How Russian and NATO armies would size up in a WW3 doomsday scenario: Interactive map


Russia‘s war in Ukraine has revealed to the world in graphic detail the smorgasbord of lethal technologies that can be used to destroy one’s enemy in a large-scale 21st-century clash.

From killer drones chasing terrified soldiers to hypersonic missiles eliminating apartment blocks – the past two years have served up countless clips displaying the brutal efficacy of modern warfare.

But despite all the capabilities of such cutting-edge military tech, Moscow‘s primary frontline tactic appears ripped from the playbook of World War I generals – batter Ukrainians with artillery before dispatching waves of soldiers to secure territory inch by blood-soaked inch.

It’s a style of warfare reminiscent of the Battle of Passchendaele – but it has proved nonetheless effective with Vladimir Putin‘s forces gaining territory hand over fist in eastern Ukraine.

So, until the AI overlords of the future swoop in to do the heavy lifting for us, George S. Patton’s observation that ‘wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men’ looks set to endure.

Patton was one of the United States’ most revered generals, but it is in Russia where his axiom is perhaps best understood. It was only thanks to sheer Soviet manpower – and willingness to incur casualties on a scarcely believable scale – that the Allied powers were able to defeat the Nazis in World War II.

This fact is baked into Russia’s collective memory and serves as a key ingredient in Vladimir Putin’s existentialist rhetoric justifying his war in Ukraine as a necessary resistance against a threatening, expansionist West.

Now, this week’s round in the East-West war of words saw Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov goad Western leaders and declare his forces are ready to take on NATO should the security alliance deploy its own troops on Ukrainian soil.

With that in mind, MailOnline takes a look at how the armies of Russia and NATO stack up, and outlines the tale of the tape for a potential future clash between East and West on the battlefield in Ukraine.

A Ukrainian soldier of an artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut

A Ukrainian soldier of an artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut

Ukrainian servicemen of the 59th Separate Motorised Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire a BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system

Ukrainian servicemen of the 59th Separate Motorised Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire a BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system

120 mm mortar crew fires shells at Russian positions as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine on April 27, 2024

120 mm mortar crew fires shells at Russian positions as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine on April 27, 2024

British Army Challenger 2 tanks are seen at the training ground in Nowa Deba on September 21, 2022, in Nowa Deba, Subcarpathian Voivodeship, Poland

British Army Challenger 2 tanks are seen at the training ground in Nowa Deba on September 21, 2022, in Nowa Deba, Subcarpathian Voivodeship, Poland

Swedish soldier sits on a military boat with a machine gun during the Baltic Operations NATO military drills (Baltops 22) on June 11, 2022

Swedish soldier sits on a military boat with a machine gun during the Baltic Operations NATO military drills (Baltops 22) on June 11, 2022

Going by the numbers, NATO’s collective military is by far the world’s most formidable fighting force.

The alliance’s 32 countries have a combined military budget of well over $1 trillion, over three million active personnel, around three million reserve personnel and more than 700,000 troops in paramilitary forces.

Besides manpower, NATO countries also have over 14,000 tanks in their arsenals and tens of thousands more combat vehicles, 21,000 military aircraft and almost 2,000 naval vessels.

Three nuclear-armed nations are also members: the US, the UK and France.

Before the the invasion of Ukraine, Russia by comparison had just 350,000 active army soldiers, roughly 1 million active military personnel and about two million in reserve.

But wars are not fought on paper, and the bulk of NATO’s formidable strength comes from having the United States as a member.

With a presidential election looming in the United States, many fear that enduring US support for its European allies is not guaranteed. 

Ben Hodges, the former Commanding General of US Army Europe, told MailOnline earlier this year that European nations could be left ‘sitting ducks’ should Trump be elected in November.  

And if the armed forces of US and Canada are removed from the equation, the playing field between Russia and NATO’s European members suddenly looks a lot more balanced. 

