News / Europe

Is Ukraine Military Ready to Thwart Russian Invasion?

Ukrainian soldiers stand guard beside an armored personnel carrier at a checkpoint in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, May 7, 2014.
Ukrainian soldiers stand guard beside an armored personnel carrier at a checkpoint in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, May 7, 2014.
The tensions in eastern Ukraine have put the spotlight on the nation’s military and security forces.
They face enormous challenges trying to regain control of areas held by heavily-armed pro-Russian separatists.
Analysts back up what several polls of Ukrainians show: there is little faith the troops are up to the task.
Western estimates say the Ukrainian Defense Ministry controls between 70,000 to 130,000 men under arms.
But Stephen Blank, an expert at the American Foreign Policy Council, said Ukraine’s armed forces are struggling.
“The command and control at the top has been very shaky,” he said. “There have been several defense ministers and heads of various forces since the new government came into power.”
“Second, their intelligence services have been penetrated for a long time by Russians,” Blank said. “Third, they have been undercapitalized, victimized by corruption and poor leadership for years.”
Keir Giles, head of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Oxford, England, said Ukraine has been trying to modernize its armed forces.
“But it is a great deal less ambitious and less well-funded than the equivalent in Russia,” he said. “So Ukrainians are still operating the kinds of equipment which are no longer in service with the spearhead of the Russian forces.
“These are older types [of military hardware], they have an older manning system,” Giles said. “Much less has changed for the Ukrainian military since the end of the Soviet Union than it has for Russia since the Georgia War.”
Russia’s efforts
Experts say Russia’s effort to modernize its military was prompted by the poor showing in Moscow’s five-day war in 2008 with Georgia over two separatist regions.
One reform was to make the Russian military more mobile, better geared for rapid response and for local conflicts.
The result of those reforms were on display during Russia’s recent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Experts say Ukraine is still tied to having a large Soviet-style army.
Giles said another problem facing the Ukrainian military is the uncertain loyalty of many its members.
“We shouldn’t believe all of the stories that we’ve seen coming out of eastern Ukraine about defections,” he said. “But it’s still the case that many of the senior levels of the Ukrainian armed forces served together with their Russian counterparts in the Soviet armed forces.
“And it’s still the case that many of the Ukrainian servicemen that we have encountered in the days before this crisis emerged, described themselves quite openly as being Russian,” Giles said.
Pro-Russian separatists control about a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine.
In addition, an estimated 40,000 Russian troops - seen as the spearhead of a potential invasion force - have been deployed on the Ukrainian border.
Giles - and others - say the Ukrainian military is not ready to thwart a Russian invasion, if it happens.
“Certainly in terms of capability, the Russian armed forces are far better equipped and better organized at present than the Ukrainian equivalent,” he said. “However, there are caveats to that.
“Many of the people who look at the sustainability and logistics of the Russian armed forces, still believe that they are no longer in a position to fight an extended campaign, which is of course a risk if they overextend themselves into Ukraine,” Giles said. “So any operation in Ukraine would have to be as quick or as unopposed as the armed conflict in Georgia or the operation in Crimea.”
Experts say if Russia invades eastern Ukraine, it runs the risk of a protracted war, especially if the Ukrainians engage in guerrilla warfare.
And that, analysts say, is not a scenario favored by Moscow because an indirect fight may be the Ukraine military’s greatest strength.
Error rendering Soundcloud.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Not Again from: Canada
May 07, 2014 11:42 PM
The only thing that may stop the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine, is a strong and ever escalating set of sanctions; coupled with the depolyment of significant NATO forces to the countries neighbouring Russia; especially those NATO countries with a significant Russian ethnic component.
In Response

by: alexfot555 from: Greece
May 09, 2014 3:14 PM
A strong and ever escalating set of sanctions will cause a significant dent to EU's economies.The European political-economic complex is cynical and pragmatic above all.

by: Wiktor Protsenko from: Kyiv
May 07, 2014 3:44 PM
In its unannounced war against Ukraine, Russia relies on covert operations which fall squarely within the definition of "international terrorism" under 18 U.S.C. § 2331.
This activity is being conducted on large scale and over prolonged time period, despite condemnation by the USA, G-7, NATO, EU and UN.
Please sign the petition urging the White House to officially designate Russia as "State sponsor of terrorism” -
Such status of country would outlaw business of American companies with Russia. Even considering of the petition by Senate and President of USA creating great inconvenience Russian authorities.
In Response

by: nvr from: USA
May 08, 2014 1:46 AM
The German newspaper Bild just reported that the CIA, FBI and Special Forces advisers have been in Ukraine for sometime working with the organizers of the coup. After the visit by the head of our CIA, the government of Ukraine began its military attack against the Ukrainian protesters in the East.

Additionally, it has been supposed that American military contractors have been employed by the government in Kiev as well, so, it appears both sides are guilty of the same violations.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs