Abstract. The author considers the state of Ukraine’s Armed Forces at the end of the Soviet period and today, and notes that Ukraine’s military cooperation has been reoriented toward closer relations with Western countries, especially NATO members.

Ukraine’s Independence Day, celebrated on August 24, is a good opportunity to see how Ukraine has developed over the past 30 years. When it was part of the USSR, it ranked third in terms of territory after Russia and Kazakhstan. In addition to a large territory, it also possessed a huge production base and enormous economic potential.

Ukraine inherited a sizable share of the production and scientific potential of the USSR. It could produce a wide range of civilian and military products at its plants. Such sectors as rocket and missile engineering, shipbuilding, and tank manufacturing were at world standard levels. About 700 defense industry enterprises and dozens of design bureaus were doing world-class work as well. Yuzhmash, Antonov Design Bureau, Black Sea Shipyard, Kharkov Tractor Works, and Novokramatorsky Machine Engineering Plant were internationally recognized brands in their industries. Ukraine was the fourth economy in Europe during the existence of the USSR.1

In 1991, Ukraine inherited a strong army – three military districts, three combined arms and three tank armies, one army corps, four air armies, an air defense army, a rocket army, the Black Sea Fleet, two missile attack early warning system centers, and other military formations. Its overall strength was over 800,000 troops and 6,500 tanks, over 7,000 APC and IFV, 1,500 aircraft, 350 various naval vessels, 176 ICBMs (130 RS-18 ICBMs with six nuclear warheads each and 46 RS-22 ICBMs with 10 nuclear warheads each), about 2,500 tactical nuclear weapons, 44 strategic bombers (Tu-95MS and Tu-160) with a munitions package of up to 50 nuclear cruise missiles, 20 Il-78 air tankers, 245 Su-24s, 80 modernized Mig-25s, and 260 Mig-29s and Su-27s.2,3 Moreover, weapons, military hardware, foodstuffs, and other assets worth $89 billion according to the estimates of foreign experts were stored at military bases, storage depots, and arsenals as emergency supplies in the event of the mobilization of 10 million people (at least five fronts).

On October 24, 1995, the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on the nonnuclear status of Ukraine. Then, according to the Alma-Ata and Minsk Agreements (1991) and the Tripartite Statement of the Presidents of Russia, the United States, and Ukraine of January 14, 1994, arrangements were made to compensate Ukraine for all nuclear weapons removed to Russia. As a result, nuclear warheads were transferred to Russia for dismantling. Russia paid Ukraine for the removed nuclear weapons under the arrangements.4

As far as weapons exports are concerned, from the mid-1990s to 2014, Ukraine was among the top five major arms exporters (according to the data of the State Export Control Service). For instance, from 2007 to 2013, Ukraine sold 957 armored vehicles, 675 tanks, 228 units of missiles and cannon artillery (of caliber greater than 100 mm), 31 helicopters, over 160 ammunition loads, one warship, and 747 missiles and launchers to foreign buyers.5 Weapons and military hardware were supplied to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Thailand, and Iraq.6 Lucrative contracts with Russia for the supply of DS-71 shipborne gas turbine power plants, AI-222 turbojet engines, and other hardware were closed by the Ukrainian Government (in 2016 alone, exports to Russia amounted to $169 million).

It should be noted that practically all advanced developments carried out in design bureaus and R&D institutes of Ukraine in the Soviet and post-Soviet period were transferred abroad, the bulk going to the United States. In 2020, an agreement with defense industry enterprises amounting to about 10 billion hryvnia ($3 billion) was signed for 10 aircraft, 48 UAS (unmanned aircraft systems), 60 diverse armored vehicles, about 320 vehicles, 2,700 reconnaissance and surveillance devices, about 10 million units of various ammunition, and 3,300 units of missile and artillery weapons.7

In 2018, the Ukrainian Armed Forces combined force command, supporting forces command, communication and cyber security troops command, and medical force command were organized. Sixteen mechanized brigades (four of them are in a reserve corps), four infantry brigades, 17 tank brigades, 25 territorial defense brigades, one missile brigade, two rocket artillery brigades, seven artillery brigades, one rocket artillery regiment, and four army air force brigades were formed.

