Russia has effectively seized control of Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula without firing a shot, but many in Ukraine and elsewhere fear the Kremlin might follow up by sending troops into Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine. Such a move could trigger open hostilities between the Russian and Ukrainian militaries. Here’s a look at the two forces:
Red Army Heirs
Both militaries are the successors of the Soviet army and have inherited its arsenals, structure and tactics. Ukraine surrendered its share of Soviet nuclear arsenals to Russia in the early 1990s.
The Russian military is much bigger, at one million men, compared to Ukraine’s 180,000. The Ukrainian military has an estimated 200 combat aircraft and about 1,100 tanks, while Russia reportedly has about 1,400 combat aircraft and several thousand tanks.
Russia and Ukraine divided the Soviet Black Sea Fleet after the 1991 Soviet collapse. However, Ukraine has struggled to maintain its share of the fleet and has just a few combat-ready ships, far outnumbered by the Russian navy, which has a lease of the Crimean port of Sevastopol until 2042.
The Russian military has undergone a major modernization in recent years, receiving large supplies of new weapons and conducting massive exercises. Cash-strapped Ukraine couldn’t afford such a buildup and its forces have slowly degraded.
In addition to the funding shortage, the Ukrainian military’s readiness was hurt by last year’s decision by President Viktor Yanukovych to end conscription and turn the military into a volunteer force. The last wave of conscripts is half way through its one-year term, and their morale could be low. The new Ukrainian government has tried to call up some reservists, but it’s unclear whether that will work.
The Russian military has largely recovered from its post-Soviet meltdown, and it recently has run a series of war games unseen since Cold War times. An exercise involving 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and dozens of combat planes has been launched across western Russia just as Russian forces overtook Crimea. President Vladimir Putin attended the maneuvers Monday at a shooting range near St. Petersburg.