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A Cold War reprise as U.S. seeks Moscow's isolation

Mar. 3, 2014 - 04:15PM   |  
TOPSHOTS-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-POLITICS-UNREST
A woman holding red carnations mourns Monday near a homage to victims of the February clashes between anti-government protestors and riot police at a barricade on Independence square in central Kiev, (Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP via Getty Images)
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A look at Russian, Ukrainian militaries

MOSCOW — 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 1 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.


UNEQUAL OPPONENTS


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 the 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.


DIVIDED LOYALTIES


Ukraine’s loyalties have been sharply divided between the Russian-speaking east and south, where people favor close ties with Moscow, and the west, where residents want to integrate more closely with the European Union.


Ukraine’s armed forces reflect that divide. Units stationed in Russian-speaking regions are mostly manned by local residents who don’t necessarily support the new government in Kiev. That raises doubts about their loyalties in case of a military conflict with Russia.


The Ukrainian military’s reluctance to confront the Russians became obvious in Crimea, where a newly-named Ukrainian navy chief went over to the pro-Russian local government, a day after his appointment. Regional officials say that thousands of Ukrainian servicemen have done the same, but that claim can’t be independently confirmed.


TENSE STANDOFF IN CRIMEA


Forces of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea and additional Russian troops sent to the peninsula have seized or blocked Ukrainian air bases, air defense missile batteries and other military facilities, and garrisons throughout the region. Ukraine’s military acknowledged that “practically all” of its military facilities in Crimea have been surrounded or taken over.


A ferry crossing linking Crimea with Russia has been overtaken by Russian forces, which would allow a quickmilitary buildup in Crimea, if Russia chooses to do so. A narrow strip of land linking the peninsula with mainland Ukraine also has been sealed by armed people.


The Ukrainian military said Russia has recently brought four navy ships from other seas to the Crimean port of Sevastopol.


The Russians have demanded that Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea lay down their weapons. Some have agreed and left or joined pro-Russia forces. But others have refused and barricaded themselves at their bases. – AP

WASHINGTON — In a sudden reprise of Cold War sensibilities, the U.S. and its allies are weighing sanctions on Moscow and whether to bolster defenses in Europe in response to Russia’s military advances on Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry, soon on his way to Ukraine’s capital, said world leaders “are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion.”

Much as when superpower tensions ruled world affairs, missile defense systems and troop levels in Europe have again become urgent questions in Washington and beyond, a renewed reality that may force President Barack Obama’s administration to give up its intended foreign policy shift to Asia indefinitely.

Also echoing the era of East-West confrontation, there appears to be little if any taste in the West for a direct military response to Russia’s provocation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave no indication that he would heed the West’s warnings. Hundreds of armed men surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, a pro-Russian area. In Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk alerted allies that “we are on the brink of disaster.”

“This is absolutely the most serious test of our alliances since the Cold War ended,” Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said in a nationally broadcast interview Monday.

“I think it is extremely dangerous. Ukrainians fight and Russians fight,” said Kaptur, who has traveled to Ukraine on several occasions and is considered an expert on that part of the world.

Senior Obama administration officials said they believe Russia now has complete operational control over Crimea and has more than 6,000 forces in the region. The U.S. was also watching for ethnic skirmishes in other areas of eastern Ukraine, though the officials said they had not yet seen Russian military moves elsewhere. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kerry said he has consulted other world leaders and all are committed to doing what is necessary to isolate Russia diplomatically. President Obama spoke Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Kerry planned to travel to Kiev on Tuesday for meetings with the Ukrainian government. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the United States is ready to work with other countries and the International Monetary Fund to provide support for Ukraine’s economy.

In Brussels, NATO’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Russia’s actions have violated a U.N. charter. He said the alliance was re-evaluating its relationship with Russia.

“There are very serious repercussions that can flow out of this,” Kerry said.

Beyond economic sanctions and visa bans, freezing Russian assets, and trade and investment penalties, Kerry said Moscow risks being booted out of the powerful Group of Eight group of world powers as payback for the military incursion.

Former Ambassador Nicholas Burns said, “Putin’s not going to back off. ... What can President Obama do? Be very minded in opposition. We can’t follow a military policy. This has to be diplomatic.”

Several U.S. senators also called for bolstered missile defense systems based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia is “going to be inviting major difficulties for the long term,” said Kerry. “The people of Ukraine will not sit still for this. They know how to fight.”

Still, it was clear that few in the West were prepared to respond immediately to Putin with military force.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis used his traditional Sunday midday appearance in St. Peter’s Square to urge world leaders to promote dialogue as a way of resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., discussing the potential of U.S. military strikes against Russian troops in Crimea, said, “I don’t think anyone is advocating for that.” One of the administration officials indicated that the U.S. was not weighing military action to counter Russia’s advances, saying the Obama administration’s efforts were focused on political, economic and diplomatic options.

Rubio and fellow GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the Obama administration should return to plans it abandoned in 2009 to place long-range missile interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia believed the program was aimed at countering its own missiles and undermining its nuclear deterrent. The White House denied that and has worked instead to place medium-range interceptors in Poland and Romania — aimed at stopping missiles from Iran and North Korea.

Experts said potential U.S. budget cuts to Army units based in Germany also could be slowed, or scrapped completely, to prevent a catastrophic erosion of stability and democracy from creeping across Europe.

The Pentagon is considering new reductions to Army units in Germany that already have been slashed under Obama. Currently, there are two Army brigades — up to 10,000 soldiers — based in Germany, where armored and infantry units have dug in since World War II. At the end of the Cold War, more than 200,000 American forces were stationed across Europe.

Damon Wilson, an Eastern European scholar, former diplomat and executive vice president of the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, said the U.S. must be ready to pour its efforts into Ukraine, even at the cost of policies and priorities elsewhere.

“We should be no longer deluded by the fact that Europe is a safe spot of stability and security, and not a security risk for the U.S.,” Wilson said Sunday. He said that if Putin goes unchecked, it could result in war — the second one on NATO’s borders.

The 3-year-old civil war in Syria is already a crisis for neighboring Turkey, a NATO member state. Ukraine is not a NATO member, but it borders four nations that are — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

Russia has made clear it is ready to provide weapons and military equipment to governments across the Mideast that have irked Washington. Russia’s permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council gives it veto power over major world deliberations.

“The challenge is, we do need to have some kind of working relationship with Russia?” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked Sunday. “And while we can impose these costs and take these steps, we’ve got to be mindful of the fact that they can impose their own costs on us.”

Kerry appeared Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Rubio was on NBC, while Graham and Schiff were interviewed on CNN. Kaptur and Burns appeared Monday on CNN.

AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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