Ukraine's outdated and underfunded military no match for Russia

Ukraine's underfunded and outdated military, with Cold War-era technology and salaries to match, would be an anemic deterrent if the Russian invasion of Crimea were to widen into a bigger confrontation, according to a 2012 Ukrainian Ministry of Defense report.

Obsolete tanks and fighter planes, a miniscule navy and a dwindling army whose approximately 100,000 soldiers earn about half the nation’s average salary all bode poorly for the nation of 45 million what declared its independence from Russia in 1991.

“It is absolutely not a combat ready force. It’s sharply underfunded, and they don’t have any real air or surface to air or capacity compared to what Russia can deploy — even though Russia is no paragon of military readiness either,” Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told

Themes of underfunding and lack of modernization fill the Ukrainian military “White Book,” which reviewed as Russian forces poured into the Black Sea peninsula, surrounding a military base and sending a chill north to Kiev.


While Russia spends just less than $100 billion per year on defense, Ukraine’s military budget for 2011 was $1.27 billion, according to the report, whose authors complained that the cash-strapped government routinely provided even less funding than it allocated on paper.

“The expenditure and allocation of the Ministry of Defense in 2011 failed to fully meet the resource requirements of the Armed Forces,” the report, which was issued in both Ukrainian and English, states.

The report says that Ukrainian forces have archaic equipment as a result.

“At the end of 2011, most of the technical communications are analog, and the digital communications element accounts for less than 10 percent of the whole communications system,” the report reads.

“This does not meet the needs of the troops,” it adds.

The Ukrainian military report also notes that out of 22 tanks that needed to be modernized between 2006 and 2011, only 10 were finished due to budget constraints. Out of 31 combat aircraft needing modernization, only three were finished. For combat ships it was four out of 22, and for combat helicopters zero out of 38.

Ukraine’s military funding is dramatically below the global average, the report says.

“Expenditure on materiel and infrastructure development [is] less than a third of the generally accepted global norms,” it reads.

“Average [defense spending] during the period 2006- 2011 was 1.0 percent of GDP… [there were] no resources available for the combat readiness renewal or the development of the Armed Forces,” it goes on.

The U.S. and Russia both spend more than 4 percent of their respective gross domestic products on their militaries.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the CIA World Factbook estimate Ukrainian defense spending at 2.4 percent of GDP in 2011, but the Institute’s Samuel Perlo-Freeman told that its figure includes pension costs -- and that Ukraine actually spends more on military pensions than it does on its entire active military.

The Ukrainian report goes on to note that troops are paid poorly, at half the average salary for Ukrainians.

“This does not encourage the citizens of Ukraine to consider military service as a career,” the report notes.

Over the past five years, force size as also been cut as part of a reorganization between 2006 and 2012, falling from 245,000 to 184,000.

But Cordesman said Ukraine’s military power is largely irrelevant in light of the country’s ethnic divisions. Many in east Ukraine speak mostly Russian and view the recent revolution as illegitimate.

“The main issue is not military balance,” Cordesman said.  “It is whether Ukraine can put its forces together into a unified organization. Trying to occupy the Crimea would be to find out the hard way how many soldiers are Ukrainian, [but] Russian supporters.”

The U.S. has little ability to intervene, he added.

“It would require us to fight Russians on basically Russian territory… Everything is going to depend on what Putin wants and what the local population [in Eastern Ukraine] wants. If they would rather have a Russian identity, then there’s little Ukraine can do.”

Despite all the negativity in the Ukranian military report, there are also portions that sound optimistic.

“The decline of technical readiness of materiel level was halted in 2011,” the report reads.

“Armed  Forces… are  capable of ensuring the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine,” it states. “The Armed Forces continually improve their professional skills, maintain the best military traditions, and show their deep patriotic sentiment and dedication to serve their Motherland.”

The author of this piece, Maxim Lott, can be reached on twitter at @maximlott or at