News / Europe

Russia Shows Modern Military in Ukraine Crisis

Russian soldiers stand near a tank at a former Ukrainian military base in Perevalne, outside Simferopol, Crimea, March 27, 2014
Russian soldiers stand near a tank at a former Ukrainian military base in Perevalne, outside Simferopol, Crimea, March 27, 2014
An estimated 40,000 Russian troops are deployed on the Ukrainian border, poised to invade if the order comes from Moscow.

These forces are part of a much larger military that has been modernizing its forces over the past several years.

Western estimates say the Russian Defense Ministry has between 800,000 and one million men under arms. These include strategic rocket forces as well as the various uniformed services: air, air defense, ground and naval. And there are various kinds of special forces, such as the Spetsnaz belonging to Russia’s military intelligence or GRU.  

Stephen Blank, an expert on the Russian military at the American Foreign Policy Council, said there are also paramilitary forces.

“The other forces belong to other ministries: the Ministry of the Interior, which are the internal forces of the MVD. The FSB has forces - that’s the intelligence [service],” said Blank. “There are border troops and then there are paramilitaries like the Cossack formations. So there are lots of people involved here, probably something like one million men total in the regular armed forces, several hundred thousand more in these auxiliaries of the MVD, FSB, Cossacks and so on.”

Russia learned lessons from 2008 war with Georgia

Ian Brzezinski, from the Atlantic Council, said the Russian government is spending a lot of money to modernize its armed forces.

“$750 billion between now and the next decade to replenish their maritime fleet, replenish their air force to bring in fifth-generation aircraft, even more sophisticated air missile defense systems. They continue to robustly test and develop new ballistic missile capabilities and they continue their modernization of their ground forces.”

Brzezinski and others say Russia’s effort to modernize its military was prompted by poor performance in Moscow’s 2008, five-day war with Georgia over two separatist regions.

“You may recall the pictures of drunk soldiers straggling in the rear, trying to catch up to the frontline troops. And the fact that the Russians had a bit of difficulty taking on the Georgians, which didn’t put on that strong a defense - and they were able to press forward simply by pure mass rather than skill.”

Russia modernizes its military

Experts say one reform was to make the Russian military more mobile, better geared for rapid response and for local conflicts, rather than with the massive Soviet-style army.

Keir Giles, head of Conflict Studies Research Center in Oxford, England, said during the Georgian war, coordination between the different armed service branches was a problem for the Russians.

“They didn’t, for example, have the kind of embedded forward air controllers with their ground units in order to actually communicate with air power. So some of the air losses in the Georgia war were actually shot down by their own side, by the Russians.”

New Russian military on display

Ian Brzezinski said the results of the reforms were on display during Russia’s annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

“You see the way they have been performing in Crimea, where you had 20,000 to 30,000 Russian troops fan across the peninsula,” he said. "Pretty slick uniforms, well-maintained equipment, and real stunningly or impressive discipline and communication silence, communications discipline. They are certainly far more capable than they were six years ago.”

Stephen Blank from the American Foreign Policy Council said Russia used its forces “in an extraordinarily disciplined, bloodless, swift way, in conjunction with information warfare against Ukraine, saturation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine with Russian propaganda, and the deployment of highly-trained, modernized combined forces on the western strategic direction, to intimidate, divert and immobilize NATO and the Ukrainian armed forces.”

Blank said members of the Russian military leadership believe that the end of the Cold War was an American special operation to take down the Soviet Union without firing a shot - and it succeeded. Blank said the Russian military tried to do the same, with success, in Crimea.

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.

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by: melwin from: India
May 01, 2014 2:36 PM
If today Russia is isolated it is their chance to self dependent by developing their every weak point to plus point and find new market in Asia with junior superpowers like China and India.if they get market in India or China it enough for Russia since there are larger consumers in China and India and than there will be no need for them to see market in Europe.

In Response

by: ncknck
May 04, 2014 3:25 AM
@Tucson, China is a 3rd world country with lots of cheap labor, not a super power. It doesnt have any "power", production moves to India/Indonesia, and suddenly China has one billion jobless people and hunger riots within a month.

In Response

by: Bill from: Tucson
May 02, 2014 3:27 AM
China IS NOT a junior super power, and the others you list are NOT even in the same class.


by: meanbill from: USA
May 01, 2014 2:17 PM
CRIMEA? -- A victory from the book of "the Art of War" by Sun Tzu?
Know your enemy, and know yourself, and you can win a hundred battles, without losing a single man?


by: Vince from: WA
May 01, 2014 12:04 PM
US will never be able to defeat Russia, everyone know this, that's why Putin is doing whatever he wants, when he wants, and at the end of the day just shows the middle finger to Obama. A couple more years and Russia will be the main if not the only super military power in the world.

In Response

by: Anonymous
May 02, 2014 12:39 AM
Lool! Go read a book or something.

