Volunteer battalions of the MIA may come under the control of the Defense Ministry

Volunteer battalions of the MIA may come under the control of the Defense Ministry
Photo: Reuters

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Presidential Administration (PA) cannot agree on the future of the MIA volunteer battalions. The publication’s source in the PA says the draft decree on the transfer of battalions under control of the Defense Ministry has been prepared for fear of the use of law enforcers in political moves.

Battalions to remain

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov started the process of transferring part of the MIA special volunteer battalions under control of the National Guard. The Azov volunteer regiment was the first, as Avakov reported yesterday. “We started the roundout of the regiment to the combat standard of brigades of the National Guard in terms of arms and equipment,” said the minister. Avakov said soldiers of the Azov regiment are training in an artillery school to learn how to control new armored vehicles and interact with tank companies. “A number of combat units will enhance their combat status and readiness following the steps of Azov,” said the minister.

The change of Azov’s assignment and its transfer under control of the National Guard, which was previously headed by the acting Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, coincided with the aggravated debate regarding the future of the volunteer battalions of the country. At this point, there are more than 70 such units in Ukraine. They are territorial defense battalions subordinated to the Ministry of Defense and are made up of volunteers and conscripts. The National Guard (which has had no command for nearly a month) has three volunteer battalions, the most renowned being the Donbas battalion. More than 30 battalions are Special Forces. Sources of Capital say at the moment the MIA and the Presidential Administration are constantly quarrelling about this issue.

“The PA had the decree on reassignment of those battalions to the Defense Ministry and their equipment with heavy armaments for a couple of months already. But Avakov has been the most stubborn, because he views the battalions as some kind of a party army,” said a source in the Presidential Administration.

Avakov says that he has no differences with the president regarding the future of the volunteer battalions. “Discussing the issue of battalions, we considered the models of optimum development of the MIA volunteer battalions,” said Avakov. He added that part of the units will remain active and will report to the minister.

Our source in the PA assures that the administration still believes the MIA battalions are politically affiliated. “When political forces have their own troops, this is an extremely dangerous situation. Understandably, we are not talking about the phony “resistance movement” allegedly created by Yulia Tymoshenko. But political and ideologically affiliated people with weapons is a direct path to the Greek military uprising of 1967–74 (alternatively The Regime of the Colonels),” said the source.

As a reminder, commanders of four volunteer battalions of the MIA were elected to the Rada in the lists of the People’s Front.

Army looks for volunteers

Commander of the MIA volunteer battalion Slobozhanshchyna Andriy Yanholenko supports Avakov’s position and believes that transition of the unit under control of the Defense Ministry would be a wrong move. “The MIA battalions have a totally different function than army units. Our duties include patrolling of the liberated territory and revealing hidden saboteurs and secessionists. We are police personnel aware of the legal nuances of such work – unlike army personnel. Our training and discipline is better than that of army units,” said Yanholenko. He believes forming of battalions is Avakov’s personal merit and says proposals for their re-subordination are a “misunderstanding of the situation”.

However, commander of the Aidar volunteer battalion Serhiy Melnychuk believes that under the command of the Defense Ministry volunteers will be able to improve coordination of their actions and be issued heavy armaments. “Volunteers should fight. To maintain order in the liberated territories Ukraine has a 300,000-strong militia,” said Melnychuk.

Former Chief of General Staff Anatoliy Lopata says the issue of volunteer battalions should be resolved as soon as possible due to the threat of active hostilities in the Donbas region. “Unified command is needed in any war zone. We had to deal with confusion when some units in the ATO zone were under command of the Defense Ministry, while others were controlled by the MIA,” says Lopata.

Noteworthy, Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak has already announced the beginning of the process of transfer of volunteers from territorial defense battalions to regular troops.

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