Whatever the future holds, Ukraine is as ready as it’s ever going to be. If the Russians invade the central European country, Ukraine is much better equipped and trained to give them as good a fight as possible. If they are able to join NATO, then a Russian invasion is much more unlikely.
As Russia steps up its military presence on its border with Ukraine, adding around 30,000 troops as of April 2021, Ukraine is getting ready for them. Both sides of the border held military drills in the middle of the month, on their respective sides of the border.
Ukraine sees the Russian troop presence as a direct threat to Ukraine’s national borders and internal security. Russia says its military buildup is a direct response to possible American intervention in the region, as two U.S. Navy ships entered the Black Sea in the week before Russia’s military exercises.
In the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution that brought current President Volodymyr Zelensky to power, the Russian military entered the Crimean Peninsula, captured strategic sites in the area, and installed a pro-Russian government there. It then initiated a referendum among its populace that allegedly voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation.
Two days after the vote, Russia annexed the peninsula. But that didn’t stop the fighting in the region. In the aftermath of the revolution in Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists rose up in the Donbass region of the country and have been fighting Ukrainian government forces ever since.
The two areas that comprise the Donbass region, Donetsk and Luhansk, have declared their independence and are being supported financially and militarily by Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow.
But that conflict started years ago. When Russian forces entered Crimea, the Ukranian military was largely inexperienced and untrained. After seven years of low-intensity conflict, the military leadership in Kiev believes it fields a battle-hardened army of veterans.
Russia maintains a large military force, with one million troops on active duty and two million in reserve compared to Ukraine’s army of 255,000 in active service and 900,000 in reserve. The bulk of the Russian military’s combat experience is from the recent actions in Syria, and large portions of the Russian army do not deploy outside the country.
Still, observers are concerned that the 30,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s doorstep is the largest buildup of Russian forces since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine, for its part, has not only been fighting a war for years on end, giving its troops valuable real-world combat experience, it has also strived toward NATO membership. The gains it made in recent years have dwarfed the gains made under its former pro-Russian leaders.
In the first 18 months of Volodymyr Zelensky’s presidency, the country has met 96 of NATO standards compared to the 196 made by his predecessor over five years. Zelensky’s government has also increased military spending by 1.4% since 2019, now spending 3.4% of its GDP.
NATO membership for Ukraine is still a long way off by most expert opinions. Zelensky has called for four-way talks with Russia, Germany, and France to ease tensions with Moscow and end the military buildup along his eastern border.