Twitter exchange on Ukraine

There was a brief exchange on twitter concerning the previous article, which I was not involved in. The initial response to my previous post was: “40,000 professional troops w/combat experience could go through go through 200,000 conscripts like a hot knife through butter.” The discussion continued with more agreement than disagreement. But it does bring up the issue of the relative capability of both armies.

We do not how good and capable each army is. Just a few observations

  1. The Russian Army is a mixed professional and conscript army. They have been using conscripts in the fighting in Ukraine (as the mothers of deceased Russian soldiers continue to remind us).
  2. The Ukrainian Army is a mixed professional and conscript army.
  3. Both armies had the same roots, traditions, training and leadership up through 1991. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, both armies were very similar for several years after that and both were in decline.
  4. After a period of serious decay in the 1990s, the Russian Army began to rebuild itself, including revising its doctrine.
  5. At the same time the Ukrainian Army began to rebuild itself, revising itself to some extent based upon U.S. doctrine. It joined NATO’s partnership-for-peace program in 1994.
  6. The Ukrainian Army suspended its active participation in the NATO partnership-for-peace program after President Yanukovich was elected in February 2010. The army was reduced and conscription ended.
  7. Since Yanukovich has left office in February 2014 (for the second time), the Ukrainian Army has reintroduced conscription and have begun the process of rebuilding themselves.
  8. Both armies have shown gaps in discipline and professionalism at times. For example, both armed forces have managed to each shoot down a civilian airliner.

My gut reaction is that the Russian Army may be more professional at this moment in time, but certainly not to a degree that would allow 40,000 to conquer a country protected by 200,000. A ratio of 1-to-5 for conducting a major invasion is rarely seen in history. It was certainly not the case when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Two more points:

  1. There is invasion and there is occupation. For example, in 2003 the U.S. invaded Iraq, a country of 24 million, with 75,000 troops. The occupation over the next couple of years did not go well, as an insurgency blossomed in that poor security environment. The population of Ukraine is around 42 million.
  2. The best time to invade a country is at the start of the summer (like Germany did with France in 1940 and the Soviet Union in 1941). Waiting until August does not make a lot of sense. Fall operations have been done (World War I started in August 1914 and Poland was invaded in September 1939), but in general, you want the longest period of good campaign weather.

My conclusion is that there is almost no chance of a full-scale Russian invasion at this stage. They would need a couple of hundred thousand troops to do so. They have not massed those forces yet and almost certainly will not this year.

On the other hand, they do have enough force to do something more limited, like take Mariupol, or cause problems around Kharkiv/Kharkov. Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine (population 1.4 million) and has a large Russian-speaking population. It was the failure of the pro-Yanukovich/pro-Russian forces to obtain a foothold there in 2014 that severely limited the effects of the revolt in eastern Ukraine. I suspect that now doing anything significant against Kharkiv would be difficult.

Mariupol seems to the “prize” that everyone is focusing on. Even then, it is only another city (population: around 460,000). While it is the major port for the Donetsk province, it does not connect the Russians overland to Crimea. There is another 250 of so miles to make a land bridge all the way to Crimea. This is a lot of territory to take and a lot of territory to then have to protect.

My tentative conclusion as this this conflict for now is effectively stalemated, with perhaps only Mariupol in the balance. This does not mean it will remain peaceful, as there is regularly violence there, and this does mean that there will not be significant increases in violence, but other than the threat to Mariupol, I do not see any other major territorial shifts occurring between now and next spring (2017).

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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