In Response

by: Anonymous
May 01, 2014 10:28 PM
The US has always been able to defeat russia in a conventional war and it still can. Their technology is years behind ours and our military 's training is much much better than even their special forces troops. YUeah they got 15,000 tanks but your not going to win every battler with tanks. Our air force would decimate their armored divisions in a matter of days.


by: SsgtJames from: North Carolina
May 01, 2014 11:58 AM
Modern? Those T-90 tanks are just rehashed T-72 with a new name for marketing reasons. It's 1970s garbage, with 90s style upgrades. Russia cannot project power anymore. No strategic airlift capacity..very outdated munitions for ground attack...very few AWACS...insufficient logistical support... At best, Russia could deploy a battalion in Ukraine and support it for a few months. Beyond that they can't really go, for numerous reasons, some economical. This is a typical Russian deception operation. They have Spec Ops in Ukraine to cause havoc and stop the Ukrainians from escaping their grasp...but it's already too late. The whole of Ukraine is what they had before..now they've lost the majority of the country and are portraying it as a military/strategic victory! ...and many foolish people in that long abused nation believe this. Very sad for the few Russians who understand this for what it is. Putin knows the economy is gone into the dumps...this has been clear for a long time. Now, with this patriotic distraction, he can blame the Western sanctions for the economy he's so badly mismanaged. This is a massive defeat for Russia, but Putin will hang onto power and the brainwashed masses will dance and cheer as he steers Russia into irrelevancy once again.

In Response

by: Michael from: ohio
May 04, 2014 6:49 AM
Couldn't have said it better myself!

In Response

by: Dallaspatents from: USA
May 02, 2014 9:10 AM
Russia has not even figured out how to put depleted uranium armor in their tanks. Modern Western forces have had this since the 80s. Russia's population is less than half of that of the U.S. and declining. I go to Russia from time-to-time. Most of the men over 30 there look like grandfathers because they smoke constantly and drink a bottle of vodka every day. Yeah, Russia can probably dig up a division or two of sober semi-qualified troops that can overcome a wreck like Ukraine. But that is pretty much their limit. This is just part of Putin's campaign to be permanent "President".

In Response

by: nvr1 from: usa
May 02, 2014 12:03 AM
SsgtJames... Me thinks that you have spent to much time around the PX buying and drinking up to many Buds.

You thinking is most exaggerated.

In Response

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
May 01, 2014 11:42 PM
Ssgt James, Thanks for your import, These people that think Russia has something, they don't know. couple years back, Russia couldn't saved her people in the Submarine at the bottom of the ocean, they needed the US help. Ssgt James, Mr. Putin knows playing with the US, is sitting on time bomb.

In Response

by: Anonymous
May 01, 2014 10:31 PM
The majority in the Ukraine are for an alliance with NATO and the EU. There are some areas in the east that want to re align with Russia but it is far from the majority. Besides most of the so called separatists are actually Russian military out of uniform which I believe is a crime in the first place.


by: Bat
May 01, 2014 11:57 AM
Any conflict will quickly escalate to nuclear standoff (one step over the line rule) where nobody wins. Governments know economic reprisals have no impact or can be punitive if no other strategy options exist Amassing thousands and hundred thousand troops are opening pawns. We're in age where communications can be tapped, virus's sent to disable computer controlled equipment and satellites / drones can track plant production and transport despite conventional tactical weapon delivery. Heavy tanks, like those above costing millions to build; are vulnerable to drones costing far less. In few months both US and Russia will face off aviation capabilities at Farnsborough, GB air show.


by: Lightpaws from: Ohio-USA
May 01, 2014 10:57 AM
This Putin guy is going to cause a serious war.


by: Phil from: Michigan USA
May 01, 2014 10:13 AM
One of the first actions the Ukrainian government did was to order it's citizens to turn in their guns ! Why ? To make it easy for the russians to take over ?

Just think, the democrats want to do that here.


by: Archibald Bomwitz from: Finland
May 01, 2014 2:43 AM
"“You see the way they have been performing in Crimea, where you had 20,000 to 30,000 Russian troops fan across the peninsula,” he said. "Pretty slick uniforms, well-maintained equipment, and real stunningly or impressive discipline and communication silence, communications discipline. They are certainly far more capable than they were six years ago.”"
And of course NO ARMED RESISTANCE WHATSOEVER! So, what was the REAL reason for this success unequaled in military history slick uniforms and matching boots or no resistance?

In Response

by: Sigitas from: Lithuania
May 01, 2014 1:34 PM
You are right man. No resistance- because russian and ukrainian are like brothers. And allways all they think will be together for defence from NATO. Ukrainian don't expect knife in the back from cousine russian.

In Response

by: vincep from: New Jersey
May 01, 2014 12:38 PM
The advantage of a disciplined silent fighting force, US could never perform as efficiently again now the 6th division of the armed forces is self invited everywhere..the Media, armed with their mouths and exploratory queries, but not much grey matter filtering the consequences of their squeals and banters on the matter at hand.


by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
May 01, 2014 2:28 AM
Russia and China as we speak, are afraid of the US, if you want to compared the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to the fire power of the US, you are dare wrong. The US defeated the Taliban, and the won the war in Iraq. It didn't take the US a month to reached in the capital city of Iraq. where by Russia couldn't defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. they failed to defeat the taliban. Russia is nothing compare to the US firepower. As for China, Japan will put China in check. China cannot even fight Taiwan, How in this world someone will compared China with the world superpower? China just had her first aircraft carrier last year. The US has more twenty of the aircraft carrier, and we called out some of our aircraft carrier out of reserved. We called it the Island on the sea. Before Russia or China think about fighting the US, they should first defeat our Island on the sea. No country military will never step the foot on the ground of the US.Never. China and Russia are piece of bread for the US.First of all, in our modern time, every country that you ever know of, learned from the US technology. China and Russia sent their citizens to the US to learned and take it back to their countries. In 2007, some Chinese guys were arrested for stealing the US technology and sent it back to China. All the made in China is so defective, China is not close to the US as some may think when it comes to technology. China is just coming in the game. Let China worry about Japan first. The US got something for everyone of them.

In Response

by: amsficanfool from: Afghanistan
May 02, 2014 5:05 AM
America defeated the Taliban ? Hahahahaha now that is halirious seeking there is still a resistance and NATO reckons the Taliban could take back the country in one month after you pull out.

In Response

by: nvr1 from: USA
May 02, 2014 12:15 AM
Russia conquered the entire Afghanistan in only two weeks. They walked away from Afghanistan after 10 years of wasted revenue for little return to their security interests.
This was primarily due to Saudi Arabia and the US pouring $billons into the Taliban pockets, as well as, the game changer SAM missiles supplied to the Taliban by the US.

We still have not won in Afghanistan after almost 12 years and with no shoulder fired missiles or $billions of dollars flowing into the Taliban's pockets like the Russians had to contend with.

Think it through.

In Response

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
May 01, 2014 11:33 PM
Aldie your information is wrong. check your information right. The US had great technology, that is why she was able to defeat Germany. The Nazi couldn't have fight the US, We crush them in a minute. Hitler thought he was a man, but when he met the US, he hide like a rat. That nonsense he did, he did it in Europe, when he met the US the rest was history. The US has the best technology in the world my friend. weather you like it or not. it is the truth. The US was great and now is the best in the world. that is why there is no Hitler today. As for the subject about the Jews, I cannot touch it, cuz I love the Jews, For you to say the US depends on other foreign scientists, that your information is wrong. German had all whole scientists, But when they met the US, you can only hear of Hitler in the history book. accept the fact that the US is the greatest. every era had their empire, this the US time. and she reigns my friend. God Bless America

In Response

by: Aldie from: California
May 01, 2014 12:36 PM
Leroy Padmore, the U.S. got it's nuclear technology from the British/Canadians, Australians and defected German (Jewish) scientists (within the ambit of the Manhattan Project). The U.S. got to the moon via the technology of Nazi German scientists captured at the end of World War II (re: Von Braun and company). The U.S. also relies on foreign scientists/technologies for its "greatness"!

In Response

by: vincep from: New Jersey
May 01, 2014 12:33 PM
The greatest single mistake a country can undertake is to under estimate your adversaries. Refer to: Revolutionay War, World War 2, Korea, but it goes back far more than that.

In Response

by: Amarideus from: USA
May 01, 2014 11:41 AM
You are very ill informed. Russia and China do not need aircraft carriers. Carriers are but ducks sitting in a large pond. Russian missile systems are capable of shooting down any us aircraft, missiles and ships as was seen near Syria. what happened there ? USA and allies quickly turned tail and ran away, as the wisest move available. Russian aircraft are far superior to anything the usa has, so superior the that the SU series has rendered the F22 as being useless junk

In Response

by: jason moan from: florida
May 01, 2014 10:44 AM
I suggest you look up the Korean and Vietnam wars where China backed our foes and ultimately forced us to withdraw. Japan doesn't even a strong military, they rely on us for protection. If Russian and China aligned, the rest of the world would be in deep doo.

In Response

by: TropicalStorm from: Sri Lanka
May 01, 2014 9:14 AM
The US didn't win in Afghanistan. The Taliban is back in force and the US is negotiating to leave the place without losing too many soldiers. The Afghan government is learning to live with the Taliban.
Even in Iraq, the US didn't win. It committed horrific atrocities against the Iraqis, for which there will not be any consequences unfortunately, just like in all the other crimes the US committed since WWII.
The truth is that the US may never again win a ground war. Part of the problem is that the majority of the infantry is of lesser quality and other nations' armies have better soldiers. The US may still outclass others in tech terms, but it will not win another war which requires boots on the ground. A war against Russia or China would not end well for the US or anyone else.


by: James from: Mesa, Arizona
May 01, 2014 1:41 AM
Russia is a Joke. With the UN to distract Putin the US could sweep in wipe out all communication placements, destroy all Russians Air Power, Cut off all supply lines to 40,000 troops at
at Eastern Border, Destroy all tanks and ability for to ground forces of waging war. We already have Nuclear Subs off shore, an air craft carrier off the coast. Ukraine has been receiving jets, tanks and other weapons from NATO. Putin has no chance in hell for taking over Ukraine. Only if we let him.

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