Ukraine has rebuilt 250,000 person army but Russia will hold escalation advantage for years

Russia and Ukraine are the two countries with the largest land armies in Europe. They have been locked in a conflict for three year and have repeatedly come close to escalating to all-out war.

On Dec. 1, Ukraine announced it had successfully tested 16 medium range surface-to-air missiles within a designated airspace over the Black Sea.

More than 10,000 soldiers and civilians have already died in the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops are squared off in static, trench warfare against a combined force of pro-Russian separatists and Russian regulars.

Ukraine now has the second-largest standing army in Europe; Russia has the largest.

After a two-year crash course to rebuild its military, Ukraine has increased its active-duty ranks from 150,000 to 250,000 troops.

(France has about 209,000 active troops, Germany has about 176,750 active troops, Spain has about 133,000, Poland has about 101,500, and the UK has about 153,600.)

Ukraine has also increased its defense budget to about $6 billion, representing roughly 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Military spending is set to increase by about 10 percent annually.

Russia, which has three times the population of Ukraine and 10 times the GDP, has an active-duty force of about 800,000 with a reserve force of 2 million. Russia’s 2015 defense budget was about $ 65 billion-roughly 10 times that of Ukraine and on par with the United Kingdom.

Ukraine’s annual defense budget is still a fraction of Western military powers, such as France (about $ 36 billion), Germany (about $ 37 billion), and the United Kingdom (about $ 65 billion).

Ukraine’s military strength, however, lies in the size of its army, and the quantity of military hardware at its disposal.

Ukraine, for example, currently operates more than 2,800 tanks-compared with 423 in France, 407 in the UK, and 408 in Germany.

And Ukraine’s arsenal comprises 625 multiple launch rocket systems-compared with 44 in France, 42 in the UK, and Germany’s 50.

According to Ukrainian military reports, combined Russian-separatist forces in the Donbas now wield about 700 tanks, 1,200 armored vehicles, 1,000 pieces of artillery, and 300 multiple launch rocket systems.

This puts the combined Russian-separatist forces in control of more tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, and artillery pieces than the armed forces of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Ukrainian society has also adapted to the state of perpetual conflict with Russia.

Across the country, civilians regularly meet on the weekends for military training. They comprise a network of partisan forces called territorial defense battalions.

These civilian volunteer paramilitary units, which can be rapidly mobilized to defend against a Russian invasion, are not official military units. But they receive training, equipment, and in some cases, arms from the regular military.

Ukraine’s military is in the process of a top-to-bottom overhaul to bring it in line with NATO standards by 2020.

Russia has and will have an escalation advantage over the Ukraine for several years

Ukraine’s military could become a potent ground force in five to 10 years, with hard work, the country could partially realize such a vision.

By the end of 2017, Russia’s forces will be better positioned to conduct an incursion or threaten regime change in Kiev than they ever were in 2014

SOURCES- Foreign Policy, Institute for Study of War, Daily Signal