As Russian troops strut across freshly acquired bases in Crimea and mass on Ukraine's eastern border, stoking fears of Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces (after withdrawing troops and equipment from the peninsula), hosted a series of military exercises in the country's north in recent days. These displays of both nations' fighting forces have become the focal point of ongoing speculation of what might come next in this dangerous geopolitical stand-off.
For Russia, the annexation of Crimea has served the quiet debut of its new military, freshly equipped, and "lean, fit and sober," according to the New York Times on Wednesday, defying expectations of the post-Soviet forces that, while mighty, had been less than crisp during the 2008 invasion of Georgia. In the early days of the crisis, when unidentified troops surrounded Crimean airports, the Guardian reported that "the Ukrainian forces are still formidable, better-trained, engaged over the last decade in international peacekeeping missions and established close contacts with western counterparts." Though the $40.7 billion Russia spent on its military last year dwarfed the $1.4 billion that Ukraine invested, the Russian army was expected to meet bitter resistance for incursions into western Ukraine.
According to the New York Times's C.J. Chivers, that's not so. The rebuilding of the Russian military has been part of President Vladimir Putin's promise to restore Russia's past grandeur -- a plan that would increase military spending to $100 billion in 2016, up from $80 billion this year. Still, what Russia will do with the equipment it has recently sent to Crimea remains to be seen. "Tanks headed north into Ukraine this week from Russian-controlled Crimea," the Associated Press wrote, "[n]ot at the head of an invading army, but on a trainload of military equipment in such poor shape that Moscow had no use for it."
Above, Russian soldiers wait to unload a train bearing modified T-72 tanks in Gvardeyskoe railway station near Simferopol, Crimea, on March 31.
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