Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine

By Kofman, Michael | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine


Kofman, Michael, Joint Force Quarterly


Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine

Edited by Colby Howard and Ruslan Pukhov

East View Press, 2014

236 pp. $89.95

ISBN: 978-1879944220

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Brothers Armed is an edited anthology comprising several essays detailing the history of Crimea, the post-Soviet history of the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces, and a detailed account of Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014. This volume is timely, especially given the dearth of existing scholarly sources on some of the subjects covered. It provides great insights into the annexation, comprehensively analyzes the historical context as well as the existing military balance, and delivers a full accounting in an objective and dispassionate manner.

The first chapter by Vasiliy Kashin briefly covers the history of Crimea until its controversial transfer from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev. A change of borders intended mostly for pragmatic reasons, the transfer proved unpopular with Russians and became a lasting problem between the two successor countries when Boris Yeltsin pushed for a hasty dissolution of the Soviet Union. Kashin explains that "the Crimean issue was never completely forgotten, but it was seen as relatively unimportant" as long as Moscow sought to achieve other goals in Ukraine, sacrificing Crimea in an effort to "draw the whole of Ukraine into its orbit." An added insight is that Russia made little official effort to retain its influence in Crimea during the 1990s, or stir up trouble there, but a personal crusade by Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov deserves most of the credit for preserving Russian influence on the peninsula.

Sergey Denisentsev next describes the Ukraine's military inheritance from the Soviet Union. Ukraine received "the second most powerful armed forces in Europe after Russia, and the fourth most powerful in the world." He describes the degradation of a formidable force, left without a budget, purpose, or political support as "completely unprecedented in terms of its speed and scale." The chapter assesses some roughly $89 billion of inherited military assets ($150 billion adjusted for inflation), detailing some of the Soviet Union's best technical assets.

Anton Lavrov and Aleksey Nikolsky then discuss why Ukraine largely neglected its armed forces, letting them deteriorate. Ukraine drastically cut manpower but maintained the Soviet mobilization-centric configuration and large stockpiles of equipment that were costly to maintain but provided little capability. Interestingly, the forces were all stationed on the western front because of existing Soviet infrastructure, and no funding was ever allocated to rebase units in the eastern half of the country. The reforms that did occur were pushed through by a pro-Western government in Kiev, starting in 2005, because of its desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Ukraine's parliament, however, consistently underfunded the defense budget, undermining any attempts at reform, training, or modernization.

Russia's war with Georgia had an unexpected suppressive effect, suspending Ukraine's hopes of joining NATO and thus nullifying any impetus for further military reforms. A disastrous scheme by the government in 2009 to fund a large percentage of the defense budget by selling surplus equipment fell through, leaving the armed forces bankrupt and without food or electricity. As a cumulative consequence, by 2012 "some 92% of Ukraine's hardware was at least 20 years old, and 52% was older than 25 years." Lavrov and Nikolsky paint a clear picture of how and why Ukraine ended up having barely 5,000 combat-ready troops in 2014, as well as few flying aircraft and hardly any functioning ships. …

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