More than seven years ago, when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed rebels in the country’s east, Kyiv’s underfunded and disorganized military forces struggled to muster a meaningful response.
Now, amid suspicions that a Russian force buildup near Ukraine’s border might herald an impending invasion, military analysts predict that Moscow will encounter stiffer opposition this time. However, they point out that Ukraine would be woefully underprepared to face Russia’s overwhelming land, naval, and air dominance.
Years of battling separatists have provided Ukrainian warriors like Col. Viacheslav Vlasenko with the necessary battlefield expertise.
“In the event of a Russian attack.” “I won’t have a choice – every Ukrainian is prepared to die with guns in hand,” Vlasenko, who has received several awards, stated. “Ukraine will never be a Russian province.” We are prepared to demonstrate to the Kremlin that Ukraine has the right to freedom and independence.”
Despite the fact that Western military support has been restricted, Ukraine has obtained cutting-edge foreign hardware, including advanced US anti-tank missiles and Turkish drones, to give a more powerful punch than in previous years.
Vlasenko, who spent 4 1/2 years fighting separatists in the east in a conflict that has claimed the lives of over 14,000 people, said the nation now has thousands of highly motivated and battle-hardened troops.
“We Ukrainians are defending our territory, and there is no place for us to flee,” Vlasenko said, adding that he takes his 13-year-old son to target practice to understand “who our adversary is and how to defend himself and fight back.”
On a visit to a military vacation near the combat zone earlier this week, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy commended Ukraine’s soldiers.
“Ukrainian troops continue to carry out their most vital mission: protecting the state’s freedom and sovereignty from Russian aggressors,” Zelenskyy added.
Russian intelligence authorities have positioned 70,000 troops to Ukraine’s border and are preparing for an attack early next year, according to US intelligence officials. Moscow has dismissed Western worries as part of a propaganda campaign, denying any preparations to attack Ukraine.
In a video chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden warned Moscow that if it invaded Ukraine, it would suffer “economic ramifications like you’ve never seen,” while he said that Washington would not deploy its armed forces there.
Putin reiterated his rejection of any plans to attack Ukraine, but stressed that any NATO expansion into Ukraine would be a “red line” for Moscow.
If Russia strikes its neighbor, the 1 million-strong Russian military will definitely outnumber Ukraine’s 255,000-strong armed forces. However, in addition to the expected economic impact from Western sanctions, Russia might face huge military casualties, tarnishing Putin’s domestic image.
Ukrainian veterans and military strategists predict the nation will not give up land without a struggle this time, as in Crimea in 2014, when Russian forces in unmarked uniforms overtook the Black Sea peninsula with little opposition.
“The Russians will not find Ukraine easy prey. “It’ll be a carnage,” Vlasenko said. “Hundreds of thousands of coffins will be floating from Ukraine to Russia for Putin.”
Russia began aiding the separatist movement in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, just weeks after annexing Crimea. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the rebels with men and weaponry, which Moscow denies, claiming that any Russians fighting there were doing so voluntarily.
Following a string of humiliating military setbacks, Ukraine agreed to a 2015 peace deal negotiated by France and Germany, which included substantial autonomy for separatist regions and a broad amnesty for rebels. Many in Ukraine viewed the agreement as a betrayal of the country’s national interests. While it has helped to cease large-scale violence, regular skirmishes have occurred as Ukraine and Russia trade accusations in the midst of a political impasse.
According to Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a senior military expert at the independent Razumkov Center think tank in Kyiv, the Ukrainian military has made significant progress in recent years owing to Western-supplied weaponry and training.
“The army is more stronger today than it was in early 2014, and Russia will confront significant opposition,” he said.
The US sent Javelin anti-tank missiles and patrol boats as part of the Western assistance. In exercises that have troubled Russia, the US and other NATO forces have undertaken coordinated drills with the Ukrainian military. Ukraine and the United Kingdom reached an agreement last month to establish naval stations on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
Sunhurovskyi, however, believes that Western help is insufficient.
“The military assistance provided by the West falls well short of what Ukraine need,” Sunhurovskyi said, adding that the sluggish pace was another major issue. “We need support in two months, not two or three years.” There are significant deficiencies in Ukraine’s military capacity that must be addressed.”
He specifically mentioned Ukraine’s air defenses.
“The air defense system isn’t equipped to fight big Russian attacks,” Sunhurovskyi said, adding that Ukraine lacks modern electronic warfare equipment as well as artillery and missiles.
He claims that morale is not an issue.
“From the standpoint of battle spirit, Ukraine is ready for war,” he added, “but there are concerns with the Ukrainian military’s technological level, which is below what is required to stop Russia from launching an attack.”
“We have come a long way to creating a highly capable and highly structured fighting system that is confident in its capability and capable of derailing any aggressive intentions by the adversary,” Zelenskyy added. He spoke with Biden on Thursday, who briefed him on his meeting with Putin.
According to the researchers, any invasion would need Russia to prepare for a widespread resistance effort led by Ukrainian veterans.
“Russia will confront a large-scale guerilla battle in Ukraine if it initiates an assault, and the infrastructure for it has already been established,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, the chairman of the Kyiv-based Penta think tank. “Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers battled in the east, and every courtyard has a local hero who fought rebels and Russians.”