Foreign Policy Blogs

Soviets at the Table

Soviets at the Table

Sergei Supinsky / AFP / Getty


What is intriguing about the latest military conflict between Russia and Ukraine is how similar both countries are culturally and politically. While many ethnic Russians live in Ukraine, and a fair number of Ukrainians live and work in Russia, their cultural, historical, linguistic and family ties are quite deep. As one of the largest and most influential members of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine made up a good portion of the population and territory of the European part of the former Soviet Union. Beyond having mainstay Russian military capabilities like Antonov being based in the Ukraine and until recently, the Soviet/Russian Fleet in Sevastopol as part of the territory of Ukraine SSR, many mixed families are fairly common. Discussions around the dinner table is likely very intriguing on the current political situation in the past few weeks.

There are many military focused websites putting out their predictions on the result of a possible hot war between Russia and Ukraine. The motivation for theories on these scenarios is likely spurned on by Western media promoting the idea that war is inevitable between the two countries. While I disagree with the inevitability of many of their conclusions, the tactical analysis given is likely true, that the Russian Armed Forces would defeat Ukraine’s Armed Forces in battle.

My impression of the capabilities of each force is that while countries like China in 2008, and Russia have invested more recently in many new weapons systems, Ukraine and the rest of the world have mostly relied on updating late Cold War technologies for conflicts that will never match a Cold War scenario. With the exception of US stealth technology and mostly Russian technological antidotes to stealth and drones via anti-aircraft systems, Ukraine is fielding some of the best late Cold War equipment against Russia’s post-2014 weapons systems. The late Soviet Army was likely the most effective it had ever been in the late 1980s, a concern for any invading army going against a force designed as the best defense force in the world, at least when Billy Joel was at the top of the charts.

Ukraine’s 1980s era tank divisions can more or less be described as the technological parents of Russia’s current systems. The T-64 tank that makes up much of Ukraine’s tank divisions was a model that was considered more expensive and more capable than the T-72 tanks, and were reserved for service within the Soviet Union almost exclusively. While the T-80s that came from the T-64 is possessed by both sides, Russia has more of them as well as the more modern T-72 variant, the T-90, with more modern defensive systems along the T-14 Armata modern battle tank. New technology may prove to keep Russian Forces protected, if it works as it should on the field of battle. NATO
Javelin missiles and Ukrainian Forces will certainly cause notable damage.

While stealth technology is possessed by Russia, much of the makeup of the military structure of the former Soviet Union was to defend against attacks from the West. Trauma from the Second World War created a ethos of integrated missile defence during the Cold War, and while the Soviets were not talented in making Bluejeans, they did and still lead the world on the creation of anti-aircraft radar systems and missiles. Ukraine, while likely being in a weaker position, is still one of the most capable armies in the world and do have possession of many advanced missile systems ranging from the TOR, BUK and S-300 missiles that are a major threat to many modern Russian aircraft. With NATO assistance, Ukraine may have been given some radar technology that can burn through stealth technology in close proximity to ground radars based on the battlefield in Ukraine. Computer systems that can manage a larger number of targets in the event Russia swarms them with drones and cruise missiles may also been distributed to them by NATO allies.

The conflict in Ukraine is really one of posturing against weak opposition to place Russia in a better defensive position physically and politically against the West after the disastrous pullout of Afghanistan and what is likely seen as a weak US and EU. Exporting fuel from North America would likely cause the most distress for Russia, reengage Germany and France in the defense of Ukraine, and put Russia into a more modest position while sorting out some inflationary issues at home. Unfortunately, Western leaders would prefer to choose short term strategies to win small victories in their local elections and play Olympics in places that disrespect human rights instead of uniting their people against real threats of war. It is likely not wise to increase inflationary pressures on food and fuel, while alienating those who feed and heat the local population while asking them to possibly donate their sons and daughters to a future war on the frozen plains of Ukraine. It will be no surprise that the adult youth in your town would rather be working to reduce inflationary pressures with much needed, community inspiring employment. What Ukrainians and Russians do know is that propaganda does not put food on the table, and that Western leaders have not figured that out yet. Plus ca change, unfortunately…



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration