Tensions are rising in Ukraine and Russia as Crimea is set to hold a fixed referendum on Sunday about whether or not the region will break away and join Russia.
In a showing of strength, and excessive intimidation, Russia has started holding military exercises Thursday near the border with Ukraine in its Southern Military District.
Th drills involves 8,500 artillery men and huge numbers of Grad, Hurricane, and Tornado multiple-rocket launchers. Howitzers, Nona self-propelled artillery, and Rapier anti-tank guns are also being tested.
This new military drill also coincides with the largest ever air force drill in Russia’s Western Military District just 280 miles east of Ukraine’s border.
One exercise the Russians are undertaking involves firing at conventional targets nine miles away, with the half the training taking place at night, Reuters reports.
Ukraine is justifiably worried over these exercises. Large scale military drills by Russia at the end of February preceeded the Russian invasion of Crimea by a few days.
Adding to the anxiety, Ukraine’s military is woefully underprepared for any shooting war with Russia.
From Sergei L. Loiko of The Los Angeles Times:
Russia has deployed a force of 220,000 troops, 1,800 tanks and over 400 helicopters close to Ukraine’s border. Its neighbour has about 41,000 troops, of which only 6,000 were “really combat ready,” Ukraine’s acting Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh told the national parliament Tuesday, UNIAN news agency reported.
In an attempt to bolster its forces, Ukraine has voted to create a 60,000 strong National guard, which will focus on border and state security as well as the elimination of terrorist groups.
The group is expected to be drawn from activists associated with the ouster of Yanukovych and the country’s military academies. Almost none of these soldiers will have had actual combat experience.
Despite Ukraine’s ragtag army, it wouldn’t just roll over if a war starts. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, conventional war would likely not last long. Instead, the Russians could expect a drawn out guerrilla war similar to what the Soviet Union experienced in Afghanistan.
The Ukrainians would not have any other choice. As Ukrainian Defence Minister Tenyukh said, “this [Russian] force by several times exceeds the armed forces of Ukraine.”
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