Ukraine’s strategic and institutional reforms have resulted in military and societal advancement.
Initially, many feared Ukraine would implode in days, as Samo Burja writes. While Ukraine’s military remains considerably outgunned by Russia, the strategic shift and reforms implemented since 2014 have developed a force and society capable of waging total war. Russian incursions into Ukraine’s capital to immediately surround it have ceased entirely. In 2014, Ukraine’s military could not prevent Russia from annexing Crimea and conducting a hybrid attack on Donbas. Russian forces invaded Crimea and took control of the peninsula without firing a shot.
Months of horrific battles in Donbas resulted in a truce and a frozen conflict. The post-conflict study found that just 6,000 of over 100,000 Ukrainian forces were combat-ready at the time. Numerous senior defense and security personnel in Ukraine were effectively Russian fifth columnists, with multiple high-ranking military officers defecting to Russia throughout the conflict. Igor Kalinin, whom Yanukovych named head of the Ukrainian SBU in 2012, was a Moscow-born Russian citizen who became a Ukrainian citizen in 2004 at the age of 45. Mykhailo Yezhel, Yanukovych’s first defense minister, fled to Belarus in 2016 after the Ukrainian authorities charged him with unlawfully transferring military weapons to Russia.
Ukraine inherited 40% of all workforce after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, resulting in a bloated and obsolete military. Initially, military reforms were only aimed at lowering the army’s size. Lack of reform also meant that Ukrainian troops were positioned totally by Cold War-era Soviet concerns. However, with the Euromaidan Revolution, Yanukovych’s removal, and the Donbas ceasefire, military reform became a primary priority for the Ukrainian government. Ukraine’s military had a significant challenge after Russia’s 2014 “hybrid invasion” of Crimea and Donbas; President Petro Poroshenko took until 2016 to enact significant military reforms.