An interesting comparison of the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces


Retired LtGen Mark Hertling encountered Russian and Ukrainian service personnel over many years in various postings, in Europe and elsewhere.  In a very interesting article, he outlines what he remembers of them, and how he saw the Ukrainian army become much more professional over time, while the Russian army did not.  (A tip o’ the hat to Tamara for linking to his article, which is how I found it.)

My war stories about the Russian and Ukrainian militaries are … anecdotes, with no associated metrics or figures, but they give indications of what I’ve seen of the performance of two armies now facing each other on the battlefield. My experiences observing or participating in exercises, personal engagements, and training aren’t meant to explain, much less predict, what’s going on in Ukraine as that nation’s military fights its Russian foe. But I like to think they offer a little depth and color about who the people fighting in Ukraine are.

. . .

My old friend, neighbor, and former U.S. Army Europe teammate Brigadier General Peter Zwack … confirmed that … the Russian Army, while still substantive in quantity, continued to decline in capability and quality. My subsequent visits to [Russian] schools and units … reinforced these conclusions. The classroom discussions were sophomoric, and the units in training were going through the motions of their scripts with no true training value or combined arms interaction—infantry, armor, artillery, air, and resupply all trained separately.

. . .

During my assignment as commander of U.S. Army Europe, I also spent a significant amount of time with the Ukrainian Army and was amazed as I watched them grow in professionalism and effectiveness.

. . .

The Ukrainian Training Center at Yavoriv … saw massive changes starting in 2014, likely driven as much by the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbas as by Vorobyov’s vision. In April 2015, elements of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Italy again deployed to Yavoriv and established an ongoing operational program called “Fearless Guardian.” The program was progressive, training everything from individual soldier skills to battalion-level operations, all based on lessons learned from the eastern and southern Ukrainian combat zones. The increasing energy at Yavoriv showed the need for a permanent enhanced training center, modeled after the U.S. Army’s training programs in the United States and Germany. In December 2015, U.S. Army Europe formally established Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine (JMTG-U), where a multi-national team of Americans, Poles, Canadians, Lithuanians, and Brits began training Ukrainian battalions as combined arms teams. Command Sergeant Major Davenport sent me a note a few years ago saying Ukraine had formally established an NCO corps, with standardized training and leadership requirements. Henadii’s vision had become a reality, accelerated by the urgencies of the Russian existential threat.

As for the Russians, their recent battlefield failures—their staged maneuvers, lack of leadership development, absence of a logistics plan to support operations, inability to coordinate and conduct air-ground-sea joint operations and continued use of conscript soldiers in critical missions—all indicate a larger failure to modernize their army. Just as Russia and Ukraine followed different political courses over the past 30 years, so did their armies, and it shows. While Ukraine’s democracy is still addressing issues of government corruption, those violations pale in significance and scope to the embezzlement, graft, and corruption of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, his predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov, and Vladimir Putin himself. Colonel-General Chirkin had, if nothing else, proved that he was acting in line with the role models in his senior leadership.

There’s more at the link.

Although it’s hard to know what’s really going on in Ukraine due to lies, obfuscation and propaganda from both sides, the fact that Russia has made such limited progress after several weeks of war would tend to support LtGen Hertling’s conclusions.  His article makes what we’re seeing in news reports rather more comprehensible.  Recommended reading.



  1. I think his observations are likely correct and it would explain a lot if what we have seen.

    It also doesn't show the whole picture. I don't think we will really know until it is all over and even then it will be obscured by the fog of war and the propaganda

  2. I know that for the last decade Russia has been running a sophisticated propaganda operation to make their military look stronger, better trained, and more advanced than you think is.
    I was surprised how many people in the West assumed they were telling the truth while questioning everything the US military says.

    The Russian military has been going downhill for at least 30 years and there is a good chance it was never as strong as presented even during the Cold War.

    I suspect that China, while stronger than Russia, is also not as strong as she appears to be and is running a similar propaganda operation.
    If you look into it, you'll find that Chinese gadgets and wonder weapons are few in number with limited capabilities and lower performance than they claim.

  3. The Russian approach had gaping flaws, hinted at in techno-fiction from Clancy, Hackett, et al as early as the early 1980s, when they still had a yuuuuuge military.

    Broke, fractionated from their former ponderous bulk by sheer overwhelming Third-World poverty, and overrun with corruption, they haven't improved, and have actually regressed significantly.

