The National Guard’s State Partnership with Ukraine

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, adjutant general of the California National Guard, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, and California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, visited the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Air National Guard Base, California, Sept. 2, 2021.
(Courtesy of national

By Kevin Brown

The National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP) has evolved into an effective U.S. security cooperation tool by pairing states with partner nations worldwide. The SPP grew out of the post-Cold War efforts to assist former Communist countries in transitioning to democracy. SPP fosters civil-military cooperation and facilitates the National Guard in providing medical aid and disaster relief to developing countries. This program has grown to 85 partnerships enhancing security across the globe. The ongoing war in Ukraine has dominated the news and demonstrated the National Guard’s foreign assistance efforts in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-fledged invasion.

 Ukraine was a newly independent country with an uncertain future in the Post-Cold War world. The new Ukrainian government was institutionally weak and held large Soviet nuclear weapons stockpiles concerning the United States. Along with other former parts of the Soviet sphere, such as Poland, Hungry, and Romania, Ukraine was among the first participants in the State Partnership Program in 1993. Ukraine paired with California; the latter has a sizeable Ukrainian American community in Los Angeles.

The Ukraine-California partnership is one of the National Guard Bureau’s most important initiatives. The 2011 Safe Skies exercises between the California Air National Guard and the Ukrainian Air Force were a notable accomplishment in SPP’s history. Those training exercises involved over 200 Ukrainian airmen and various aircraft from CAANG F-16s to Ukrainian MIG-29s and SU-27s. The Ukrainian military participated in multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan alongside their American partners. The Department of Defense’s whole government approach to the State Partnership Program has strengthened efforts to reign in corruption and improve trust in Ukraine’s civilian government.

CAANG, ALANG, and Ukrainian Airmen at Mirgorod Air Base in Ukraine during the 2011 SAFE SKIES exercise.
(Courtesy of DVIDS)

Ukraine and the Guard’s relationship became even more critical as Russia threatened Ukrainian sovereignty. When Vladimir Putin’s campaign against a pro-western Ukrainian government commenced after the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, Kyiv immediately turned to its state partner for further assistance. In response to increasing Russian pressure on its borders, the CAANG helped Ukraine with more training, coordination, and exchanges designed to step up the besieged nation’s defense efforts.

Ukrainian ground forces on an urban combat exercise near the abandoned city of Pripyat in February 2022.
(Courtesy of the Washington Times)

Putin increased pressure on the Ukrainian government over the past several years resulting in an invasion of the country last month. The training and cooperation agreements with the California National Guard have helped prepare Ukraine’s military for Russian aggression. Ukraine’s Partnership with California, combined with other comprehensive American aid, appears more effective than Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Ukrainian forces have proved resilient against more numerous, better equipped Russian forces where CAANG-trained Ukrainian pilots have prevented total Russian Air superiority. Ukrainian army troops have inflicted heavy casualties on Russian Ground Forces, including killing several generals and slowing Putin’s advance.

Feed from a Ukrainian drone destroying a Russian column.
(Courtesy of Reuters)

 The State Partnership Program has been an asset to Ukraine in its struggle with Russia. The combat effectiveness of the Ukrainian armed forces has emerged as a key SPP selling point within the American foreign policy bureaucracy and Congress. National Guard assistance has transformed the Ukrainian military from a conscript-based one, armed with Soviet weapons, to an increasingly professional NATO-equipped force. Ukraine is an example of the National Guard’s contributions to international security with calls to integrate the State Partnership.

The National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. features an exhibit paying homage to the State Partnership program, displaying objects from the over 85 countries participating in the partnership. The Museum near D.C.’s Union Station is open to the public from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday-Friday.