Once famous for being the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine is now better known as the frontier of ‘Fortress Europe’, where now-Western aligned former Soviet states border a newly resurgent Russia, desperate to re-establish it’s traditional sphere of influence.
The future certainly looks challenging for those nations that border the Russian Federation. As the former President of Lativa Varia Vike-Freiberger argued in a Raddington Report article earlier this year, 2017 has been a watershed year for the Baltic states. Russian and Belorussian troops have again conducted massive war-games on the frontiers of Europe; this time against the hypothetical nations of “Vesbaria” and “Lubenia” who seek to threaten the Kaliningrad enclave, while a group of internationally backed terrorists, called the “Veishnoria”, seek to overthrow the Belorossian government.
Moscow’s war games are large. They are expected to feature over 12,000 troops, 250 tanks, 70 aircraft and 10 warships, in a simulation where Russian troops block air and sea corridors – against internationally supplied air and sea threats supporting the Veishnoria. The likely participation figures may well exceed 100,000; but 12,700 is the limit of unobserved war-games. Beyond this, treaty obligations kick in and international observers must be given access. There are deep concerns about these manoeuvres more broadly; Poland and the Baltic states, for example, view this as a serious challenge to their national security. These kinds of war games provided cover for Russia’s opening moves on Crimea in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
In the face of Russian hybrid warfare and the ongoing War in the Donbass (where Ukranian troops are still under attack), Ukraine is beginning to gird itself in order to deter any other territorial ambitions its larger neighbour may hold. Although further land grabs following the seizure of Crimea are unlikely, Ukraine still faces territorial challenges on it’s eastern border. In the Donetsk, a breakaway republic has declared itself into being. Although ‘Maloroyssia’, or ‘Little Russia’, was almost immediately disowned by Vladmir Putin, it is more than possible Russia will engineer a ‘frozen conflict’ for leverage later on.
Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, is well aware of the danger that Russia poses – not just to Kiev, but to Europe. That is why Ukraine is investing heavily in it’s military capabilities, with Kiev’s military budget recently undergoing a huge increase. Even before this budget significant investment was being reeled out in projects designed specifically to counter Russian military force; the Ukrainian army recently began buying domestically produced US-designed Javelin anti-tank missile systems, designed to stop Russian armour; there have also been upgrade packages to Ukraine’s fleet of T-72 tanks, doubtless aimed at countering the huge increase in capability the new Armata tank will likely give Moscow. These new capabilities are aimed at countering a specific threat, that of the ‘little green men’, whose equipment is not standard Russian infantry equipment, but rather that of the most capable formations in the military – airborne and mountain troops, as well as special forces.
To again face a separatist force utilising Russian (and captured Ukrainian) equipment – with these ‘little green men’ as the spine – Ukraine needed to change it’s security posture to a more aggressive outlook, and needed an uplift to match. And so we see a far more military-forward approach in Ukraine. It recently held an arms fair in the very centre of Kiev, aimed just for export but as a deliberate show of military strength. Displaying a wide range of arms currently in use across all of Ukraine’s military forces, the event was (rather unsubtly) called “Might of the Undefeated”. With moves like this come allegations of corruption, suggesting that Poroshenko is funnelling taxpayer funds into the coffers of his friend’s companies. Whether or not these allegations are true – and it is certainly possible that they are – what is certain is that Ukraine is gearing up to take on a much more established and aggressive power. It may need more tanks yet.