Tanks of August 2.0 – a brief and balanced analysis

The recent significant surge in tanks exotic to eastern Ukraine and the substantial gain of territory in of DNR forces has lead many to conclude that direct Russian involvement is taking place to the extent that it could be considered an invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Beyond the obvious evidence of Russian troops captured on Ukrainian soil supporting these claims, many (myself included) have been pointing to the out of place armored vehicles appearing only on the rebel side.

Many T-72Bs like these, both with Kontakt-5 and Kontakt-1 Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) have been posted across the web as hard evidence of an ongoing Russian invasion of Ukrainian sovereign territory. However likely it may be that these tanks do represent a mobilization of Russian forces on Ukrainian soil, there is a plethora of arguments seeking to discredit that notion.

Some of the most controversial footage to surface yesterday – August 27th, was of an allegedly Russian T-72B3 or possibly BA1 (AKA T-72B + Kontakt-5) that had been overrun and captured by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk. The tank, having sustained light battle damage considering that it was devoid of any crew was also marked by white stripes on each side. These stripes are usually used for Ukrainian troops to identify each other in the heat of battle which is why many were shocked to see them on a tank not before seen fielded by the Ukrainians in this theater, or at all for that matter. Some say that this is proof that Ukrainians have been operating T-72B3s all along while other say that it was marked by Ukrainian soldiers after having captured it.

Skeptics of the claims of invasion have been quick to point to images like the one below of Petro Poroshenko standing in front of a T-72B1 (+ Kontakt 1 ERA) as well as footage from the Kiev 7th Armor plant of T-72B1s in working configuration to dispute the possibility that the tanks could be Russian. What has yet to be explained however, is that no T-72B1s or T-64Bvs in Ukraine on the Ukrainian side have been seen with the commander’s hatch shield that so often are seen on rebel tanks.

Another trend worth noting is that no Ukrainian tanks have been spotted with Kontakt-5 ERA up to this point. All modern Ukrainian tanks are fitted with the domestic Nozh ERA. Nozh ERA may appear similar to Kontakt-5, but upon closer inspection the differences are clearly visible. Furthermore, Nozh is hidden behind metal plates on Ukrainian tanks such as the T-84 or BM-Bulat. This specific ERA is featured in the video from the Kiev factory which may have caused some people to confuse it with Kontakt-5 on a T-72B3 (and on some B1s), but if you look closely you’ll see that it’s more likely to be a T-72AG in the making.


Tankwatching in Ukraine and other fun things

This post will deal with the recent videos of Russian armor in eastern Ukraine, so far I have seen two, one claiming to be in Torez (August 25th) and another claiming to be in Sverdlovsk. I won’t be dealing with any geo-location or anything to that measure as some has already been done, the statements given are assuming that the locations provided are true.

All the screenshots will be from the most recent and far more interesting video which surfaced today, a video which (among others) finally gives credibility to the several claims by the Ukrainian government that Russian armor had penetrated its sovereign borders.

The tanks
The picture below is taken from this video and shows what appears to be a T-72B sporting Kontakt-5 ERA, one of the more common tanks in the Russian arsenal. This specific type of tank has never entered service in Ukraine, although the Kharkiv plant does have T-72s and Kontakt-5 ERA is in Ukrainian service it is highly unlikely that the two would ever meet each other in Ukraine without coming from Russia.
Furthermore, there has been no evidence of T-72s fighting on any side but the separatists at any point of this conflict, a video of a separatist T-72 rolling with a couple of T-64s in DNR surfaces recently but was followed by footage of its wreckage shortly after.


Whether or not this video is of the “lost” Russian troops is unsure, but everything would point to them knowing where they are.

The below picture is of one of several T-72Bs with the older Kontakt 1 ERA, a tank still in service today in the Russian military, although it is being phased out in the near future in favor of more “modern” tanks.

Missing a couple of Kontakt-1 ERA bricks, these tanks would at a glance appear to be the same as the ones featured in this video from August 25th, or at least they likely come from the same place judging by the pig-disgusting paint jobs they all share, with army-man green paint the same shade as the messages written on the MT-LBs in the column. An interesting thing to note is that the T-72s in the older video are accompanied by an ERA-less T-64 whereas the ones in the newer video are rolling with a newer T-72.

Other fun things

Some other notable things were shown in the video aside from the obviously Russian tanks

And those are the references to Russian naval infantry on two MT-LBs.
These two MT-LBs each have two zu-23-2 anti-aircraft cannons bolted on top of them but they also have distinctive anchors painted on them. The one in the picture above has “морская пехота” (Marines) translated into English written on its side. The one in the picture below has “севастополь” (Sevastopol) written on it, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade.

