Ukraine’s military in even worse shape than Russia’s

The Ukrainian military seems to be in complete disarray. I don’t regularly follow the Ukrainian military, so I apologize if the following is in some way incomplete or misleading. It is based on an article in the most recent issue of NVO.

Once we get past the usual tendency of much of the Russian press to make fun of Ukraine and especially the Ukrainian language (such as the continual references to Ukraine’s “zbroinye sily”) and the slightly ludicrous connection between underfinancing of the Ukrainian military and political arguments that Russia might soon attack Ukraine, there is some interesting information in the article.

First of all, the Ukrainian military is woefully underfinanced. To maintain its existing level of functionality, the Ukrainian military required 17.7 billion hryvnias (about $2.2 billion). The actual level of financing in the 2009 budget was 8.4 billion hryvnias (just over $1 billion), which is equivalent to 0.87 percent of the country’s GDP.  After public protests by head of the general staff, funding was increased to 11.7 billion hryvnias, although one-third of that money was to come from special one time revenues from property sales. The financial problems were so bad that a large number of Ukrainian military bases had their power shut off due to non-payment of electricity bills.

The result of this level of underfinancing has had a devastating impact on training, with 96 percent of military staff receiving no practical training whatsoever. Air force pilots from the rapid reaction force get only 10 hours of flight training per year, while other pilots receive virtually none at all. In large part, this is because the air force receives virtually no fuel (4000 tons in 2009 versus a requirement of 65-70,000 tons).

Equipment is also deteriorating. 88 percent of Ukrainian military aircraft are incapable of flight. Only 30 of the air force’s 112 fighter aircraft are considered combat-ready. 70 percent of navy ships and 40 percent of tanks and artillery are not combat-ready. The only major new systems received by the military in the past year were two new tanks.

My only personal interaction with the Ukrainian military bears this out. Back in 2005, I was involved in a study that examined the possibility of greater US naval cooperation with the Ukrainian Navy. This was in the immediate aftermath of the Orange revolution and hopes were high. Ukrainian naval commanders were eager to meet with my team and made it clear that they would accept any overtures for greater cooperation. But they persistently rejected our requests to see their ships with various excuses. It was clear that they were embarrassed at the condition of these ships and did not want the extent of their deterioration to become widely known.

The deterioration of training and equipment is compounded by what seems to be a complete leadership vacuum. Yuri Yekhanurov, the last defense minister, was removed by parliament last summer. No replacement has been appointed, nor is there any chance that one will be appointed before the upcoming presidential elections. In early October, Sergei Kirichenko, the chief of the general staff (i.e. the country’s top military officer) submitted his resignation in protest at the lack of concern for the military’s problems among the country’s political elite.

At the same time, Ukraine is doing better than Russia in terms of manpower. 53 percent of Ukrainian soldiers are professional. Salaries and benefits are quite competitive with the civilian economy and there is virtually no prospect of actually having to participate in combat.

At the same time, the military has no problems with the draft. In fact, in the current year there are 18 candidates for each available spot in the military draft. This is the result of a combination of high levels of unemployment among young men in the aftermath of the economic crisis, improved job prospects for draftees after the completion of their service (they can get jobs more easily in the police forces or in private security services), and the disappearance of hazing in the Ukrainian military after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The implication of this article for the Russian military is that a transition to a professional military is possible as long as economic incentives are properly aligned and living conditions (included freedom from hazing) are adequate.

5 thoughts on “Ukraine’s military in even worse shape than Russia’s

  1. Pingback: Ucraina, bau-baul de langa noi… « RomaniaMilitary

  2. Does not the Ukranian miltary still have constriction, the drafting of all citizen and for example young men out of college or secondary education into the armed forces for 1 – 3 years even in 2013? Ukrain is a peacefull country, however, as they have demonstrated during past confrontations, the people will rally if the threat of war exist. The populations is saturated with Russians and quite frankly there isn’t much difference in the language or the people. I believe if there was a threat to Ukraines national security Russia will come to their aid as would the United Sates and many other eastern European nations. Ukraine has the productive soil and much more to make them a asset to Russia. They also build some of the best tanks and turbines in the world! How do I know this? I have visted there many times and lived amongst the Ukranians! Don’t under estimate their value and tenacity!!!

    • The conscription to the Armed Forces of Ukraine was abolished in 2013. Before that period people with a degree had to serve for 9 months, while those without a degree had to serve for 12 months.

  3. Pingback: Putin’s potentially costly blunder in Ukraine | Russian Military Reform

  4. Interesting article. Thank you. I can’t imagine the Russians being so stupid as to openly ‘invade’ Ukraine. They will wait to be invited into the South Eastern Russian speaking majority regions, after these have declared independence from Kiev. In that way if the RF accedes to requests from these regions as self-proclaimed independent republics for incorporation into the RF then the Russian Army will be acting within Russian law by going in to protect them as citizens of the RF. That will be the ‘de facto’ situation. If the Russian Army were to go in overnight it would be like the Czech invasion in 68. They would deal with non-Russian opposition as they saw fit.
    They wouldn’t invade the rest of Ukraine. It would become a standoff. They would only take action in Kiev if the present ‘coup state’ declared for NATO and the EU. This would be seen as a direct threat to the security and integrity of the RF and Putin would have to act. However I can see Putin ousting the present administration in Kiev rather than invading. Splitting Ukraine in 2 or 3 (Eastern/Western or Eastern/Central/Western) would render it worthless as a viable state. There are 20 million Russian Ukrainians in the SE, from Moldova to Kharkov. That leaves 25 million Ukrainians elsewhere in a bankrupt corrupt divided country. Not what the EU or NATO would want to take on at the present time. The FSB would presumably be ensuring that Ukraine remains bankrupt, corrupt and divided. And no threat to Russia.
    This crisis may end up having a galvanising effect on Russians and the Russian military.

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