    And all those veterans of the Great Patriotic War are dead.
    America transitioned those lessons by 1975. Russia never did, and they haven't fought a real land war in 70 years.
    (Afghanistan was simply an ongoing debacle, and counterinsurgency, which they couldn't simply bull their way through with tank divisions.)

    Ukraine, facing the Russian threat, already twice-invaded by Russia since 1990, and freed from the field marshal-down Soviet-model leadership disaster, has learned the lessons, and successfully stood off a much larger army on three of the six main axes of the initial attack.

    If they'd had more modern weapons and training, it's likely they would have done even better.

    As it is, both sides are getting what they paid for, and going to war with the army they trained, not the army they wish they had.

  4. I was under the impression that Russia's military assets far exceeded those of Ukraine, but like a girlfriend once told me, it's not how much you have, it's how you use it that counts.

  5. So when the Russians or the Chinese send their special forces to train the Mexican Military, that's going to be cool with y'all?

  6. Putin held off on invading Ukraine for weeks at Xi's request until the Olympic games finished, now he is finding out how much the Chinese support promised in return is worth. On the evidence so far, not much. All this while the Chinese government's actions in Shanghai can only be described as self-destructive.
    Of course, no world leader can match Joe Biden for senility and incompetence. But maybe they aren't the masterminds they are claimed to be, either?

  7. If you carefully read the section of the article sub-titled "The Ukrainian Army", and have sufficient imagination to attempt a Russian viewpoint in response, you begin to get a glimmer of why Putin has been accusing NATO/EU of being an existential threat to Russia. A decades-in-the-making effort to convert the Ukrainian Army into a US Army clone, all while the Ukrainian government claims to be doing all this in opposition to Russia.

    Want to know what Putin/Russia want out of this war? Want to know how to end this war short of Russia militarily conquering Ukraine or literal WW III? This article is as good a starting point for that journey of discovery as any for those willing to see as well as look.

    Strongly recommend.

    1. How dare a country with a larger and aggressive neighbor try to make its military better. It must be part of a Nefarious Conspiracy.

  8. @Genji,
    We've sent our Special Forces to train the Mexican military.
    How well has that worked out for ya?

    @Tom Brown,
    Ukraine has already been invaded by Russia twice since 1990, before this year.

    "Turning the Ukrainian army into a US Army clone" means making it less Soviet, and more competent.
    Heaven forfend that we teach a country how to have a military that's competent!
    Or did you think they were showing them "Hate Russia" ham-fisted propaganda videos (as if stock footage from Mariupol from last week wouldn't engender ten thousand times the hate, with little additional effort)?

    The Russian military entirely conquering Ukraine, and threatening to unleash WWIII if he doesn't get his way, have both been the stated threats of Russia from Putin's own lips.

    But as my namesake related, the Fox found out with the Grapes that wanting and getting are two different things.

    What Russia wants out of this war is Ukraine.
    What they're getting is repeated kicks to the junk.

    Couldn't happen to a more deserving object.

  9. The neocons in the US setup the conditions for this war and doing so they made whole world worse, not just Ukraine. But they have done so in Iraq and Syria as well.

    You might want to find some actual Ukrainians and ask them what they think about the 2014 coup funded by the US and the various gangsters that ran their country into hell over the last 20 years. (I have teammates from from various areas of the country, they hate both the Ukraine government and the US elite assholes that support them.)

    But then again, we can't do anything about the US coup in 2020 and the destruction of this country either, except bitch how evil Russians are while our rulers setting us up for a bigger death total than Ukraine. You might notice they have lots of experience doing these coups and controlling the news.

    So go ahead and armchair general a war across world while same perps are setting the stage for a larger slaughter here. Maybe General Aesop will lead the resistance and save us.

  10. The Russian perspective seems to be:

    How dare you train our neighbors to protect themselves from us!!!


    Kinda like a rapist being upset that someone is training women to defend themselves.

  11. 'Twas ever thus.

    @Chris Nelson

    1) The neocons didn't egg this war on. That was all Poopypants and his minions, to distract from eleventy other problems, and his approval ratings at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. This fraudulent regime is run by many types of folks, but neocons aren't one of them. You could look it up.

    2) The Ukrainians, to a man, seem to hate the Russians a good deal more than anyone else at the moment, as every questioner anywhere in the country has had an earful of, non-stop, since Feb. 24th. And they seem to be big fans of the weapons being sent to them from the US et al.
    And they elected Zelenskyy in 2019 precisely to dump that 2014 Ukrainian Russian-puppet government. (Life moves fast. Try and keep up.) Which kind of undoes your entire narrative. Bummer.

