Putin Skirts Sanctions

Historically, Vladimir Putin has always been first-rate about finding ways around sanctions. For example, following his invasion of Ukraine, intense pressure was placed upon western companies not to lease aircraft to Russia. That’s a big deal since, as I reported in an article earlier this month, more or less half of Russian aircraft are leased from other nations. The Russians had a quick fix for that. The government passed a law saying that they now owned them. Currently, Putin has an issue with another big ticket item, tanks. Throughout their seven-month war, Newsweek reports that the Russians have lost over 2000 main battle tanks (MBT). On top of that, they have lost 4,366 armored combat vehicles, more than 1,200 artillery pieces, and over 800 drones. That’s a lot of rubles turned into twisted metal.

Putin’s tanks are on parade. This is part of a “before and after” meme circulating on Twitter. Feel free to submit your own witty comment about the pics. Image from @GeographerDC

Despite what some people may think, there have been no specific international prohibitions against Russia building main battle tanks. This misunderstanding may have arisen because, early in the war,  Ukrainian officials were talking to the press and saying that international sanctions were keeping Russia from building new tanks or repairing the ones damaged in the war thus far.

Business Insider reports that the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, way back in March, took to Facebook and said that work had stopped in two Russian tank manufacturing facilities “due to the lack of receipts of foreign-made components.” The Uralvagonzavod Corporation (or Open Joint Stock Company) and Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant “specialize in the manufacture and repair of tanks and other armored vehicles for the needs of the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” the post went to say.

Made in the (Former) USSR

Uralvagonzavod, according to the Official Journal of the European Union, is the only tank manufacturer in all of Russia. It should not be surprising to hear that it is a state-owned company founded in 1935. It also happens to be one of the largest tank manufacturing facilities in the world. The United States sanctioned them following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. The UK followed suit after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The island nation of Japan has sanctioned them as well. 

On September 10th, BULGARIANMILITARY.COM, among other sources, reported that “an entire echelon of new T-90M Proryv tanks and BREM-1M engineering vehicles” were delivered to the Russian Army. That was a direct quote from a press release put out by the Uralvagonzavod factory. In the Russian military, the term “echelon” is operational and not unit based, so I’m trying to get a handle on actually how many tanks it is. 

The timing of the announcement was not accidental; September 9th is Tanker’s Day in Russia. The T-90M, nicknamed the “Proryv” (прорыв), is a third-generation main battle tank first seeing service in 2017-18. According to Russian Major General Alexander Shestakov, the vehicles are headed for duty in Ukraine. He followed on to say that “certain quantities” of BMP-3, BMP-2, BTR-82A, and BTR-80 will also be sent to the war zone.

Here we can see the people behind the Defense of Ukraine Twitter feed using a little humor after their forces have captured a top-of-the-line T-90 Russian tank “in perfect condition.” As we might say in the US Army, “barely used, only abandoned once.” The $4.5 million main battle tank was found in the eastern Kharkiv region of Kharkiv last week, apparently having been abandoned by the crew. By examining some photos of the T-90, I can see that it seems to have thrown a track, rendering it immobile.

The crew obviously made some attempt to camouflage the multi-million dollar war machine; the letter “Z,” representing the Russian Eastern Military District, could clearly be seen by anyone in the vicinity of the MBT. In my opinion, it would have made more sense to have destroyed the vehicle in place after deciding to abandon it, thus denying its use by the enemy.

Ukrainians Taking Over Russian Tanks

According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), “abandoned Russian T-72 tanks are being used by Ukrainian forces seeking to push into Russian-occupied Luhansk.” Russian troops have been abandoning their positions for weeks, as evidenced by these intercepted documents written by soldiers of Unit 31135 of the 1st Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division and made available by independent Belarusian media outlet Vot Tak over Twitter.

Author’s Note: I don’t read Russian either. If you have a smartphone, you may want to consider downloading Google Translate. Allow it to access your camera, and the program will translate the text into English, just like something out of Star Trek.

ISW reports that most of the letters include pleas to the commanders of their unit to release them from duty due to chronic “physical and moral fatigue.” Ukrainian Intelligence sources report that as many as 90% of the 1st Motorized Rifle Regiment members have penned letters expressing their discontent. This is a clear sign of the continuing war fatigue of the Russian forces and their increasing lack of willingness to fight.