Can Ukraine Defend Itself Much Longer?

How difficult will it be for Ukraine to protect itself, now that Russia has launched an attack?

Ukraine is outclassed and outmanned across the board, thanks to President Putin’s enormous investment and modernization of Russia’s military forces.

It’s Not Looking Good

“I believe the Ukrainians are in a very tough position,” says Dr. Jack Watling of the Royal United Nations Institute. He recently returned from Ukraine, where he claims the country’s military officials are now faced with “extremely difficult options.”

Russia deployed up to 190,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s border, according to Western diplomats, significantly more than Ukraine’s whole national military of 125,600.

Russian forces are already attempting to cross the border in several directions.

Ukraine will have a difficult time defending thousands of kilometers of its border, which stretches from Belarus in the northwest to Crimea in the south.

It’s a “particularly challenging position for a defense,” says Ben Barry of the International Centre of Strategic Studies (IISS) and a retired British Army brigadier.

Furthermore, Ukraine is under attack from numerous areas; its forces are “spread quite thinly,” according to Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Russia’s Aerial Dominance

The true divide separating Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, however, lies in the sky.

Mr. Watling claims Ukraine has 105 fighter planes on the border, compared to Russia’s 300. “The Russians will rapidly win air dominance,” he predicted.

Russia’s powerful missile systems, such as the S-400 missiles, also provide an advantage to its military. Ukraine, on the other hand, has older and more restricted air defenses.

Mr. Watling uses Israel as an example of a country that can defend itself from numerous directions. However, he argues it has only been able to do that because of its air supremacy. That is something Ukraine just lacks.

According to Ben Barry, Moscow devised its own variant of “shock and awe” that includes integrated air, missile, and long-range rocket artillery.

It lets Russia launch long-range attacks on Ukraine’s management and control centers, ammo depots, air force, and air defenses. This appears to have started already, with cruise missile strikes on sites near Kyiv’s city.

Mr. Watling claims Russia has a sizable stockpile of modern weapons and capabilities, including the Iskander cruise and cruise missile systems, that Ukraine lacks.

Ukraine has recently obtained “military assistance” from the United States and the United Kingdom, but much of it is in the form of short-range air-to-air rockets and anti-tank armaments.

The risk for Ukraine’s military is they will be hemmed down shortly, due to Russia’s air supremacy and long-range missiles.

Mr. Watling thinks Ukraine’s soldiers could be prevented from maneuvering and repositioning to confront the Russian onslaught from any other position.

Many of Ukraine’s best-trained, as well as equipped battalions, are in the country’s east, near the line of sovereignty in Luhansk and Donetsk, where conflict has raged since 2014.