US President Joe Biden speaks at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies' 30th annual gala, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Washington

US President Joe Biden speaks at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies’ 30th annual gala, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Washington

In this pool photograph distributed by Russia's state agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via a videoconference in Moscow on May 13, 2024

In this pool photograph distributed by Russia’s state agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via a videoconference in Moscow on May 13, 2024

A Ukrainian soldier is placed in trenches retaken from the Russian army on the Vuhledar front line as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on December 01, 2023

A Ukrainian soldier is placed in trenches retaken from the Russian army on the Vuhledar front line as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on December 01, 2023

Ukrainian soldiers at the artillery position in an unidentified area on the Adiivka frontline prepare to fire the D 30 gun as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Adiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on March 13, 2024

Ukrainian soldiers at the artillery position in an unidentified area on the Adiivka frontline prepare to fire the D 30 gun as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Adiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on March 13, 2024

A resident is seen after shellings in the frontline city of Avdiivka amid Russian-Ukrainian war

A resident is seen after shellings in the frontline city of Avdiivka amid Russian-Ukrainian war

Polish soldiers seen before a high-intensity training session using M1A2 Abrams tanks at Nowa Deba training ground, on May 6, 2023

Polish soldiers seen before a high-intensity training session using M1A2 Abrams tanks at Nowa Deba training ground, on May 6, 2023

Ukrainian servicemen of the 43rd Separate Artillery Brigade fire a Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzer toward Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 4, 2024

Ukrainian servicemen of the 43rd Separate Artillery Brigade fire a Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzer toward Russian troops, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 4, 2024

Again taken as a whole, European NATO states still lead Russia in almost all categories, aside from the number of armoured land vehicles – and, of course, nuclear weapons.

But NATO’s forces have never faced the kind of aggression displayed in Ukraine, and despite extensive military drills are not truly battle-tested.  

Conversely, Russia has demonstrated not only a willingness to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of soldiers in meatgrinder tactics in the past two years, but also impressive capacity to draw upon reserves and shuttle them to the frontlines in short order. 

The most recent assessment by Royal United Services Institute military expert Dr. Jack Watling claims that Russia has expanded the number of troops actively engaged in operations against Ukraine to a whopping 510,000. 

‘This means that Russia has established significant numerical superiority over the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU),’ Watling said.

His report warned that without significant Western support, continued investment in military aid, training and intelligence sharing, and rapid expansion of the armed forces, the outlook for Ukraine is bleak in the face of a Russian summer offensive. 

What’s more, Ukraine instituted conscription almost immediately after the Russian invasion in February 2022, with recent reports of Ukrainian press gangs violently hunting down military-age men. 

But Russia has no need to resort to conscription, leaning on its extensive veteran community and swell of volunteers to fight in Ukraine. 

More than a million people reach military age in Russia every year, and all men aged 18-30 are liable to perform one year of national service. 

This means that Russia would have huge numbers of military-trained and able-bodied fighters in reserve, should it ever come to blows with NATO on the battlefield. 

A British soldier looks into a telescopic sight as he holds his sniper rifle during the NATO DRAGON-24 military exercise in Korzeniewo, northern Poland, March 4, 2024

A British soldier looks into a telescopic sight as he holds his sniper rifle during the NATO DRAGON-24 military exercise in Korzeniewo, northern Poland, March 4, 2024

Ukrainian servicemen of the 82nd Separate Air Assault Brigade prepare for combat Challenger 2 tank in an undisclosed location near frontline in Zaporizhzhia region

Ukrainian servicemen of the 82nd Separate Air Assault Brigade prepare for combat Challenger 2 tank in an undisclosed location near frontline in Zaporizhzhia region

NATO troops take part in Nordic Response 24 - a phase of the larger NATO exercise Steadfast Defender. The exercise involves air, sea, and land forces, with over 100 fighter jets, 50 ships, and over 20,000 troops practising defensive manoeuvres in cold and harsh weather conditions

NATO troops take part in Nordic Response 24 – a phase of the larger NATO exercise Steadfast Defender. The exercise involves air, sea, and land forces, with over 100 fighter jets, 50 ships, and over 20,000 troops practising defensive manoeuvres in cold and harsh weather conditions

Ukrainian servicemen who recently returned from the trenches of Bakhmut walk on a street in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Ukrainian servicemen who recently returned from the trenches of Bakhmut walk on a street in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 8, 2023

No one really knows exactly what a future deployment of NATO forces to fight in Ukraine might look like. 