If you look through the video you will notice that one of the one with “marines” written on it is flying the Russian naval ensign with a bat over it, possibly indicating a recon unit. It should be noted that Separatists do have an affinity for flying flags of units they aren’t part of but the intensity of the naval references seen on these vehicles is very uncommon. Another MT-LB without the zu-23-2 is flying the VDV flag and has more irregular looking troops on top of it.
Also notice the soldier sticking out of the forward hatch of the above pictured MT-LB and how closely he resembles a Russian regular or a “green man” if you will.

The column also features two BMP-2s, which are no strangers to this conflict, the rear BMP-2 is flying the flag of the Donbass people’s militia. Other appearances include: strela-10s and some trucks hauling artillery. 

Russia is sanic

Russians, BTRs and thin grey lines – a brief analysis.

Some time yesterday, a Russian border guard uploaded several images to his instagram account allegedly depicting a BTR-82A and a BTR-80 stationed by the Ukrainian border causing a stir in the pro-Ukrainian community, claiming the pictures depict armored vehicles crossing into Ukrainian territory.

Russian BTR-80
Source: @StateOfUkraine

Russian BTR-82A
Source: @StateOfUkraine

Comparing the two border stations, it’s fairly evident that the two vehicles were on the Russian side of the border. For comparison:
Ukrainian side:

Russian side:

the two vehicles are believed to be situated under the half roofs of the main building in the background.
The Russian border station matches in paint scheme, window types and the blue module sticking out of the main part of the building.

Note that the BTR-82A in second the picture has its crew hatch open, suggesting that it’s either dismounted or not intending to move any time soon.
This isn’t to say that Russian armored vehicles have not penetrated into Ukrainian territory as suggested by the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, this is simply to say that there is no evidence to back up the claims in these pictures or in any other I have seen up until this point.

Burning tanks: Sabotage or bad luck?

This is the scene at Kryvyi Rih on Thursday, slightly reminiscent of the iconic burning oil wells of Operation Desert Storm. In fact the fate of these tanks may well be close to that of the Iraqi oil well. While human error is the most popular theory so far, the thought of sabotage does come to mind. Additionally, Interfax reports that the incident is currently being treated as criminal.

The tanks in question are two T-64s, a tank much ahead of its time back when it was first being fielded and still a relevant piece of equipment. The two T-64s come from the 17th armored brigade, the closest armored brigade to Donetsk Oblast. If this was indeed sabotage performed by an outside party it is unlikely to have been carried out by professional saboteurs, while the T-64 is still an apt tank it is among the older and more outdated tanks in the Ukrainian arsenal and the Russians should be far more concerned with the few T-84 Oplots Ukraine has.
With this in mind, the idea of a scared tank operator or an amateur pro-Russian rank within the most likely scenarios for what really happened to these two tanks.

The video above shows the tanks in the distance, you can hear the ammunition going off every now and then.

A haphazard arrival and a meticulous buildup.

It should come as no surprise at this point that Crimea is chock full of Russian troops. If you’re not one to be impressed by Russian uniforms then rows on rows of Tigrs and BTR-80s should do the trick.

Russian BMD-2s on the move in Rostov.

The Russians themselves don’t seem to care much whether the rest of the world knows about their presence as they see it as a matter of time that Crimea becomes Russian regardless of an invasion. What is interesting, however, is how adamant they are on keeping their presence ambiguous, only the old-school BTR-80s are being seen inside Crimea and all the other equipment is technically also open for export, however unlikely a militia mass-mobilizing this equipment may be.

Shown below is a convoy of BTRs within Crimea, this type of vehicle as well as GAZ Tigr is a common sight among Russian troops in Ukraine.

Meanwhile on the other side of the border, much more modern equipment is being accumulated under the guise of exercises, among others, the auto-canon version of the BTR-80 (BTR-82a) is seen as well as a wealth of BMD-2s, the Infantry Fighting Vehicle(IFV) of the Russian airborne service VDV which has been reported present several times during the first days of the invasion.

The tweet below is describing the mobilization of BMD-2s in Rostov, Russia. Rostov oblast borders the largely Russian ethic regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, these IFVs are certainly heading towards the border region with the other troops already mobilized alongside eastern Ukraine.

Recently Ukraine has requested to send a reconnaissance mission over the Russian side of the border to which the Kremlin has agreed due to a pre-existing airspace agreement between the two countries. The time of the flight is yet to be established and is in reality moot as Russia will respond to any troop mobilization claims with claims of exercises going on in the area.
An interesting point you can take from the equipment mobilized is that if you look back at Georgia in 2008 (inevitably I had to do it), the equipment was far older than what we are seeing moving around on the border now. This could indicate that Russia sees a greater potential conflict in Ukraine or a variety of other factors.

In any case, an all out war appears far off and Russia is unlikely to make a move on mainland Ukraine as the current situation stands.