Special Operations Forces: two special operations regiments, two combat swimmer teams, two special operations teams, four reconnaissance battalions. The Navy: two marine brigades, one artillery brigade, one rocket artillery regiment, one corvette, one frigate, and several motor boats for various purposes. Air Force: 11 tactical air force brigades and one unmanned aerial vehicles regiment (12 UAV). Air Assault Troops: one airborne brigade, six air assault brigades, a self-propelled artillery battalion, and a detached reconnaissance battalion.8,9,10

After gaining independence, Ukraine immediately started considering establishing relations with NATO and the EU. NATO appreciated this step. Ukraine under these conditions could become a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe, moving NATO’s capabilities to the East.

Official relations between NATO and Ukraine began to be established as early as 1991, when Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (subsequently succeeded by the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council). In 1994, Ukraine became the first CIS state to join the “Partnership for Peace” (PFP) program. Later, it demonstrated its loyalty by supporting NATO’s peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.

On July 9, 1997, the Ukrainian President and Heads of State and Government of NATO countries signed the Charter on Special Partnership between Ukraine and NATO in Madrid. That document became the official basis of relations between NATO and Ukraine. In accordance with the Charter, the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) was formed. It was a governing body responsible for developing relations between NATO and Ukraine and it identified areas of joint activities. All NATO members and Ukraine are represented in the NUC. To advance work in specific areas, the following joint working groups were formed:

– military reform and weapons

– economic security

– security of research and environmental safety

– crisis management and civil emergency planning.11

In May 2002, Ukraine’s political leadership set a goal of eventually joining NATO. Later that month, at a NUC meeting in Reykjavik, foreign ministers underscored their wish to upgrade relations to a qualitatively new level through political, economic, and defense consultations and cooperation. The NATO-Ukraine plan of action was adopted that same year at a NUC session in Prague. Its aim is to identify Ukraine’s strategic tasks and priorities in implementing its full integration into NATO structures. It was emphasized that assistance to Ukraine in transforming its defense and security system is the main priority in cooperation between NATO and Ukraine.12

Annual plans were elaborated to indicate the implementation of the plan of action as part of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Every six months, the NUC assesses the work done and reports on the results achieved. For instance, when assessing the results of the first six months of 2004, NATO drew the attention of Ukrainian leaders to organizing and holding elections, media operations, forming domestic legislation and judicial authorities, and to security and defense reforms, and concluded that it was necessary to profoundly reorganize the Ukrainian defense system and modernize the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the basis of technical rearmament in compliance with NATO standards.

In autumn 2004, with active pressure from NATO countries and the US Department of State, the “orange revolution” took place. It led to a repeat of the second round of the presidential election, as a result of which their protégé Viktor Yushchenko won. And already on February 22, 2005, NATO leaders at the Brussels summit expressed their support for the ambitious reform plans of the new president that corresponded to the tasks set earlier for Ukraine by NATO.

On April 25, 2005, at a meeting of the NUC foreign ministers in Vilnius, Ukraine and NATO launched direct dialogue on Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO, and the first practical step was made during the NATO Secretary General’s visit to Kiev on July 27 that same year, when the Ukrainian Government presented its outgoing document to discuss this issue. Matters of domestic and foreign policy, defense, and security reforms were addressed there.13

As a result of an armed coup, on February 22, 2014, the Verkhovna Rada unlawfully dismissed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, taking advantage of the reluctance of the government to support an agreement with the EU. As early as February 23, Acting President Alexander Turchinov repealed a law on granting Russian the status of a regional language in some regions of the country. After a while, the Kiev district court made a decision to halt the broadcasting of four Russian channels. Those events sparked massive protests in the southeast of Ukraine. A referendum on the federalization of Ukraine and the status of the Russian language was one of the protesters’ demands.

Crimea didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities in 2014. On March 11, the Supreme Council of Crimea adopted a declaration supporting the region’s independence from Ukraine and their intention to join the Russian Federation. In March, a referendum was held in which 96.7% of Crimeans supported reunification with Russia. On March 17, the Supreme Council of Crimea adopted a resolution on independence from Ukraine. On March 18, a treaty with the Russian Federation was signed. On March 21, a Federal constitutional law on forming two new constituent entities of the Russian Federation – the Republic of Crimea and the City of Federal Importance Sevastopol – was adopted.

