Russia and Ukraine: How difficult will it be for Kiev to stand up to the Russian invasion?

Russia and Ukraine: How difficult will it be for Kiev to stand up to the Russian invasion?
Russia and Ukraine: How difficult will it be for Kiev to stand up to the Russian invasion?

How difficult is it for Ukraine to defend itself now that the Russian invasion has begun? Russia is superior in weapons and equipment as well as numbers in all areas, after large investments and modernization in the Russian armed forces by President Putin.

I think the Ukrainians are in a very difficult situation says Dr Jack Watling, of the Royal United Services Institute. He has just returned from Ukraine and says the country's military leaders are now facing some  very difficult choices.

Western officials estimate that Russia has as many as 190,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border much more than the entire Ukrainian regular army of 125,600 soldiers.

Russian forces are already crossing the border from multiple directions.

Ukraine will find it difficult to defend its borders that stretch thousands of miles, from Belarus in the north to Crimea in the south. If you can imagine a map of Ukraine as a clock face, the Russians can launch attacks from 10 am to 7 am (over most of the Ukrainian territory).

 It's a very difficult situation for the guns  says Ben Barry, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a former brigadier general in the British army.

In addition, Ukraine is under threat from multiple directions and its forces are very little spread out,  says Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute.

But the real disparity between Russian and Ukrainian forces is in the sky.

Watling says Ukraine has 105 combat aircraft on the border compared to Russia's 300. He predicts that the Russians will  gain air superiority very quickly.

Russia's advanced air defense systems, such as the S-400 missiles, also give its forces an advantage. In contrast, Ukraine has older and more limited air defenses.

Watling gives an example of Israel's ability to defend itself in multiple directions. But he adds that it is only able to do so because of its air superiority. This is something that Ukraine simply does not have.

Moscow has developed its own version of the shock and awe strategy, with air and missile artillery and long-range missiles integrated in the air, says Ben Barry.

This allows the Russians to attack Ukrainian command and control centers, ammunition depots, air forces and air defenses from great distances.

And that appears to have already begun, with cruise missile attacks on targets near the capital, Kiev.

Watling says the Russians have a very large arsenal of modern weapons and capabilities that Ukraine does not have, such as the Iskander cruise missile and ballistic missile systems.

Ukraine has recently received supplies of  lethal weapons  from the US and Britain, but most of them are short-range air-to-air missiles and anti-tank weapons.

In short, Russia is superior to Ukraine in number and equipment.

With Russian air superiority and long-range weapons, the danger to Ukrainian forces is that they will soon be located.

Mr. Watling believes that Ukrainian forces can be prevented from being able to maneuver and reposition to confront the Russian advance from any other direction.

Many of Ukraine's best trained and equipped units are located in the east of the country   near the Line of Control in Lugansk and Donetsk   where fighting has been taking place since 2014.

Western intelligence officials told the BBC there were real concerns that Russia would try to encircle those forces.

war in ukraine

However, Ukraine's armed forces are better trained and equipped now than they were when Russia invaded Crimea.

Barry says the units and soldiers have gained useful combat experience from fighting with Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

But he adds that they were primarily engaged in linear trench warfare, and that the requirements for maneuvering warfare  would be much more difficult.

Russian forces are able to move quickly with rocket and missile launchers and mobile air defenses. The Russian forces, too, developed their fighting ability after a tough battle fought following their conquest of Crimea and Syria.

urban war

If fighting enters Ukrainian towns and cities, it could give Ukrainian forces a chance.

A well-equipped cannon can make urban combat difficult and bloody for an attacker  as demonstrated in Stalingrad in World War II and more recently in Mosul in Iraq.

Ben Barry believes that Russian forces may initially attempt to bypass towns and cities. But he believes it is unlikely that the Russians will be able to avoid fighting in the cities, at least in Kiev given their political importance.

Jack Watling says that if Ukraine can properly defend its cities, it may be able to hold out for a long time.

British-supplied light anti-tank weapons may assist in close combat, where Ukrainian forces can move with cover. An unknown number of civilians can also bear arms.

Russia cannot rely solely on air strikes and artillery to take over towns and cities.

But Watling says Russia already has agents and operatives on the ground.  There will be sabotage and unconventional operations in Kiev to try to destabilize the government, he says. He adds that Russia will also try to encircle the cities and use long-range artillery to target pockets of resistance, and then try to use special forces and agents to  essentially kill civil society leaders. 

Ukraine is now fighting for its survival.

It has been engaged in combat with Russian-backed forces in the east for the past eight years, but the threat is now existential to the entire country.

Having just visited Ukraine, Watling says there is  a strong determination to survive as a country, but there is recognition of a great disparity in power, and that the war will be very bloody.

#Russia   #Ukraine    #Kiev    #Putin    #Russian invasion    #Donetsk

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