NATO maintains multinational battlegroups in eight nations close to Russia – namely Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – but these troops form the backbone of the alliance’s so-called ‘deterrence and defence posture’.

They are meant primarily as a first line of defence to protect against the potential of a Russian invasion beyond Ukraine, rather than as a pro-active force ready to deploy to the front line. 

And though it has already been established that NATO’s overall troop numbers far exceed that of Russia, it is highly unlikely that all members of the alliance would be willing to send any great quantity of soldiers into battle unless a NATO country itself is attacked directly by Moscow. 

In February, Emmanuel Macron – who had long been one of the only European leaders intent on maintaining dialogue with Putin – refused to rule out the possibility that Western troops could one day be sent to Ukraine. 

But several key NATO allies rushed to dismiss the French President’s statement. 

The United States, Germany, Britain, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic all distanced themselves from any suggestion they might commit ground troops to the Ukraine war, clarifying they would only continue supporting Ukraine financially and materially. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was particularly emphatic in his denial of Macron’s claims, declaring bluntly: ‘There will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent by European countries or NATO states.’

However, some experts – including former high-ranking Western military officials – have suggested that EU member states may consider sending military personnel to bolster Ukraine’s defences independent of NATO.

Ukrainian medics transfer a wounded Ukrainian soldier to a stabilisation point in the direction of Siversk-Soledar, 11 May 2024

Ukrainian medics transfer a wounded Ukrainian soldier to a stabilisation point in the direction of Siversk-Soledar, 11 May 2024

Ukrainian soldiers unload grad shells in a garage in the direction of Marinka, as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on May 09, 2024

Ukrainian soldiers unload grad shells in a garage in the direction of Marinka, as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on May 09, 2024

A soldier of the 58th Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian army walks in a muddy road as Russian attacks on the city of Vuhledar continue in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on December 01, 2023

A soldier of the 58th Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian army walks in a muddy road as Russian attacks on the city of Vuhledar continue in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on December 01, 2023

A Ukrainian artillery position fires in the direction of Bakhmut in Donetsk

A Ukrainian artillery position fires in the direction of Bakhmut in Donetsk

A Germany army Leopard 2A6 tank takes part in a NATO military exercise at a training range in Pabrade, Lithuania

A Germany army Leopard 2A6 tank takes part in a NATO military exercise at a training range in Pabrade, Lithuania 

Retired US Army Colonel Alexander Crowther, who is also a senior fellow at the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), said earlier this year that it was ‘time to send EU troops to Ukraine’, provided it can be clearly communicated they would not participate in any offensive operations.

He reasoned that European troops could be deployed to protect Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus and take the weight of major logistics operations, air defence and other roles. 

This, he said, would free up tens of thousands of otherwise occupied Ukrainian troops, enabling Kyiv ‘to divert more of its resources and personnel towards the eastern contact line’ while ensuring that no European soldiers are actually involved in frontline operations. 

In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Crowther said there are a handful of European countries that would likely be willing to send troops to Ukraine to provide supporting roles in defiance of the messaging from German Chancellor Scholz and others.

‘Ukrainians are running out of soldiers, just like we did in 1944, when in Europe, we took cooks and handed them rifles and said, “You are now an infantryman.” And so Ukraine is at the point where they’re having to do that.

‘Maintenance, logistics, technical [stuff], like running air-defence systems – for every (Western) soldier or civilian that is sent there, that’s a Ukrainian who can get shipped to the front.

‘I think that sending Western troops to Ukraine is a subset of supporting Ukraine vigorously… I could name half a dozen countries right now that would be willing to send people to Ukraine.’



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