A trainload of obsolete, museum-grade T-54 tanks was spotted on a transport train heading west from a Russian military repair base, news reports said on Thursday.
Still images and videos geolocated to Russia’s far-eastern Primorsky region showed at least 14 outdated combat vehicles aboard flatcars rolling past a rail crossing. Screen grabs by the Georgia-based Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) showed some clearly identifiable as the T-54B model.
The shipment most likely departed from the 1295th Central Tank Repair and Storage Base in the town Arsenyev, according to news reports first appearing in independent Russian web media then followed by Ukrainian news platforms and international analytical groups.
Russia has presumably taken the tanks out of storage in an attempt to beef up its forces in Ukraine, CIT said: “Our team has at its disposal photographs of a train carrying T-54 tanks of the middle of the 20th century from Primorsky Krai to the west. We see this as a sign of a shortage of armored vehicles in the RF Armed Force.”
That old 🇷🇺 T54/55 tanks are now sent to the war shows 1/ the Kremlin determination to continue the war more or less for ever but also 2/ how their stocks of modern arms have been seriously depleted. pic.twitter.com/MpeRTRflvv— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) March 22, 2023
Ukrainian and even some international media on Thursday were quick to lampoon Moscow’s recent decision to field the outmoded T-54s and their slightly modified T-55 version.
The normally staid UNIAN news agency, one of Ukraine’s major information platforms, headlined the T-54 reports: “Reactivated Soviet tanks T-54/55 are dragged by slaves from the Far East.”
Yuriy Butusov, a leading Ukrainian military correspondent, called the T-54s “coffins on treads.”
Headline writers at the international Daily Beast were hardly more restrained, informing readers: “Russia’s Weapons Game in Ukraine Hits a Dismal New Low.”
Boris Rozhin, a Kremlin-supported war correspondent frequently appearing on Russian state television, in a Telegram editorial attempted to spin the tanks positively, arguing the T-55s are “good enough for secondary missions” and “thanks to the work of our ancestors, we still use what they prepared for us.”
Deployment of T-55 tanks to Ukraine is proof Russian “Liberals” inclined to anti-war “tantrums” don’t know what they’re talking about, Rozhin argued. He is an outspoken supporter of aggressive Russian foreign policy.
But even Anatoly Shary, a blogger with millions of followers who is currently in exile in Spain and wanted for arrest by Ukrainian authorities for possible links to the Kremlin, declared sending T-55s to Ukraine a joke taken seriously by Moscow propagandists alone. Next will be horses, he predicted.
“Gorgeous T-54s of the 1950s are going to the front. Soon the cavalry will be put into operation, and on [Russian state] Federal channels they will be assuring [viewers] with a straight face that the cavalry is inappropriately forgotten, that Russian cavalry gloriously smashed the enemy in the 17th century, that the traditions of the Russian army are directly related to horses, and so on.”
“The generals of the Ministry of Defense who plundered the army deserve promotions,” Shary wrote sarcastically in a Thursday Telegram statement.
The Dutch independent analytical group Oryx that uses hard evidence – usually a video or photograph of the individual tank – currently estimates Russian forces have lost 1,871 tanks in combat in Ukraine. Their researchers say actual Russian losses are higher but it’s not clear by how much.
The Ukrainian military in its Thursday morning daily situation estimate said that the count of total tanks claimed destroyed or captured by its soldiers since the war began stands at 3,570 vehicles. It has never provided systematic proof to back up its overall kill claims.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies in 2022 estimated Russia began the war with 2,840 tanks operated by active duty units. Since then the Kremlin has pulled hundreds reserve tanks out of storage and attempted to refurbish mothballed vehicles in an attempt to keep up with losses.
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