that a coalition of countries made up of the United Kingdom, Poland and the Baltic States will reach an agreement to be in Ukraine in the future. Coffey, on the other hand, believes that it would be a serious mistake in the face of the Republican unblocking of US military aid: “There are many Republicans worried about the United States entering a new eternal war. Ukraine supporters argue that will not be the case because there are no American troops fighting, and Macron counterproductively suggests that NATO troops could be deployed.”

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