The general consensus the media has presented during this conflict is that Ukraine, if pressed into a military tête-à-tête with Russia, would stand little to no chance. With a reserve capacity of almost a million, this in terms of raw numbers would still be no match for Russia’s near million active troops, and multimillion reserves.
Questions of technical competency are valid, but neglect the single most tacit mode of warfare such a battle would become: a proxy war. In this Cold War era staple, while military support from the West may be hard to come by given the tenuous risks involved, material support would not only be plentiful, but the convenient logistics involved in supplying arms and equipment through the western Polish, Slovakian, and Romanian borders would mean an entirely uninterrupted supply line.
The next issue is the myth of the juggernaut steamrolling its way to a quick victory. While Russia has traditionally dominated in wars of attrition, here it’s not facing an existential threat marching on its frontiers, but rather the opposite. While financial sanctions are hotly promoted as the best means to impede the Russian war machine, we need to remember recent history, and that the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost trillions of dollars to maintain and finance. As early as last November it was already being talked about how Putin is running out of money. And while Ukraine isn’t Afghanistan, Moscow itself has both experience and failure in that very region, and that was at a time when the Soviet army was at its zenith and Afghanistan’s population was 1/3rd what Ukraine’s is today. That Soviet-Afghan war took 9 years and resulted in the collapse of the Union – the last time Russia faced Ukraine, underground resistance continued for 11 years after World War 2.
[one_fourth]the fight against ‘Western‘ interlocutors simply won’t be possible on the Eastern Front[/one_fourth]
The other often misrepresented notion is that Ukrainian soldiers, especially those of Russian descent, would be open to defecting to the Russian side. This suggestion is a double edged sword. With the idea of Russian soldiers being sent into Ukraine under the pretense of ‘defending’ ethnic and linguistic Russians, to then be ordered to kill those very same people may come with apprehension. As seen recently during the emotional standoff at the Belbek Air Force base, a hesitance to conflict exists between the two sides. The fiery rhetoric and abuses have come thus far from nationalist irregulars and special forces such as the notorious Berkut, not professional soldiers. As we saw in Kyiv, while Berkut were willing to fire on civilians and act with malice, soldiers and officers repeatedly refused such orders. Furthermore, the Ukrainian armed forces is a mixed force, and framing the fight against ‘Western’ interlocutors simply won’t be possible on the Eastern Front.
All this said, Mark Galeotti, a professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, offers a a final, contrasting, opinion to those presented on the likes of CNN:
…even if the quality and morale of many Ukrainian units may be uncertain, there are relatively elite units which could take the brunt of any initial assault, including the 95th Independent Airmobile Brigade, the 25th Airborne Brigade and the Naval Infantry Brigade.
Furthermore, while Ukraine’s military is one sixth the size of Russia’s, their larger neighbor cannot afford politically or even economically to assemble more than a fraction of these forces for a war. It cannot denude its other borders, nor strip the North Caucasus of troops. Many are also unsuited to such a conflict, such as the nuclear forces or the Pacific Fleet. All told, the Russians are unlikely to be able to muster more than — at most — a two-to-one advantage, which is a ratio still typically favoring the defender when there is not a massive technological and qualitative disparity. In this case there is not: the Russian forces have their own problems.
All things considered, this war may not be as easy as it’s portrayed in the media. Conflict is unpredictable and often never as simple as initially planned.