'Decrepit' to 'effective': ex-U.S. adviser on Ukraine's forces

STORY: Retired U.S. Army colonel Liam Collins has seen firsthand the Ukrainian military transform from what he calls a 'decrepit' force into an effective operation capable of fending off Russian advances.

"Ukraine's military in 2014 was decrepit, it really didn't have a lot of training capability, they weren't effective at the tactical level. // So, it wasn't a surprise to see how poorly they performed at that time given their level of training."

In 2014, Russian forces were able to seize parts of Ukraine with relative ease.

Collins, a career special-forces soldier, served as the executive officer for the Defense Department’s special adviser to Ukraine working to reform that nation’s military establishment in 2016, at the end of the Obama administration.

One success, Collins said, was changing the Ukrainian command structure, giving junior leaders the ability to make battlefield decisions, rather than a top-down command approach.

"It allows them to take initiative on the battlefield, right? You might be given some orders, 'Go take this hill,' for example, and if you can't adjust on that, you're just going to keep running up the hill into the hornet's nest. // You have to empower leaders to make those kind of quick decisions, but it also requires a trained professional military to do that.'"

Collins said the Russian military appears to have taken a less flexible approach at the tactical level.

"If you have a conscript army, which a lot of the Russians are, you're not going to be capable of executing that same kind of discipline initiative at the tactical level."

Not to be overlooked, Collins said - Ukrainians' fierce hold on their independence.

"They don't want to be part of Russia. They like their civil liberties. They like a higher standard of living. // And so that's why they're going to fight so hard."