As Ukrainian soldiers regain ground in Ukraine, they are capturing military vehicles and weapons abandoned by fleeing Russians, turning some against the invading army, analysts say.
Russia and its neighbour mostly use similar Soviet-era equipment, so Ukrainians often do not need major training to use any left behind.
Russia has seized chunks of Ukrainian territory since invading in late February.
But Kyiv’s forces have reversed some of those gains and since August have grabbed back swathes of land in the northeast and south of the country.
“The Ukrainians have captured a lot of land equipment,” said an analyst for British intelligence analysis firm Janes who asked to remain anonymous.
It is difficult to know exactly how many items have been seized, but Janes estimates at least 200 vehicles, 45 tanks, 70 infantry fighting vehicles, and 30 artillery pieces.
Many seem to have been taken in the battle for the northeastern region of Kharkiv.
“In that region, troops did flee and they appear to have decided in large part that they could get away quicker in civilian vehicles than in armoured vehicles,” the analyst said.
In the southern Kherson region, AFP reporters one morning this month saw around 20 tanks, as well as rocket launchers and transport vehicles that appeared destroyed or damaged.
Just hours later, around six of them seemed to have been taken away.
‘They left in a hurry’
Several kilometres from the front line, they saw the battered remains of three Soviet BM-27 Uragan rocket launchers, one Russian BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher, and a Russian troop carrier.
“The armoured vehicle is facing south. This means its passengers were fleeing,” a Ukrainian soldier told AFP.
Around a dozen still useable Uragan rocket launchers would soon be transported over to be used by Kyiv’s troops, he added.
“The fact that they left shells and that just a part of the powder was scattered so we couldn’t use it shows they left in a hurry,” said a medic who asked to be called “Doc.”
On Monday, the Ukrainian defence ministry posted on its Twitter account a video of a Ukrainian vehicle towing what it said was the “latest model” of Russian T-90A tank out of a river.
“Autumn has come… and it is time for him to join the ranks” of the Ukrainian army, it said in the caption.
Michael Kofman, an expert at the Washington-based Center for New American Security, said all seized equipment was welcome for the Ukrainians.
“You still see a lot of civilian vehicles, lightly armoured vehicles, being used in attacks” by the Ukrainian army, he said.
But “it is not because it is special Ukrainian tactics. Ukrainians are still short of battle armoured vehicles.”
While the West has dispatched waves of equipment and weapons to Ukraine since the invasion, Kyiv’s basic equipment dates back to Soviet era.
This means that even when some of the abandoned Russian equipment is inoperable, it can still be a source of spare parts.
“Often, extra armour will be grabbed from destroyed enemy armoured vehicles,” said Pierre Grasser, a researcher associated with Paris’ Sorbonne University.
“A destroyed armoured vehicle is also important for the parts that did not burn: the engine, the suspensions… It’s all valuable. Even Russia no longer makes them.”
‘Reduced combat power’
A high-ranking member of the French military said Russians were making it easy for their enemies.
Usually, you “neutralise equipment before abandoning it,” he said.
Yet “the Russian command probably isn’t giving the orders to do so, or perhaps they don’t have the gear to do it.”
The result is depleted Russian resources and spirits, says Janes.
“The loss of this equipment markedly reduces Russia’s combat power in theatre, and the moral defeat of losing such a large area so quickly has had a devastating effect on Russian morale,” said the Janes analyst.
“The Ukrainians have a joke that they started the Kharkiv offensive in a mechanised brigade and finished it in an armoured brigade” with the many captured tanks.
In the long term, the seizures are also good news for Ukraine’s allies.
“Western intelligence agencies and technicians will have the opportunity to assess Russian equipment,” he said.
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