Mass rallies and public protests began in the eastern regions of Ukraine. On March 30, rally participants in Kharkov demanded the formation of a southwestern autonomy comprising eastern regions. On April 7, a Republican People’s Council that proclaimed the sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic was established in Donetsk. The Acting President of the country announced the beginning of “antiterrorist measures” that same day, and on April 15, he started forceful actions with the army and national guard in the east of Ukraine. In Kharkov, Odessa, and other cities, civil disturbances were suppressed by nationalist groups14 modeled on Ernst Roehm’s storm units (Sturmabteilung) in Nazi Germany. Later, combat operations escalated into a large-scale civil war.

On February 12, 2015, negotiations in the “Normandy format” between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President François Hollande, and Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko to regulate the situation in Donbas were held in Minsk. Following the results of the summit, two documents were enacted: a package of measures aimed at implementing the Minsk agreements adopted by a contact group on Donbas that at the same time was working in Minsk, as well as a declaration supporting the package of measures adopted by the “Normandy Four.”15 At present, the Minsk agreements on regulating the situation in Ukraine remain the basis for settling the conflict in Donbas, but negotiations have stalled. Despite all efforts over the course of a year, the tripartite contact group on Donbas and four relevant subgroups failed to fully implement even a single provision of the Minsk agreements.16

Today, Ukraine is a key regional strategic partner of the US, directing tremendous efforts at reforming its armed forces and enhancing their interoperability with the armed forces of NATO members. The US continues to support Ukraine in its aspirations for Euro-Atlantic solidarity. The US-Ukrainian pact on strategic partnership focuses on the importance of maintaining bilateral cooperation and continued commitment to US obligations to support Ukraine’s orientation toward cooperation with NATO. The United States and its allies formed the Multinational Joint Commission and the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine to coordinate actions aimed at assisting Ukraine in developing necessary defense capabilities in order to contain, according to them, future Russian aggression.

The US took charge of providing over $2.5 billion for training and technically equipping Ukraine’s military formations to maintain its territorial integrity, protect its state border, and improve the pace of work for subsequent compatibility with the armies of NATO members.17

Beginning in 2014, the US allocated over $4.6 billion in overall aid to Ukraine, including for financing issues related to ensuring security as well as for other aims, as well as three tranches of $1 billion as state guarantees. The sum includes $721 million from the State Department and $1.35 billion from the Department of Defense under the Ukraine security assistance initiative program. Moreover, Ukraine received about $19.7 million for an international military training program that provided refresher training to about 370 junior, mid-level, and senior officers in education institutions of the US Department of Defense from 2014 to 2016.18

US assistance in terms of defense resulted in significantly increased combat readiness, an improved troops control system, and enhanced information support of formations in a rapidly changing environment. This was also facilitated by equipping Ukrainian military formations with lethal and nonlethal defensive weapons: multipurpose all-terrain wheeled vehicles, tactical UAV, secure communications equipment, image-processing and situation analysis devices utilizing communication satellite systems, EW assets, high resolution surveillance systems and thermal imagers as well as casualty evacuation assets.19,20,21

The US delivered $595.5 million in an active “government to government” program by transferring assets to Ukraine on a reimbursable basis using IMF resources. IMF sales requests to Congress mainly comprise: in 2018 – 35 Javelin antitank guided missiles (ATGM) and 210 missiles (in April 2021, experts reported that their factory warranty period has expired); in 2019 – another 150 Javelin ATGM; in 2020 – Mark VI patrol boats. The sales of Javelin ATGM were financed jointly by the US Department of State and the Ukrainian state financial system.

Today, Ukraine is a key regional strategic partner of the US, directing tremendous efforts at reforming its armed forces and enhancing their interoperability with the armed forces of NATO members. The US continues to support Ukraine in its aspirations for Euro-Atlantic solidarity. The US-Ukrainian pact on strategic partnership focuses on the importance of maintaining bilateral cooperation and continued commitment to US obligations to support Ukraine’s orientation toward cooperation with NATO.

During Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s visit to the United States, President Joe Biden promised to supply Javelin missiles in the amount of $30 million and to send US advisers and instructors for the Ukrainian Army. As a result, Ukraine would not get money and the US Army would get rid of obsolete missiles.22,23

Since 2017, the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation of the US Department of State has sent $17 million in aid to the Coast Guard Department of the State Border Directorate of Ukraine under the exports control and state border security program. This aid would form new operational, technical, and training capacities (including parts of the coast guard reserve in Mariupol, Berdyansk, and Odessa) as well as equip them with needed weapons and military and specialized hardware (WaMSH), and provide training and mentorship programs. These measures not only aim to replace lost capacities, but should make it possible to significantly modernize the available WaMSH and training facilities, and improve training quality in order to raise the combat capability of coast guard forces.24

The Global Security Contingency Fund, a project jointly administered and funded by the US Department of Defense and the Department of State, allocated over $23 million to the Ukrainian Government for training and retraining military personnel, sending instructors and advisers, as well as equipping the army and navy with modern WaMSH to further improve tactical, operational, and combat skills of service personnel as part of training subunits of special operations forces, the national guard, regular subunits, noncommissioned officers, and medical personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

In 2020, the US developed a conventional weapons destruction program. In addition, the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund and the US Government financed the disposal of 1,855 tons of ammunition and weapons.25

Ukraine, under the state partnership program, is a partner of the California National Guard. For 28 years, the California National Guard has regularly trained units of the Ukrainian National Guard, helping to modernize its system.

On August 29, 2005, a treaty between the US Department of Defense and the Ukraine Ministry of Health on organizing biological laboratories in Ukraine was signed. Today, 14 biological laboratories function in Ukraine in the cities of Kiev (two), Odessa, Vinnitsa, Uzhgorod, Dnepr (two), Lvov (three), Merefa, Kharkov, Ternopol, and Kherson. The Pentagon is a sponsor of the research. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian believes that “the virus” could be born in these laboratories. International inspectors have been denied access to the laboratories.

On February 8, 2021, the Ukrainian President signed a law On Approving the Decision of the President of Ukraine and Access of Subunits of the Armed Forces of Other States to the Territory of Ukraine in 2021 for Participation in Multinational Exercises. All in all, eight multinational exercises are to be conducted in Ukraine involving about 21,000 Ukrainian troops and about 11,000 foreign participants, in particular: a multinational exercise to train armed forces subunits, Ukrainian-US Rapid Trident 2021, Ukrainian-British Kozak Mace 2021, Ukrainian-US Sea Breeze 2021, Ukrainian-Romanian Riverine 2021, Ukrainian-British Warrior Watcher 2021, and Ukrainian-Polish Three Swords 2021 and Silver Saber 2021.26

In the course of their activities, NATO and EU entities in Ukraine have failed to notice nationalist manifestations in society and the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Nazi accomplices have been glorified and Soviet monuments have been destroyed. Six battalions of the Right Sector volunteer corps operate in the system of the Internal Affairs Ministry in the ATO zone. Three similar battalions are deployed in other Ukrainian regions to suppress disturbances and in the ATO zone to carry out provocations and unlawful acts against the peaceful population of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).27,28,29 It was confirmed during Zelensky’s visit to the United States that a civil war is being fought in Ukraine that has killed over 14,000 Ukrainians and wounded over 20,000.

These days, barefaced hatred toward Russia has become a norm in Ukraine. For example, Irina Farion, a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from the Svoboda Party, states: “We have one way – to destroy Moscow. That is what we live for, that is why we came into this world – to destroy Moscow. To annihilate not just Russkies on our soil, but a dark hole in European security that needs to be wiped off the map.” Similar rhetoric is heard from Svetlana Kryukova, deputy editor-in-chief of a Ukrainian media outlet: “Finnish Karelia and German Koenigsberg, Moldovan Transnistria and Ukrainian Crimea, Georgian Abkhazia and North Ossetia, Kazakh Orenburg and Astrakhan, and Japanese Karafuto (Sakhalin) and the Kurile Islands will surely return to their harbor.” And Valery Zaluzhny, the new commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, publicly expressed his wish to ride a tank across Red Square toward Arbat.30

Today, the strength of Ukraine’s Armed Forces numbers over 246,000, of which up to 90,000 (21 brigades) are deployed in and around Donbas. As many as 20,000 to 40,000 troops are on standby. In addition, another nine brigades are formed on the basis of nationalist battalions preparing for a “purge” of the DPR and LPR population. Present-day joint exercises in Ukraine are a kind of readiness check of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for an attack on the DPR, LPR, and Crimea. Moreover, foreign task forces participating in exercises are acting according to Kiev’s scenario. A recent terrorist attack on a gas pipeline in Crimea could not have been carried out without the authorization of the Ukrainian President.31 Analyzing the events in Ukraine, changes in the composition of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and their authorities, and the Ukrainian President’s statements, one can assume that Kiev is pursuing a policy of addressing the issues of the DPR, LPR, and Crimea by force with the tacit consent of Washington. And that could lead to a major armed conflict in Europe.


