Oct 21, 2021
Interview by Serhii Kuzan
Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center
Commander of the Special Operations Forces Hryhoriy Halahan is an outstanding example of a new generation of Ukrainian commanders who took oath in times of Ukraine’s independence and have a qualitatively different mindset. From 2002 to 2014, Hryhoriy Anatoliyovych served at the SSU Center for Special Operations “Alpha” in Simferopol and was one of 10% of Crimean SSU officers who did not betray the oath with the onslaught of the occupation of the peninsula.
He survived the Russian-Ukrainian war, was awarded the Order of Courage of the 3rd degree and the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky of the 3rd degree. In August 2020, Hryhoriy Halahan was appointed Commander of the Special Operations Forces. More than a year has passed since then, and Major General Halagan, like the SOF itself, has something to be proud of.
— What did you do when Russia unleashed military aggression against Ukraine?
— After the first rotations in the combat zone in the east of Ukraine, I was invited to participate in creating a special volunteer unit of the Security Service of Ukraine, one of the combat departments of the Special Operations Center. Later I headed it. During the four years of the anti-terrorist operation, and then the Joint Forces Operation until 2019, I already had served as head of the department and deputy head of the Special Operations Center of the SSU.
— How did you return to the Special Operations Forces?
— In 2015, I was wounded in combat missions. I did not receive a big compensation for rehabilitation because of the ongoing war, so I had to serve as the deputy head of the Center.
In 2019, the then-Commander-in-Chief offered me to return to the Special Operations Forces and I agreed. And so I found myself here as the Chief of Staff. A year ago I was appointed Commander of the Special Operations Forces.
— How did the SOF become an example to follow?
— First of all, we changed the approach to selection in our Training Center. It is now called a Q-course, or a qualification course. Our partner countries call it the same. Of course, those servicemen who have undergone some training can join it. The requirements for the SOF operator are quite high and the operator can later get into various situations where he needs to make quick decisions, be qualified and able to
provide medical care to his fellow soldier. The best warrior for us is the one able to react quickly to rapidly changing situations.
— Are NATO countries interested in the Ukrainian experience?
— The Special Operations Forces are the youngest but most modern branch of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It was formed during the war. Of course, since 2014, our servicemen have received significant experience in combat operations, which is appreciated by our partners.
— How do the SOF cooperate with NATO and what joint activities are carried out?
— At a certain stage, in 2014, 2015, 2016, we were assisted even at the tactical level, including logistics. We could not carry on without partners at all. Thanks to the rogue government that existed until 2014, the Armed Forces experienced a collapse, so to say. Now with some experience, we are already reaching the level of partners who can provide some advisory assistance. And in some matters, we are even better as we are constantly involved in combat activities. Not all countries take part in hostilities, so I believe that we are already moving to the “par in parem” level. Ukraine is becoming an equal partner.
One of the units of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is already on combat duty as part of the NATO Response Force. This means that it fully complies with NATO standards and implies full synchronization – from the personnel’s knowledge of all procedures in special operations planning to the compatibility of equipment, weapons, and gear.
And in the future, by 2024-2025, I plan that each unit of each center will be able to run shifts in the NATO Response Force.
We hold joint events on a regular basis. Speaking about collective activities, we had the international exercise SILVER SABER – 21, where one of the units was undergoing the NATO assessment. Moreover, we held competitions for the best special operations group, and judges and some partners had already participated in the organization of these competitions. It is planned to hold competitions among snipers and sniper groups. There are already some entrants from partner countries.
— Given the SOF example, what reforms can you call successful?
— This is, firstly, the reform of the sergeant staff. When I was a young officer, one could become a junior sergeant through some personal relationship with the commander. Moreover, a person did not influence certain processes taking place. Now the requirements for sergeants are quite high. To become a sergeant, the commander’s wish is not enough. That is, you need to take a course and confirm your qualifications for the position.
Moreover, the reform of monetary support for sergeants is ongoing. It is just in the plans. There is already a full draft of this reform. I hope that from January 1, it will be approved so that a sergeant remains a sergeant. That a sergeant becomes a leader, a mentor, a facilitator, a supporter for his subordinates. These are the main aspects. Regarding the Special Operations Forces, the transition to the j-structure is important. If we now take a SOF unit, all headquarters have now switched to the j-structure, from the detachment to the command.
In fact, you can go to any j-structure office and you will understand that the planning and organization procedures already meet 70-80% of the standards set by NATO partners and partners who help us in organizing headquarters. That is, I believe that the SOF is the locomotive for the transformation into a NATO structure.
We have our distinctive nature. Again, I’m speaking in terms that we are in combat. But in the meantime, our structure is effective in these conditions. As my experience of being in other countries has shown, we are on the right track.
— What can you say to those Western analysts who claim the failure of military reforms in Ukraine?
— Let’s answer honestly, one cannot do everything starting from 2014, especially in times of war. Moreover, I believe that there were some efforts until 2014, but they were suppressed. We know why. We will not repeat these mistakes. It was not interesting either to the Russian Federation or to those who were in power and pursued a pro-Russian policy. Therefore, we reject it. Starting from 2014, we can talk about some reforms. And since the war was in an active phase in 2014-2015, with this constant informational and hybrid influence, it was usually difficult to implement certain aspects. You know how huge the work is. This is a doctrinal basis. These are statutes, instructions and legal acts. And if we now take the General Staff, then in fact by the end of this year all the doctrinal documents have been worked out. All this starts from the institutional and legislative framework. I personally passed two laws. I think I am a record holder in this regard in terms of the SOF’s achievements over the year.
I think the reforms are ongoing and they will continue to be so. And the generation that is already coming to leadership positions, for example, all my unit commanders know English fluently. This was one of the criteria for their appointment. Because if the unit commander knows a foreign language, then I think his deputies and subordinates will try to learn a foreign language. Now we give all opportunities to servicemen of the Special Operations Forces to learn languages. Our Estonian partners organize many courses for us constantly. The Lithuanians and our local national university of defense of Ukraine carry out courses constantly. If there’s a will, language can be learned. Again, we’re dealing with the question of NATO certification. Knowledge of the language is a must. You can work at NATO headquarters in different ways, but you will not work there if you do not understand what they are talking about. You will not be able to make an effective decision or organize the work properly.
— What is the SOF’s role in implementing the national resistance in Ukraine? How will the SOF be further involved in patriotic education?
— Under the Law, the SOF is a key branch of the Armed Forces of Ukraine responsible for preparing and organizing the resistance movement. We are given the right on those legal grounds to provide social protection for the people engaged in it, as well as to organize the order of the resistance movement and the holding of certain events. Moreover, we have almost 130 administrative districts and no one guarantees the absence of the threat of invasion and further escalation by the Russian Federation. We must be prepared in every region. Both in those occupied and not. The issue of organizing resistance there is an important point and a major aspect of our activities. And this function is assigned to the Special Operations Forces, so we must perform it in the legal field. Everything is under the law. Provisions on the resistance movement will be outlined. Of course, this is confidential information and I have no right to disclose the details, but I have put this process in one of the key places. The formation and development, as well as protection of people who are already involved. That is a priority for me.
The SOF also participates in national education. We hold certain events. We conduct classes with young people and with the territorial defense. We have experience in conducting practical classes. I guess, our experience is the biggest in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We have our own approaches. In addition to organizing sports events, even here in the stadium with children, we have oversight over children’s institutions for summer rest. And we have plans for further development. We are already talking about a lyceum or college related to the topic of special operations forces. Therefore, we will move in this direction and show our active stance.
— How do you see the SOF’s future?
— These are powerful Armed Forces that are members of NATO and carry out missions around the world.