WWhilst the Kremlin sent its representatives to talks with the Americans, the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE this week to discuss the security situation in Europe, the Russian armed forces, now numbering 100,000 soldiers, remained on the border with Ukraine. It didn’t grow much further, though. However, parallel to the talks, Russia held tank maneuvers in the region.
The New York Times also reported on Monday, citing US government officials, that Russian President Vladimir Putin had begun deploying military helicopters and additional ground attack aircraft. In other words, weapon systems that can play a key role in an offensive.
Concerns that Putin could order his armed forces to invade Ukraine remain unabated, despite all the Kremlin’s protestations to the contrary. The danger is “very real, and it’s growing day by day,” the representative of a western secret service told the FAZ. A “very large and dynamic” deployment of troops is being observed. Russia is blatantly trying to regain control of Ukraine and is “very seriously” considering the full range of its options.
The army suffered from corruption
Western officials are wondering how prepared Ukraine’s armed forces would be for a Russian invasion. There is no question that the quality of Ukraine’s armed forces has improved significantly over the past seven years. When Russian troops annexed Crimea and launched the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian forces were initially in no position to resist them.
Only 6,000 soldiers were initially available for combat at the front. They lacked almost everything, from adequate training and front-line experience to modern leadership and elementary equipment such as first-aid kits and combat helmets.
The army suffered from decades of corruption, almost exclusively had outdated Soviet-era equipment at its disposal and was prepared for anything but a conventional war with a superior opponent. The armed forces lost 70 percent of their navy with the annexation of Crimea, and part of their armaments industry as a result of the war with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass.
Despite the losses, the military confrontation did not lead to a collapse of the Ukrainian armed forces. Instead, the war at home became the starting point for a security policy U-turn, which has since focused on defense against Russia and close ties with the EU, NATO and the United States. At the same time, it became the starting point for political measures and military reforms.
The defense budget grew rapidly. The London Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) recorded growth from 2.5 to just over three percent of gross domestic product between 2018 and 2020. The Ukrainian army has grown, according to the latest information from the IISS, it has 196,000 soldiers. In addition, there are another 102,000 members of the National Guard and 900,000 reservists who have been active in the armed forces in the past five years. Thanks to a rotation system that deploys all army units on the front lines in Donetsk, the proportion of combat-experienced soldiers is very high.