How the Ukrainian army compares to the Russian border forces

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Any potential conflict between Ukraine and Russia is often framed as David versus Goliath, but many commentators often forget to mention that in the biblical story of mismatched rivals, the underdog won.

On the front line, Ukrainian soldiers sit inside upgraded Soviet-era T-64 tanks that can strike at 4 km.

Across the border, the Russians are sitting in T-80, T-72 and T-90 tanks with thermal imaging and missiles that can devastate targets about 4 miles away.

Kyiv’s forces are better equipped to face a larger adversary than in 2014, when Moscow was last invaded; however, the Russian military also evolved.

Military analysts explain the situation to Newsweek

Ukraine, Russian armies

Since capturing Crimea nearly eight years ago, Kyiv has carried out major military reforms, aided in part by the equivalent of $14 billion in military aid from NATO.

The United States was the main supplier, providing: radio equipment, military transport trucks and over 200 Javelin man-portable anti-tank missiles. Last year, there was an arms transfer worth $650 million to Ukraine, including $200 million in December 2021.

Ukraine has also increased its defense spending from 1.5% of GDP in 2014 to more than 4% in 2020, spending that would be the envy of those in the NATO alliance it wants to join – a prospect the Kremlin wants to prevent.

During that period, Ukraine’s military grew 25-fold, from 6,000 combat-ready troops to around 150,000, according to a June report by the US Congressional Research Service.

Civilian participants of a Kyiv Territorial Defense Unit train on a Saturday in a forest on January 22, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The country’s military has improved a lot since Russia captured Crimea in 2014.
Sean Gallup/Getty

Many enlisted after the annexation of Crimea, are highly motivated to defend their homeland and have experience of drawn-out hostilities with Russian-backed troops in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, at the center of any potential incursion.

“If it’s a close infantry battle or a tank battle, I would rank the Ukrainians considerably better than the Russians,” said Glen Grant, a defense expert at the Baltic Security Foundation who advised Ukraine on its military reform.

“Russia may be better overall in maneuvering, that doesn’t mean it will succeed,” he said. Newsweek.

Western officials estimate that Russia has amassed around 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border – Ukrainian officials have estimated as many as 127,000, including some 21,000 airmen and sailors.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said 8,500 troops had been placed on high alert to potentially deploy to Europe as part of a NATO “response force”.

But that still leaves a vast imbalance, as this graph provided by Statista shows.

The graph shows the military imbalance between Russia and Ukraine
The graph shows the imbalance of military power between Russia and Ukraine
Newsweek/Statista
A Russian soldier shoots a rifle during exercises
Russian military troops take part in a military exercise on the Sernovodsky polygon near the Chechen border, some 260 km from the Russian city of Stavropol, March 19, 2015. About 500 soldiers are taking part in the military exercises until March 20.
SERGEY VENYAVSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Gessel said that in the Donbass region, the Russians and Ukrainians had around 30,000 troops each. Russia could form at least 20 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) from the forces based there.

Russian forces have around 60 BTGs throughout Ukraine and have sent at least 10 more to Belarus for exercises.

“If we count airborne forces that can be called up quickly, that would add at least another six, if not more, to Russia,” Gessel said, bringing the Russian complement to around 100 BTG. “It’s more than three times larger than the NATO reaction force.”

“It’s a huge force that you have to defeat. That said, there are a lot of Ukrainian forces there and it’s a force to be reckoned with.”

In the Donbass region, any conflict would be “a tough fight, the Ukrainians will not yield an inch”, Gessel added.

“All these Ukrainians are soldiers who have signed a contract since the beginning of the war, so they know what they are up against, they know what they are doing,” he said.

Yet the main problem for Ukraine is not on the pitch.

Ukrainian and Russian Air Forces

“The problem is air superiority,” said analyst Gustav Gressel, senior policy researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank.

In this area, the Russians will use a fighter force composed of Sukhoi Su-27s and Mikoyan MiG-28s, and will rely on Sukhoi Su-35s and Su-34s which would carry out strikes against command posts, centers policies and high-value ammunition. deposits, says Gessel.

On the other hand, with its aging bombers and fighter jets, and lack of pilot flying hours, the Ukrainian Air Force is its weak point.

Ukraine currently operates nearly 125 combat-capable aircraft, according to military balance To analyse.

These include the Su-27 and MiG-29 fighter jets, while the Ukrainian army‘s latest fighter jet was built 30 years ago, the Kyiv Post newspaper reports.

Kiev needs help with everything from radars to anti-aircraft missiles to command and control, said Alexander Gray, former National Security Council chief of staff in the Trump administration. Foreign Police.

Meanwhile, Russia will likely use S-400 air defense batteries to complete its advance, creating no-go zones for Ukrainian air power, Jim Townsend, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe, told the magazine. and NATO.

Russian military
Russian servicemen during Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member state military exercises in Balykchi, Kyrgyzstan, September 9, 2021. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine .
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/Getty

Kiev said Russia has also transferred more operational and tactical Iskander missiles to the border, which can reach much of Ukraine. Moscow could use missiles to knock out Ukrainian runways, airports and fighters on the ground, Foreign Policy reported.

However, Ukraine bought Turkey’s famous Bayraktar TB2 drones, which had been used in Libya and Syria, and their possession by Kiev has “raised the alarm in Moscow”, reported the Washington Post.

Ukraine-Russia tactics

But software as well as hardware would also play a role. Lt. Col. Tyson Wetzel, a senior Air Force official at the Atlantic Council, told an online seminar of a major threat to Kyiv that will start with a very large cyberattack to “create a crisis that threatens the legitimacy of the government in power”.

In addition to an invasion or a strengthening of its presence in Donbass, he said on Tuesday that Russian troops could push north from Crimea and then swing west towards Odessa.

“They don’t have the strength right now to take and hold the country,” he said, “I think they can take and hold small areas for a political purpose.”

Whatever progress Ukraine has made since 2014, the Russian military has also evolved and gained military experience after seven years of fighting in Donbass and also in Syria. Today, this Russian-held enclave is heavily reinforced with Russian ammunition, equipment and mercenaries.

“The Ukrainian side has tanks and armored personnel carriers and the Russian side has tanks, armored personnel carriers and probably a lot more artillery and rocket launchers. So they (the Russians) will be looking for to devastate one or two areas, I guess,” Grant said.

“It may well be that Russia intends to hit Ukrainian forces hard in order to keep them there so they cannot be withdrawn and used elsewhere,” he added.

“If Russia manages to place troops behind the Donbass frontline, encircle it and cut it off, then it’s a pretty serious military and political failure.”

A composite of Russian and Ukrainian military.
(L) A Ukrainian soldier from the 56th Brigade, in a trench on the front line on January 18, 2022 in Pisky, Ukraine, and (inset) another Ukrainian soldier sits next to a T-type tank 64BM ahead of the Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2017 exercise near Eschenbach, southern Germany, May 12, 2017. (R) A Russian soldier takes part in exercises at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region, in southern Russia, Wednesday, December 22, 2021, and (inset) Russian Sukhoi SU-35S air defense fighters and Mikoyan MIG-29 jet fighters during an air show at the International Air Show of Aviation and Space MAKS-2021 on July 20, 2021 in Zhukovskiy.

Update 1/26/22, 9:46 AM ET: A Statista chart has been added to this article.

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