Kremlin state propaganda got socked a big black eye, and the Ukrainian internet nearly broke itself with laughter, emojis and bad puns, after an advanced infantry fighting vehicle advertised by Moscow as unstoppable, was knocked out and burned. Kyiv-operated drones recorded Moscow’s latest PR disaster.

Russian official media narratives had held that the BMPT Terminator, an infantry fighting vehicle built on Russia’s brand-new Armata T-14 tank chassis, was impervious to practically any NATO weapon short of a main gun anti-tank round at close range, and superior to any troop carrier in the world. According to its designers, the Terminator’s mission is to carry Russian infantry safely into assault and to overwhelm the opposition with superior optics and massive firepower. 

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A combat video made public by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Thursday from the north-eastern Kreminne sector shows an apparently unmanned but fully intact Terminator stationary on a dirt road in a forest. After two howitzer rounds explode near the vehicle, a direct hit touches off a massive blast, followed by a fire and secondary explosion in the back of the Terminator. Telemetry data on the video are consistent with recordings made by a long-range, military-grade drone.

Yury Butusov, a high-profile Ukrainian combat correspondent, in a Friday vlog, said Ukrainian troops in the Kreminne sector used the drone to call down artillery fire including a NATO-standard M982 155mm precision-guided howitzer shell on the Terminator, ultimately destroying it. The owner of the first Terminator lost by Russia in combat was an infantry formation in Russia’s elite 90th Tank Division, he said.

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Kyiv Post was not able to determine which Ukrainian unit or units were responsible for the successful strike, but the video published by the Defense Ministry was marked with an identifier from the 140th Marine Reconnaissance Battalion, a scouting and infiltration unit.

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The internet, meanwhile, has been swamped with hashtags and headlines reminiscent of the iconic Terminator movies as the artillery strike video was repeatedly forwarded and passed on. Among them: “I won’t be back!”, “Hasta la Vista Separatista” and “Terminator Terminated.” Many added theme music from the movie series.

Supposedly unbeatable

The Kremlin had held off from committing its advanced Terminator infantry fighting vehicle to combat in Ukraine but, in January, Russian state-controlled media reported a reverse to that policy, it said, because of an upcoming Moscow offensive in the north-eastern Kreminne sector.

Equipped with paired 30mm cannon, twin automatic grenade launchers, four long-range missiles, a remote-control turret and a machine gun, and named after the cyborg made popular by Hollywood heavyweight actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the fighting vehicle was considered ideal for assaulting Ukrainian infantry deeply dug in the Kreminne sector’s predominating forests and rolling hills, according to Russian state television on Jan. 28.

In a broadcast across Russia’s 11 time zones, Russian war correspondent Dmitry Kul’ko and Russia’s state-run television channel Pervyi Kanal told its viewers the Terminator was a weapons system the Ukrainians had little chance against.

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“Grenade launchers, missiles, cannons, machine guns, all this stuff on the Terminator isn’t there to be pretty in parades, it’s that in these line of attack in heavy woods, this kind of ferocious arsenal is just irreplaceable. The 7.62mm machine gun pumps out such a wall of fire that the enemy simple has no chance of shooting back. It [the Terminator] can comb an entire wood line on the move, without changing direction. The automatic grenade launchers work at the same time [as the cannon] and can fire from two directions,” Kul’ko enthused, as twin 30mm cannon chewed away at an open spot in some woods and rock and roll music played in the background.

Russia, according to Kremlin claims, began fielding the Terminator in 2018. It has manufactured more than 300 infantry fighting vehicles, and even sold some to Algeria and Kazakhstan. The Ukrainian defense and security establishment estimated the real number of vehicles manufactured by Russia to be less than 100, and the count of Terminators actually operated by the Russian military at one or two dozen.

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On Feb. 10, new images appeared on an information platform associated with Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanized Brigade, purporting to show the destruction of the second Terminator infantry fighting vehicle in combat, this time in a nighttime drone strike. Reportedly, a Ukrainian national guard unit deployed in the eastern sector also participated in the attack.

The heavily edited video showed an apparent kamikaze drone detonating on the vehicle’s back engine deck in a powerful explosion, followed by images of the Russian combat vehicle burning fiercely. Spliced in with the footage are scenes from the 1991 movie “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” in which Schwarzenegger’s T-800 cyborg character descends to its death in a vat of molten steel. Kyiv Post was unable to confirm the video’s veracity.

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