By all accounts, the battle for Ukraine was never going to be a fair fight.
The invading Russian Federation commands the second most powerful military in the world, behind only the United States, having spent an estimated US$61.7 billion on defense in 2020, according to figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Ukraine spent a tenth of that amount, or just US$5.9 billion.
And this disparity appears in almost every possible comparison.
- Russia has nearly 900,000 active military personnel to rely on in its war of aggression, compared to about 200,000 permanent Ukrainian military personnel.
- Ukraine has far fewer attack planes – 146 compared to Russia’s 1,328 – and helicopters; only 42 against 478.
- The Russian tanks rumbling towards the capital, Kiev, are part of an overall armored corps of 31,000 vehicles, compared to Ukraine’s 5,000.
- The Russian Navy has 605 ships, including 70 submarines, which can be deployed in the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine. While the Ukrainian fleet has only 38 ships and no submarines.
The unbalanced list goes on and on.
“The Russian army is powerful, there is no doubt about it, much more powerful than Ukraine’s,” the retired lieutenant general said. Andrew Leslie, former Chief of the Land Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces.
“The Russians have a vast technological advantage, in terms of quality, in terms of training time – which gives you experience on the different war machines – and in terms of numbers.”
Russian advantages that will be virtually insurmountable for Ukrainian defenders – at least early in the war, Leslie said. But pacifying the country’s 44 million people could prove a much tougher task for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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“Mr. Putin is going to have to go to the cities and he is going to have to occupy Ukraine for years against a bitter and vengeful population that has tasted freedom,” predicts Leslie. “And they’re not going to forget, and they’re not going to allow the Russians to have an easy job, or to stay very long.”
Do not underestimate the will of the Ukrainian people
The Ukrainian leadership seems to have already moved on to the next fight. Russia’s official military reserve force is estimated at 2 million soldiers. But the Ukrainians are now busy trying to increase their core of 900,000 appeals, having now ordered all men between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay in the country, and arming anyone willing to pick up a gun.
On Friday, former President Petro Poroshenko was on the streets of Kyiv, brandishing an AK-47 and touting the country’s numerical strength.
“It’s the long line of people who want to join the battalion, but we don’t have enough guns… they’re normal, ordinary people [who] sometimes [have] was never in the army, now I’m lining up to join us,” Poroshenko told CNN.
“Putin will never catch Ukraine despite how many soldiers he has, how many missiles he has, how many nuclear weapons he has. We Ukrainians are a free people with a great European future.”
WATCH | NATO will supply more weapons to Ukraine:
Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, took to Facebook on Friday to urge citizens to resist Russian forces in any way possible, even with homemade weapons. Advocacy apparently had an impact, as online searches for Molotov cocktail recipes reportedly increased in the capital.
The Ukrainian people’s will to resist should not be underestimated, said Ihor Kozak, a former Canadian Forces officer who has been training and advising the military in his native Ukraine since 2014.
“Ukrainians are now fighting for their freedom, for their families, for their homeland,” Kozak said. “The morale is very, very high. And I think that’s going to be a deciding factor in this war.”
Nor should anyone doubt the professionalism of its heavily armed but well-trained military, Kozak added.
Eight years ago, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea and backing a separatist uprising in the Donbass region, the country’s military was almost non-existent.
“There was really no money spent, no training, no modern weapons, no ammunition. So the people who went to fight were the young volunteers, and the not so young volunteers of the revolution Maidan, often in running shoes, with obsolete weapons,” recalls Kozak.
What Ukraine needs are weapons
All that changed with the establishment of a modern combat force, trained to NATO standards by Western advisers, including members of the Canadian military. Now, what Ukraine desperately needs is not so much manpower as arms.
“They need more [anti-tank] javelins, more [anti-aircraft] darts, more ammunition, more weapons so they can defend themselves and they can defend us. So I strongly encourage the Government of Canada and Western leaders to do this now before it’s too late,” Kozak said.
Big demand as Russia makes rapid inroads, with its troops already on the streets of Kiev.
Especially since the Ukrainian army ranks 22nd most powerful in the world — a place ahead of Canada in 23rd place.
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