Profilbild Andreas Berg
Andreas Berg 18 januari / 2022

Delivering Security Sector Reform under the threat of invasion in Ukraine

If it is indeed true that ’life imitates art far more than art imitates life’ (credit to Oscar Wilde), then the art form at play in Ukraine these days is surrealism. At least, this is how I felt as I prepared to leave Kyiv in December.

Bild på en gata i Kiev med byggnader och trottoar. Fotograf Andreas Berg.
Kreschatyk Street i Kiev, december 2021. Foto: Andreas Berg

I had spent almost three years as Coordination & Cooperation Officer at EUAM Ukraine, one of several FBA colleagues seconded to several international institutions active in Ukraine. Why such a sense of unreality? It is simply not every day that your daily work takes place in a country surrounded on three sides by military formations appearing to prepare for an invasion, for one thing.

Russian troops preparing

Even a casual follower of international politics will, at this point, have noted the continuing presence of Ukraine and Russia in their news feed or nightly news broadcast. The fact is that upwards of circa 100,000 (and continuing to grow) Russian troops have taken key positions surrounding Ukraine’s borders and on already occupied Ukrainian territories, arranged in an offensive posture, and prepared for an invasion.

A similar buildup in March/April 2021 de-escalated without incident, but the current one appears more comprehensive and linked to specific grievances against Ukraine and NATO members. The threat of force generates almost unanimous concern among dedicated analysts, journalists, think tanks, and other voices of opinion, all viewing the topic of Ukraine, Russia, Eastern Europe, or NATO expansion from their own particular political or ideological viewpoint. All pose the same question: Will Russia invade Ukraine? At the moment, the question remains unclear.

Reforming the civilian security sector

My consideration of this question came as I prepared to leave my position (and my home) and wrap up my contributions to hundreds of other European and Ukrainian colleagues’ work to advise and assist Ukrainian efforts to reform its civilian security sector.

As Coordination & Cooperation Officer, this work consists mainly of a seldom discussed but critical aspect of our international efforts: ensuring that all forms of assistance delivered by international institutions, development aid organisations, and individual countries follow a coordinated, harmonised process.

In the best cases, it allows multiple actors to advocate for and deliver reforms (through strategic advice, training or equipment) with one voice, greatly amplifying their effectiveness. Such work is highly technical and structured and can, for example, involve making sure that a European, American, and Canadian police adviser use the same definitions or curricula while training Ukrainian Domestic Violence response units.

Continuing the international support

The basis for our invitation from Ukraine to provide this support is clear, as is the task at hand. The mission is to strengthen and reform Ukrainian law enforcement and security institutions and assist their transition from Soviet-style top-down instruments of state power to responsive institutions structured to serve ordinary Ukrainians’ public good and human security needs.

In terms of the current political tensions in Ukraine, this work has not changed. On the contrary, it has continued during the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last two years (a viral invasion we have all come to adapt to with various levels of success). And, as we like to say at FBA, Security Sector Reform is a technical process taking place in a political context. In this case, the political context includes Ukraine’s wish to build a closer relationship with Europe and align its approaches to peace, security, justice, public safety, anti-corruption, and human rights with its neighbours to the West.

Remembering past conflicts

Bearing this in mind, advisers and partners in Ukraine best accept the situation and carry on working as long as it is safe to do so. In my case, this reminds me of other ’surreal’ moments in my career.

As FBA’s SSR Advisor in Kosovo from 2014-2016, I once spent my morning navigating past active street battles between anti-government protestors and riot police, avoiding clouds of tear gas and burning rubbish containers to enter my office in the basement of the government building. Later on, stone-throwing broke several windows, and Molotov cocktails started small fires outside the building. I remember casually discussing the possible use of escape tunnels with colleagues, should the building be stormed.

However, on the same day, I could step to a parallel street, drink a coffee, and pay my utility bill without noticing the uncontrolled situation 200 meters away. That situation was not unique; conflict and violence seldom resemble the kind of grand cinematic events we see in films or on TV, all-encompassing and immersive as an experience.

Violence and nightlife

The violence and threats of conflict occur in everyday life. Kyiv’s famous nightlife and cafe scene roll along like usual, even as city officials test air raid shelters and warning sirens, and self-defence militias are formed to train ordinary citizens to resist an attack. The same is the case for our continued work as FBA colleagues to provide advice, training, and support to our partners in Ukraine.

I would not attempt to compete with lifelong experts on this part of the world to tell you what will happen in Ukraine, except on one key point: neither the experts, nor I, nor you, know what will happen. Ukrainians will remind you that they have lived under threat and in active conflict with their neighbours since they rejected Russian influence in Ukraine through the Maidan revolution over eight years ago. Perhaps they need less mental preparation for an escalating conflict than many of us.

However, to those not in Ukraine, I would offer one piece of advice: acknowledge the thin line between the unthinkable and the plausible, even in 2022, and only 2 hours flight time from Sweden. I certainly hope that is the most we have to do.

av Andreas Berg
Profilbild Andreas Berg

Skrivet av Andreas Berg

Andreas Berg has worked for FBA in several capacities since 2010, including as Political Adviser, Security Sector Reform Advisor, Strategic Planner, and Coordination & Cooperation Officer, in locations including Kosovo, Georgia, Brussels, and Ukraine. From 2022 he is working as Security Sector Reform Specialist for FBA, based in Stockholm and focusing on the Western Balkans.

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