The Russian army lacks tanks for the war in Ukraine. These 60-year-old T-62s are proof of that.


Three months into its wider war against Ukraine, Russia has run out of tanks.

Well, work reservoirs. In fact, the Kremlin keeps thousands of old armored vehicles in long-term storage. But many of them are no longer usable.

The lack of armored reserves, combined with the problems of producing new tanks, could begin to weigh on the Russian war effort. As Ukrainian gunners and missiles continue to shoot down enemy tanks by the hundreds, Russian units will increasingly rush into battle with all the old and obsolete tanks still in working order.

And that could accelerate the rate of casualties as the Ukrainians deploy less effort, and fewer missiles and artillery shells, knocking out more and more geriatric tanks.

The result, over time, could be a death spiral in the Russian armored corps. The question is how quickly this could happen. Can the Ukrainians destroy the Russian tank force fast enough to prevent the Russians from expanding and digging into the territory they control in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine?

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine noted a few days ago the first sign of the collapse of the Russian armored corps. “Due to the losses suffered during the hostilities, the Russian enemy was forced to remove T-62 tanks from storage to recruit reserve battalion tactical groups which are being formed to be sent to Ukraine,” noted the staff.

The T-62 is an obsolete tank. The 41-ton tank with its 115-millimeter main gun and steel armor was in production in the Soviet Union from 1961 to 1975. It was the most important tank in the USSR until the T-72 entered in service in 1969.

The Soviet Army in the 1980s began to move the T-62 to second line units. the Russian the Army retired the type entirely in the 2010s, by which time the T-62 – a contemporary of the US Army’s M-60 – was hopelessly outmatched by modern Western tanks.

Thousands of T-62s have been stored, many of them simply lined up in vast outdoor vehicle parks, where there is no protection from rain and snow. If Russian President Vladimir Putin had chosen not to expand his war in Ukraine, those tanks might just have rusted away.

But Putin did expand the war. And now the Ukrainian army destroys, on average, at least four Russian tanks a day, and damages or captures others. In 91 days of fighting, the Ukrainians destroyed 391 tanks, which outside analysts can confirm.

That may not seem like much for an army that, on paper, had more than 2,800 active tanks before the February 23 invasion of Ukraine. But not all active tanks were in good condition. Factor in the battle damage of several hundred T-64s, T-72s, T-80s and T-90s and it is obvious that the Ukrainians began to observe T-62s arriving near the front lines.

This week, videos and photos circulated on social networks confirming the claim of the Ukrainian general staff. Old T-62s are indeed heading by train to the Russian-occupied Melitopol railhead in southern Ukraine.

The fact that the Russians reactivated the T-62s lends credence to what historian Chris Owen explained in a recent tweet thread: that many, if not most, of the approximately 10,000 tanks stored in Russia are no longer in working order due to the ravages of time and weather.

Some T-62s are usable because they are simpler than more modern types, with less delicate electronics. Moreover, there are more and therefore more likely that a few battalions of T-62s have escaped catastrophic rusting.

The switch to T-62s comes as Russian industry struggles to import from Western countries the high-tech components that modern tanks need. Russia’s only tank manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, halted production in March.

The appearance of T-62s near the Ukrainian front is not the only sign that the Kremlin is increasingly desperate. Having lost up to 15,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen killed in action in three months, the Russian armed forces also lack qualified personnel.

It is not without reason that the Kremlin paid the Wagner Group, an obscure Russian mercenary company, to supplement the formations of the exhausted army and even fly the planes of the air force.

On Sunday, Ukrainian air defense troops in eastern Ukraine shot down a Russian Su-25 attack plane. The BBC has confirmed that the deceased man behind the controls of the Su-25 was Kanamat Botashev.

Botashev, 63, was retired. He left the Russian Air Force as a general in 2012 after ‘borrowing’ a Su-27 fighter – a type he was not qualified to fly – and crashing it after a brief jaunt acrobatic. After retiring, Botashev reportedly signed with Wagner, who hired him into the Air Force.

Old tanks. Mercenary pilots. These are signs of the deep degradation of the Russian military as it concentrates its best remaining forces for a new offensive in eastern Ukraine aimed at encircling the city of Severodonetsk.

This offensive succeeded, but at great expense. In a week of heavy fighting, the Russians advanced nearly 10 miles north of Popasna, a town on the southern edge of the salient that Severodonetsk anchors to the east. If the Russian battalions can advance about another 15 miles, they might be able to completely cut off Severodonetsk and the thousands of Ukrainian troops garrisoned there.

Still, it’s not hard to see the current offensive as a last-ditch effort for Russia. It is not clear that an army increasingly reliant on older T-62 tanks will be capable of sustained offensive operations for much longer.

But a prolonged offensive might not be the Kremlin’s plan. After capturing Severodonetsk, the Russian army could dig in and focus on defending the vast swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine it has already seized. After all, defense requires fewer modern tanks.

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