    3) "Can't"?! Speak for yourself. The truth got out of the lab on that, in about 5 minutes. I hear everyone's waiting to "Let George do it" regarding that coup, so maybe do us all a favor, and step right up. No? So it would seem you're telling us more about you, than about us.

    4) There won't be any resistance, as long as you're mouthing off about wanting a leader for it, instead of learning to teach yourself what you ought to know. Like 98% of the herd of cats out there, you're too smart to follow any one else. So lead yourself. Let us know how it works out for ya.
    You might look around instead, and find there's a lot of people out there who've put more into getting ready for what's to come than just snark, (starting with sharing copious blueprints for how to go about it, going back literal years) but until you're one of the ones who start doing the same things, you aren't much use to anyone. Including yourself.

    And I'm going to take a wild guess, based on demographics, that you never saluted and took an order in your life either, which is why it's going to be hard for you to do at any stage of your life to come. It's completely foreign to anything you've ever experienced.

    Color me shocked and surprised.

    BMWing about things has an effective range of 0 meters, sir, and the sooner you grok that, the better off you'll be.

  12. The Red Army was never ever noted for their blitzkrieg operations, Intelligence or material. A Famous Russian leader supposedly once said the quantity is quality of its own and stood ready to burn in fire as many as it took. The Russians were never good neighbors but then everyone that thought they could get away with it, has or tried to invade Russia, including US.

    Western perceptions are stupid, ignorant,I’ll-informed and credulous. They compare Russia to us but as a coo enter above noted, they haven’t blooded their armies, staffs or doctrine since 1945. That’s a long time to coast on ones laurels. The US has, since WWII fought and battled hard in Greece, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Somalia, dare I say, Haiti, Panama, Libya and Afghanistan.

    Westerners think armed clashes last a few weeks and everyone goes home. That’s not how Russians fight. People think every war will be over by Christmas. They should study war. It is probably still possible to find the syllabus for Strategy & Policy course at the War Colleges.

  13. Hey, our trannies and queers in the US military ain't got nothing over those Russians. You wait and see!

  14. @ ACG Aesop

    1) Almost everyone in power was cheering for the war and for good ole Democracy and it's super weapons to bloody the nose of those darn backwards Russkies. Very few mention that all US administrations, Red and Blue, have added fuel, weapons and training to the bonfire over two decades.

    Nobody thought about the second and third order effects. And no one gave a shit about the Ukrainians except as a tool to be used and a way to kickback cash. The West cranked NATO up to the Russian borders and broke the Minsk agreement as soon it was signed. You do realize there has been a war going on for the last 7 years?

    2) How many Ukrainians do you actually talk to on a weekly basis? I work with two on my immediate team and and have chatted with more in my division. Working with one to help find a home for her brother so he can finish high school.

    Depending which area they are from as to they hate: Azov Neo-Nazis, the oligarchy which rapes the country, the puppet governments, the Russians, the neo-cons that cause two coups and fueled the war with money while getting kickbacks, not necessary in that order. Everybody in power is corrupt and the people get abused. Ukraine has never been a democracy, it's been bad since the USSR fell to poop.

    Zelensky? A actor-puppet backed by the same people that support Neo-Nazis that massacre civilians? The puppet whose family has hundreds of millions in over-seas accounts. He's Ukraine's Biden.

    3) Can't??? Aren't you the same Aesop that was ready to go to war right up until January 6th, 2021? We almost thought you were a "glowie", some folks still aren't sure…

    4) As for resistance? Helped organize neighbors and get the meth dealers kicked out of the area. Started the fight against local corruption in my city/county and help get a state law passed to fight corruption on a local and state level. I have played a key role in voter roll and election audits at a county and state level. And have already loaded the 2022 early voting rolls into a database for research.
    (Interesting fact: Did you know Australians voted the US 2020 election?)

    I did this while losing all my "preps" in a tragic boating accident. And dodging tornadoes. 😛

    You have no frickin' idea of my demographics or whether I served or not. I'm not the type of guy that wears service on my hat, has a "glory" wall, has tats, has challenge coins, hangs out drinking at the VFW nor talks about "being in the shit". Don't thank me for my service, go be an active citizen and hold the f'ing line against the bastards.

    I am the guy, who like my uncle, cautions younger folks about joining the US military, because at this time in history, it's more likely to be used against US citizens then actually defending the country. And wasting young lives and real money in overseas "adventures".

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