As tensions mount in the ongoing military standoff between Russia and Ukraine, Western intelligence sources are warning that Russian forces gradually massing along Ukraine’s eastern border could strike at any time. But what form can such an attack take, and how would Ukraine’s military fate behave in a direct military confrontation with its Russian neighbor?
The Ukrainian armed forces have undergone substantial reforms since the bitter fighting of 2014-2015, becoming a relatively regulated and well-disciplined institution. The Ukrainian military has also embarked on several ambitious procurement programs to modernize or replace its aging Soviet heritage, including a major contract to purchase Bayraktar TB2 combat drones with Turkey, an effort to produce the advanced missile platform. anti-ship cruise ship Neptune and the development of a Ukrainian variant of the second-generation T-64 main battle tank (MBT), the T-64BV.
Yet the balance of power is still largely skewed in favor of Russia. Ukraine has around 250,000 active military personnel, compared to over a million for Russia. Ukraine currently has just under 2,500 active tanks, compared to Russia’s 13,000. The Kiev T-64BV, although it represents a major improvement over the base model of the T-64, is unlikely to cope well with newer Russian tanks such as the T-80BVM and T-90M. . Similar patterns can be observed in the categories of armored vehicles and self-propelled artillery: the Ukrainian army has 11,435 and 785 respectively, compared to 27,100 and 6,540 for Russia. The Russian Black Sea Fleet poses a significant threat to strategically vital southern Ukrainian coastal towns and can even strike targets further north, all with little military recourse available to the Ukrainian side. .
The airpower comparison is no less dangerously skewed in Russia’s favor; The motley Ukrainian coterie of less than a hundred Soviet aircraft of the 1960s and 1970s unable to challenge Ukrainian airspace against the vast, staggered network of air / missile defenses and the solid roster of modernized bombers and jet fighters .
These differences are confirmed by concrete dollar amounts; Ukraine spends around $ 5.2 billion on defense, compared to $ 65 billion for Russia. As large as these power disparities appear on paper, they would be even more pronounced in practice. In any type of acute conflict scenario, the Russian military is able to rapidly degrade and destroy large swathes of Ukrainian industrial and military infrastructure – power plants, airfields, command headquarters, etc. – with a series of coordinated precision and saturation strikes, crippling Kiev’s ability to repel invading Russian ground forces.
All available data suggests that the first stages of a Russian incursion westward will result in crushing losses for Ukrainian troops defending. But what happens next is another story, which depends heavily on how Moscow chooses to proceed with a possible invasion of Ukraine. Experts widely agree that a prolonged Russian occupation of all of Ukraine would be catastrophic for Moscow, removing invading forces in a politically, morally and militarily debilitating guerrilla conflict that cannot be significantly won.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National interest.