1. “29 let bezopasnosti i oborony Ukrainy: ot naslediya SSSR do NATO [29 Years of Ukraine’s Security and Defense: From the Heritage of the USSR to NATO],” Voyennoye delo, August 11, 2020. URL: http://inosmi.ru/military/20200831/248030002.html (Retrieved on September 28, 2021.)

2. Ibid.

3. Proshchay oruzhiye! Kto i kak razvorovyval arsenaly Ukrainy. G. Ustinov po materialam vremennoy sledstvennoy komissiyi VS Ukrainy [A Farewell to Arms! Who and How Plundered Ukraine’s Arsenals. G. Ustinov, According to the Materials of the Provisional Investigatory Commission of the Ukrainian Armed Forces]. URL: http://zergulio.livejour-nal.com/4758622.html (Retrieved on September 28, 2021.)

4. Ibid.

5. “29 let bezopasnosti i oborony Ukrainy…”

6. Ukrainskaya armiya – 2021 g.: vooruzheniye i boyesposobnost’ [Ukrainian Army – 2021: Weapons and Combat Capability], August 18, 2021. URL: http://sputnik-georgia.ru/20210818/Ukrainskaya-armiya–2021-vooruzhenie-i-boesposobnost-252614084.html (Retrieved on September 28, 2021.)

7. “29 let bezopasnosti i oborony Ukrainy…”

8. “Zakupki vooruzheniy dlya ukrainskoy armiyi v 2021 g. [Purchasing Weapons for the Ukrainian Army in 2021].” Voyennoye obozreniye, February 11, 2020. URL: http://www.topwar.ru/179862-zakupki-vooruzhenij-dlja-ukrainskoj-armii-v-2021-godu.html (Retrieved on September 28, 2021.)

9. “Iznanka ukrainskoy armiyi. Nazvany sily dlya udara po Donbassu [The Seamy Side of the Ukrainian Army. Forces for Striking Donbas Are Named],” Moskovskiy komsomolets, March 30, 2021. URL: http://www.mk.ru/politics/2021/03/30/iznanka-ukrainskoy-armii-nazvany-sily-dlya-udara-po-donbassu.html (Retrieved on September 28, 2021.)

10. Proshchay oruzhiye!…

11. NATO Handbook 2006, Public Diplomacy Division, Division Diplomatie publique, 1110 Brussels Belgium, 2006, 442 pp.

12. “29 let bezopasnosti i oborony Ukrainy…”

13. NATO Handbook 2006…

14. Ukrainskaya armiya – 2021 g.: vooruzheniye i boyesposobnost’ [Ukrainian Army – 2021: Weapons and Combat Capability], August 18, 2021. URL: http://sputnik-georgia.ru/20210818/Ukrainskaya-armiya–2021-vooruzhenie-i-boesposobnost-252614084.html (Retrieved on September 28, 2021.)

15. Ibid.

16. “Iznankaukrainskoy armiyi…”

17. NATO Handbook 2006…

18. “Zakupki vooruzheniy dlya ukrainskoy armiyi v 2021 g. …”

19. Ibid.

20. “Perspektivy razvitiya vooruzhonnykh formirovaniy Ukrainy [Prospects of Development of Ukrainian Armed Formations],” Voyennoye obozreniye, April 13, 2021. URL: http://www.topwar.ru/181862-perspektivy-razvitija-vooruzhennyh-formirovanij-ukrainy.html (Retrieved on September 28, 2021.)

21. NATO Handbook 2006…

22. Ibid.

23. “Iznankaukrainskoy armiyi…”

24. “Perspektivy razvitiya vooruzhonnykh formirovaniy Ukrainy…”

25. NATO Handbook 2006…

26. Ibid.

27. “Perspektivy razvitiya vooruzhonnykh formirovaniy Ukrainy…”

28. “Iznankaukrainskoy armiyi…”

29. Ukrainskaya armiya – 2021 g. …

30. Ibid.

31. “Iznanka ukrainskoy armiyi…”