In strength and in arms: Ukrainian army faces long chances of confrontation with Russia


On paper, this is an obvious disconnect.

The Ukrainian army is largely outnumbered and in arms by its neighbor and rival, Russia. The nearly 100,000 Russian troops currently stationed along the turbulent frontier of nations represent less than 10% of the active-duty military personnel that Moscow could mobilize in a full-scale invasion. The Ukrainian army has about 255,000 full forces. Russia’s strength advantage of around 4 to 1 would only increase if each nation mobilized all its reserves for all-out war.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid and multiple deliveries of Javelin anti-tank missiles capable of inflicting severe damage on Russian armored columns, Ukraine remains at a serious disadvantage in terms of weapons, vehicles and materiel. military. The number of Russian guns, tanks, planes, helicopters and artillery greatly eclipsed that of Ukraine.

The numbers are not surprising given Russia’s military history and the firepower remaining from its historic Cold War-era build-up. Although Russia is no longer the power it was in Soviet times, it maintains one of the highest military budgets in the world – around $ 42 billion a year compared to the $ 9.6 billion for the Ukraine, according to data compiled by the Global Firepower Index.

Military analysts point out that the gang’s story doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to a potential clash between Russia and Ukraine. No one is arguing that Russia would win decisively in a vacuum, but the real horror of a full-scale land war in the 21st century could work to Ukraine’s advantage, as could the soaring morale of Ukrainian troops. desirous of controlling the aggression of Moscow. and prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from seizing more territory by force, as he did with the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

In this context, Ukraine’s ultimate goal would not be to defeat Russia in combat, but rather to inflict as many punishments as possible and change the Kremlin’s will to fight.

President Biden, while ruling out aid to US troops, has pledged the toughest economic sanctions to date against Russia in the event of an invasion. The United States could attack the value of the ruble or block Russian banks and companies from the international financial system.

In this regard, experts say, Kiev is in luck and a Russian invasion would not be a piece of cake.

“If Putin decides he is going to invade and conquer Ukraine, no, the Ukrainians cannot stop him from doing it,” said Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute which follows closely. the region. “The power imbalance – putting aside the fact that [Putin] could fan them – is so great that of course they could not reasonably be expected to beat the Russian army in a direct force-on-force conflict. “

Yet he said: “Putin is not going to deploy all the forces he has for this fight. And when you actually start to take a closer look at the limits of the risks Putin is likely to take, you come to some scenarios where the Ukrainians might potentially be able to shift the balance of risk and reward for Putin from. in a way that makes it seem like a very unattractive proposition.

Indeed, the Trump and Biden administrations have approved major deliveries of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine that are designed to do just that: inflict maximum suffering on the Russian military, if it stages a full invasion, and force M Putin to decide whether he is prepared to let tens of thousands of his people die or permanently cripple his army in a bloody and protracted battle.

Since the Russian president’s invasion of Crimea, US security aid to Ukraine has exploded. The United States has committed more than $ 2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine over the past seven years, according to Pentagon figures. This money is badly needed. The Ukrainian army is bogged down in fighting in the disputed Donbass region, the scene of regular clashes between Ukrainian forces and a separatist movement strongly supported by Russia.

Power imbalance

Politically, the United States has exerted public pressure on Mr. Putin and warned of an invasion. Mr Biden and Mr Putin met by video conference last week, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday and “reiterated our serious concerns about the reinforcement of the Russian army on the border with Ukraine “, according to the White House. said in a statement.

The European powers have warned the Kremlin against any offensive.

“Any violation of territorial integrity will come at a price – a high price – and we will speak with one voice on this subject with our European partners and our transatlantic allies,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said Western countries are stepping up their rhetorical and material support for Ukraine in the hope of dissuading any idea of ​​a Russian military operation.

“We are in deterrence mode,” Borrell said as he chaired a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels this week. “In any case, we will send a clear signal that any aggression against Ukraine will come at a high cost for Russia.”

While the United States and its NATO allies have apparently ruled out sending their own ground troops to Ukraine, some critics say Mr Biden should take a tougher line. Rather than simply relying on talks with Moscow, they say, the United States can and should significantly increase shipments of military equipment to Ukraine.

“Fortunately, the United States does not have to deploy tens of thousands of troops in Ukraine. We don’t have to fight for the Ukrainians. … They want American diplomatic support, and they would like American materiel, military equipment, defensive equipment to help them defend themselves, ”said Luke Coffey, director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at Heritage Conservative Foundation, at a virtual event on Russian-Ukrainian Tensions this week.

Officials in the Biden administration said they had stepped up security assistance to Ukraine this year.

Still, no financial aid will change the fact that the raw numbers tilt significantly in Russia’s favor – or that Ukraine looms far more prominently in Russia’s strategic calculation of national interests than it does for the United States.

Russia has 4,144 military jets in total, including 789 fighter jets, compared to just 285 and 42, respectively, for Ukraine. The Russian military has more than 27,000 armored vehicles, more than twice as many as Ukraine, according to data from the Global Firepower Index. While Javelin missiles could slow Russia’s advance, the Russian military has around 13,000 tanks that would almost certainly overwhelm Ukraine’s defenses.

Russia also has more than 8,300 pieces of towed artillery and mobile rocket launchers, compared to Ukraine’s 2,590, according to figures from the World Firepower Index. The potential conflict would take place on land, but the big difference in maritime power also underlines Russia’s advantage: a fleet of more than 600 ships, compared to Ukraine’s 25.

Much of Ukraine’s equipment and weapons are in need of modernization.

“The equipment inventory still consists mainly of weapons from the Soviet era. Maintaining and in some cases upgrading these systems is a short-term concern, and equipment replacements will be required over the next decade to prevent potential obsolescence issues, ”it reads. in a section of this year’s “Military Balance” report, prepared by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Yet analysts say an invasion may not be Mr. Putin’s real endgame. The Kremlin appears to be banking on the use of military force – or the threat of it – to secure concessions from Kiev and the West, possibly including US guarantees that it will not deploy new weapons in Eastern Europe or promises that NATO will not bring Ukraine or Georgia as full members, a move that Mr Putin called a “red line” in his foreign policy.

“From Putin’s perspective, he must be asking himself, ‘Why fight for what you can get for free?’ Said Mr. Kagan, the AEI specialist.


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