Ex-Russian T-72s sporting quickly-applied Ukrainian markings.
Yuri Butusov photo, via Twitter
Ukraine has lost at least 74 tanks—destroyed or captured—since Russia widened its war on the country starting the night of Feb. 23.
But Ukraine has captured at least 117 Russian tanks, according to open-source-intelligence analysts who scrutinize photos and videos on social media.
In other words, the Ukrainian army might actually have more tanks now than a month ago—all without building a single brand-new tank or pulling some older vehicle out of storage.
The Russians meanwhile have captured at least 37 Ukrainian tanks—a sum inadequate to compensate for the roughly 274 tanks it is believed to have lost to all causes.
The disparity in captured tanks speaks to Russia’s lack of preparation for a high-intensity war against a determined foe. But it also speaks to the advantages any defender possesses over any attacker.
Russia must project forces into Ukraine scores or hundreds of miles, extending poorly-protected supply lines and risking front-line units running out of ammunition and fuel. Many of those tanks the Ukrainians have seized were just sitting there, out of gas, their crews having fled.
The Ukrainian army meanwhile enjoys the advantage of “interior lines.” That is, its forces fight close to major cities and their bases. The Ukrainians’ supply lines are contained inside their own defensive perimeter rather than strung out along unguarded highways.
All that is to say, Ukrainian tanks are way less likely to run out of fuel in the middle of the war zone.
Those 117 tanks Ukraine has captured are just the ones analysts visually can confirm. The actual total almost certainly is much higher. Videos of Ukrainian farmers towing abandoned Russian vehicles have become symbols of Ukraine’s resistance.
How many of the seized tanks and other vehicles are fit for further use is hard to confirm. There are lots of videos of Russian tanks under tow. There are far fewer showing those same tanks back in action in Ukrainian colors.
But it helps that Ukraine uses many of the same tanks that Russia does. The Ukrainian army’s main tank, the T-64, no longer is in active use in the Russian army. But the Ukrainians also operate at least two models that the Russians still use, too—the T-72 and the T-80.
The T-80 actually is an evolution of the T-64, itself one of the most sophisticated tanks Soviet industry ever produced. The T-72, by contrast is a simpler, cheaper tank—one suitable to mass-production and easy support in the field. It’s not for no reason that Ukraine generally assigns its T-72s to reserve formations.
In any event, there aren’t many captured Russian tanks Ukraine can’t use in some capacity. The question is how quickly Kyiv’s army can take stock of a vehicle its troops—or civilians—have seized, repair any damage, fuel it up, restock its ammo and assign it to a crew with the right training.
That can happen in a matter of days, if videos depicting ex-Russian T-72s and T-80s in combat on the Ukrainian side are any indication. Russia attacked on Feb. 23. No later than March 11, former Russian tanks were shooting back … at the Russians.
The steady transfer to Ukraine, via captures, of hundreds upon hundreds of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery, air-defense systems and trucks underlines the challenge Russia faces in achieving any of its strategic objectives in Ukraine.
The Kremlin realistically can’t kill its way to victory. Not as long as Ukraine, population 44 million, possesses reserves of human capital—and as long as the Ukrainians remain united in the defense of their homeland.
It’s telling that, at the same time Russia was begging Syria for a thousand mercenaries last week, Ukraine was mobilizing reserve echelons numbering 150,000 fresh troops.
Those reservists probably aren’t hurting for equipment. Many of them will fall in on some ex-Russian T-72, scrubbed clean of any evidence of its old crew and sporting freshly painted Ukrainian insignia.
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